The Cleveland Browns travel to Mile High Stadium to take on the Denver Broncos in Week 9. Cleveland is on a three-game losing streak, and head coach Freddie Kitchens’ seat is warming up. The team is not performing anywhere near expectations, and penalties, questionable coaching decisions, and a lack of discipline have the fanbase on edge.
Fortunately, they have a chance to right the ship against the 2-6 Broncos, who will be starting third-string quarterback Brandon Allen, who has zero regular-season experience.
Here are four reasons why the Browns will come out victorious.
4. A renewed sense of urgency
Prior to the season, some had Super Bowl aspirations for the Browns. Now, more realistic expectations were around nine to 10 wins, but even those seem embellished with how this team has played for the majority of the year. QB Baker Mayfield has regressed, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. have combined for one touchdown pass, and the defensive improvement has not translated from paper to the field. There is not one issue that is holding the Browns back from winning, but fairly or otherwise, the blame will be laid at the feet of the head coach.
After taking over as offensive coordinator for the final eight games of 2018, Kitchens lead a brilliant scoring offense that was creative and efficient. With a full offseason to gel and an elite wide receiver added to the squad, Cleveland should have at least remained a very good offensive unit, if not improved. But the opposite has been the case. They’ve scored 20 or more points just three times, and have been flat-out embarrassed twice. Playcalling, challenges, and penalties are all major issues at the moment, and if all three are not fixed, Kitchens won’t last much longer.
He knows it, and the players know it. Kitchens is beloved by his team, and this is the perfect situation for the locker room to rally around their head coach and get things back on track. That starts with a clean game against the Broncos. Because if Cleveland can’t win this week…let’s not even go there.
3. Aside from the turnovers and penalties…
The Browns 27-13 loss to New England last week was a microcosm of their season. They played a good team, did a lot of good things, but still lost by more than one possession. Cleveland turned the ball over on three(!) consecutive plays and was unable to overcome their self-inflicted mistakes. The Browns also committed 13 penalties and lost both of their challenges.
Yet in spite of all that, they held the #1 scoring offensive in the NFL to 20 points (not counting the fumble return for a touchdown), and consistently moved the ball against the most dominant defense in recent history, in a monsoon nonetheless. Cleveland should have won that game. But they didn’t. That’s the most frustrating thing about their 2-5 record; they are talented enough to beat an elite-tier team like New England, yet they shoot themselves in the foot every single game. If the team could just not turn the ball over, make smart coaching decisions, and limit penalties, they would win the AFC North, and it wouldn’t be especially close.
If the Broncos can’t force the Browns to make mistakes, this game won’t be close either. Yes, Denver’s defense is quite good. But Cleveland’s offense is more talented. But as the Browns have found out, talent won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have discipline.
2. Last year’s game is a blueprint
Last season, the Browns traveled to Colorado and left the victors in one of the best games of the entire 2018 schedule. After gifting Denver a chance to win the game in the final minute, Cleveland got a sack from Jabrill Peppers on fourth down to seal a 17-16 win. Mayfield was not sharp, and the Browns leading receiver was Landry with three grabs for just 37 yards.
The Broncos have a new coaching staff, but much of the personnel is the same. Nick Chubb had 100 yards on the ground, and while Denver ranks sixth in passing yards allowed, they are 20th in rushing yards allowed. The Browns will again need to run the ball in order to win, and they had better hope Mayfield is back to normal.
1. Brandon Allen
Even if Mayfield is not at the top of his game, Cleveland should still be able to score points purely because of their offensive talent. Denver cannot say the same. Allen replaces Joe Flacco, who wasn’t great in the first place. Emmanuel Sanders is gone. The offensive line has given up the sixth-most sacks per game, and right tackle Ju’Wuan James will not play.
Olivier Vernon and Myles Garrett should be able to get consistent pressure on both sides, and both Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams are healthy at cornerback. The Broncos have scored 19 points in their last two games, and Cleveland’s defense is better than the Chiefs or Colts. It’s not a great situation for a player to make his first career start, but it’s a fantastic opportunity for the Browns to gain momentum heading into the second half of the season.