The Denver Broncos are 5-0. But it sure doesn't feel like it, if you turn on the radio or television. The sky is falling, the sky is falling! I don't subscribe to that sentiment.
Gary Kubiak has spent most of his life in the NFL. He knows how hard it is to win at this level. So, if you ask him whether he's enjoying the Broncos 5-0 start, he'd answer thusly:
“You’re damn right I am."
In fact, that was Kubiak's response from Monday, when he was asked the very same question. Now, he'll be the first to admit that the Broncos have areas they need to improve on—namely, the offensive line and running game.
But the quarterback has to get better, too. Let's talk about what has to happen in order for the Broncos to emerge victorious in Cleveland.
Peyton Manning MUST Stop Turning The Ball Over
Peyton Manning, with the exception of one game, has yet to find his groove in 2015. He's officially thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (6), which is alarming for a 39-year-old signal caller.
His decision making has to improve. Manning is playing like he's under the gun. And in a sense, he is. His O-line has not done a great job of protecting him. And four of the five starters are new faces.
That'll affect any quarterback's confidence. But the No. 1 biggest factor that has held Manning and the Broncos offense back from averaging another seven points per game are the turnovers.
He's turning the ball over at a rate we heretofore haven't seen during his time in Denver. And there are reasons for that—a whole ball of wax. But, the Broncos defense can't keep pulling a rabbit out of their hat late in games.
Manning has put his defense in a tough spot late in games multiple times this season. They've found a way to overcome them. But that won't last forever and it won't happen against good teams, like Green Bay, New England and Cincinnati—all of whom are on the schedule.
The Browns have just a single, solitary interception this year. Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden won't play (concussion), and the Browns can't rush the quarterback. Manning has the opportunity to score some points on Sunday.
But he's got to stop turning the ball over. Between the 20's, Manning has been relatively efficient. The redzone is where he's struggled. But having an anemic running game cripples your redzone prospects.
Many of those problems are mitigated, however, if he doesn't giftwrap the ball to the opposing team.
If You Can't Run on The Browns, You Never Will
Even when Knowshon Moreno was in Denver, and the Broncos would hand it off to him out of the shotgun from the 5 yard-line, they found the endzone. It kept the opposing defense on their toes.
That redzone rushing threat has been missing for the 2015 Broncos and until it's addressed as a team, they'll likely continue to struggle as an offense. But the Browns have the No. 31 rushing defense.
They're allowing 149.4 rushing yards per game on the ground. The Broncos have the No. 30 rushing offense. A stoppable force will meet a moveable object on Sunday.
The team with the better talent should win that matchup. Whether it's C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman—or if they call up Kapri Bibbs—the Broncos have absolutely no excuse if they fail to run the ball well in Cleveland.
If they can, it'll take much of the strain and pressure off Manning. Mentally. Emotionally. And you'll see him play better. Any offense is symbiotic. Each element needs the other in order to thrive.
The rushing attack has failed. So, why is everyone so shocked the passing attack hasn't been as potent and that Manning is getting sacked? It all starts with running the ball.
Mathis' hammy was bothering him in Oakland, but he still started the game, finishing with the highest grade on offense (+2.2), according to Pro Football Focus.
Time For Josh McCown To Really Feel The Heat
Josh McCown is riding high. He's the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week. He's coming off of three straight 300+-yard passing games. Someone's got to knock him off his high horse.
That someone is Von Miller—and the Broncos pass rush. McCown has been sacked 13 times. That number is slightly skewed by the fact that he left Week 1 early with a concussion and missed Week 2.
And yet, the Browns O-Line are the highest rated pass blocking unit in the league, according to PFF. Clearly, there's something up suspicious abut those grades, because, if you include Johnny Manziel's snaps, the Browns have allowed 18 sacks.
LT Joe Thomas is one of the best in the game. Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray will have their hands full there. Alex Mack is a top-shelf center, but the Broncos can push the pocket from the inside like no other team.
Denver will always wreak havoc on the edges. Miller will lead that charge. But Barrett and Ray have combined for 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 12 total QB pressures (sacks, hits, hurries). They're no chopped liver.
McCown is in the top-10 of NFL quarterbacks for accuracy under pressure. But he hasn't faced the combination of a relentless pass rush and an opportunistic secondary, like he will this week.
The Broncos are going to stop the run. But if they can get to McCown early and often, the Browns aren't going to put up many points. Expect this to be the week McCown hits the wall—the Wall of Orange.
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