Denver Broncos (4-4) at Cleveland Browns (3-5)
KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:15 ET
TV: NFL Network (Bob Papa, Cris Collinsworth)
SERIES: 22nd meeting. The Broncos lead the regular-season series 16-5. They also beat the Browns three times in the playoffs, all in AFC championship games. More than 20 years later, mention of "The Drive" or "The Fumble" will rekindle bad memories for Browns fans. The Browns have beaten the Broncos only twice in the last 17 regular-season meetings.
PREDICTION: Broncos 30-26
KEYS TO THE GAME: With Broncos RB Michael Pittman out for the year the workload falls to Selvin Young, who has missed the past three games with a groin injury, and rookie Ryan Torain, who got his first three career carries last Sunday. QB Jay Cutler has made too many poor decisions downfield in recent weeks, but he should have plenty of time to look through his deep receiving corps as the Browns have just 13 sacks on the season. ... Giving QB Brady Quinn his first career start on three days' notice is a gamble, but he will be facing the league's 27th-ranked pass defense that's allowing 243.2 yards per game. The Broncos have just three interceptions and are playing without CB Champ Bailey. Denver's defense also has significant problems stopping the run, which won't be helped with OLB D.J. Williams sidelined. RB Jamal Lewis is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, but look for the Browns to try to establish the run to soften that secondary even further.
Key Injuries: Broncos: S Marlon McCree (ankle sprain) is uncertain; TE Tony Scheffler (groin) is day-to-day; Williams (knee sprain) is out. Browns: WR Donte Stallworth (quadriceps) is day-to-day; LG Eric Steinbach (ribs) is likely to be replaced by Seth McKinney.
Need to know: The Broncos have won their past four regular-season road games against the Browns, tied for the longest streak in franchise history against one team. ... Browns WR Braylon Edwards has unofficially dropped an NFL-high 13 passes this season.
--Along with a change of quarterbacks, the Browns are contemplating making a change on the offensive line for Thursday's game against Denver. The difference is Seth McKinney is moving into Eric Steinbach's slot at left guard because Steinbach has a muscle pull in his ribcage, not because Steinbach isn't playing well.
"Pulled muscles sometimes can be difficult," coach Romeo Crennel said Tuesday. "(Steinbach) is not going to practice (Tuesday). He is questionable for the game, and we will see how it responds."
The injury to Steinbach affects the pass protection for QB Brady Quinn and will make it more difficult for the Browns to run the ball. Ryan Tucker, who started the last eight games at right guard last season, is already on injured reserve with a knee injury. Lennie Friedman, a versatile backup who can play all three interior positions, has been on IR since the start of the season.
--NT Shaun Rogers missed practice Tuesday because of a rib injury.
--DE Corey Williams missed practice because of a shoulder injury. Williams has rested his shoulder at least one day in recent weeks but has played on Sunday.
--RB Lawrence Vickers did not practice because of a high ankle sprain. The injury prevented him from playing against the Ravens.
--WR Donte Stallworth practiced on a limited basis Tuesday. He missed the game against the Ravens with a quadriceps injury.
--TE Darnell Dinkins was limited in practice because of a hamstring injury.
--Losing OLB D.J. Williams is a tough blow for a Broncos team that has lost four of five games. The Broncos will be without Williams for four weeks, but they could at least be happy that his injury didn't end his season.
"He feels in good spirits, and he feels confident he can come back and make a healthy return," Winborn said. "It's one of those injuries that you really don't know when, it's on a how-he-feels basis. We just hope we can get him back as soon as possible."
--After Miami beat Denver on Sunday, Dolphins OLB Joey Porter ripped WR Brandon Marshall, saying the Dolphins got in his head and took him out of his game. Marshall responded a couple of days later, calling out Porter.
"All those muscles are popcorn muscles -- he's soft," Marshall said. "We hear stories floating around the league all the time about him as far as in the nightclubs dancing with his shirt off like a girl, or in the playground getting beat up back in California. He's one of those guys that, no matter how big he is, he still can get knocked on his butt. He's soft. He's soft at heart. You can tell the way he talks."
--After the Broncos put RBs Michael Pittman and Andre Hall on injured reserve, RB P.J. Pope was promoted off the practice squad. Pope has been with the Broncos since the start of the regular season. Denver signed him to the practice squad after Chicago let him go. He should have a decent feel for the offense, and coach Mike Shanahan said he has a chance to get some playing time.
Denver also signed running back Cory Boyd to the practice squad to add some depth.
--LB Mario Haggan was signed to the active roster because LB Boss Bailey is out for the season and LB D.J. Williams will miss four weeks. Haggan played five seasons with Buffalo and could get some playing time once he gets the defense down.
--S Roderick Rogers was promoted from the practice squad. He was brought up from the practice squad late last season but couldn't make the active roster out of training camp. He was promoted because Marlon McCree will miss three to four weeks.
--LB Tyson Smith was signed to the practice squad. The Broncos are short at linebacker because of injuries to Boss Bailey and D.J. Williams.
--RB Michael Pittman was on a one-year contract with the Broncos and is now on injured reserve. Pittman said he wants to come back next year if the organization will have him back, and he hopes that he proved himself with a good half-season before he got hurt.
--LB Wesley Woodyard played well in the preseason and has done well on special teams, and with D.J. Williams out for four weeks, the Broncos might want to take a look at the undrafted rookie on defense. Woodyard was a standout player in college at Kentucky.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Brady Quinn will make his first meaningful start since he quarterbacked Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl against LSU 22 months ago when he leads the Browns against the Denver Broncos on Thursday night in a nationally televised game at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Coach Romeo Crennel made the decision to bench Derek Anderson and go with Quinn on Monday after meeting with his assistant coaches. He insists the decision was his and that it was not made by general manager Phil Savage or team owner Randy Lerner.
"It was just time," Crennel said Tuesday. "We're not throwing in the towel. We're going to beat Denver. We're going to move forward. I think Quinn will represent himself and the Browns very well.
"This is a lifetime opportunity for him to be quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. Now he has it. We'll see what he can do with it."
Since the Browns took him in the first round of the 2007 draft with a pick acquired in a trade with the Cowboys, Quinn played in three preseason games in 2007 and four more this summer. He played one series in the regular season last year, completing three of eight passes against the 49ers in the final game of the season.
"It's been a little while," Quinn said in the locker room Tuesday. "I have to dust off my cleats and shoulder pads. But it will be fun to get back out there. Obviously I'm excited now, and I will be when game time comes around. I think the biggest thing for me is remaining calm and not getting too excited."
Crennel said he is looking for Quinn to provide a spark and change the dynamic of a struggling offense. The Broncos have lost three straight. As poorly as the Broncos have played over the last month, their 4-4 record is better than the Browns' 3-5 mark.
The Browns won three of five after an 0-3 start, but Anderson still ranks near the bottom in most categories for quarterbacks. His passer rating of 68.9 ranks 31st in the NFL, and he has completed fewer than half of his passes -- 121 of 243 for 49.8 percent. Yet he has thrown nine touchdown passes compared to seven interceptions. Anderson put up 27 points and two touchdown passes in the 37-27 loss to the Ravens on Sunday. He would have had another touchdown, but Braylon Edwards let a deep pass slip through his hands. It was one of 13 drops by Edwards this season.
Anderson said he expected more of himself, particularly in the first three games, but he said he was still shocked when Crennel called him into his office Monday to inform him he was no longer the starter.
Anderson said he wants to stay with the Browns beyond 2008 because of the bond he has formed with his teammates. Whether he gets the chance to play with them again this season depends on how Quinn performs Thursday and in future games.
"Knock on wood, I hope the guy doesn't fall on his face, but if he falls on his face you have to do something, because I can't play quarterback," Crennel said.
The Broncos' running game wasn't going particularly well, coming off a 14-yard game against Miami, and that was before two season-ending injuries at tailback. Michael Pittman and Andre Hall are done for the season, leaving the Broncos to wonder who will play tailback against the Cleveland Browns.
"We can't get down on ourselves and have to know there's people who can step up and do the job," fullback Peyton Hillis said.
Rookie Ryan Torain is the only tailback standing upright unless P.J. Pope, who was promoted from the practice squad after Pittman and Hall were put on injured reserve, is counted. Torain had three carries for 1 yard in his NFL debut on Sunday. He didn't even play in the preseason because of an elbow injury he suffered in early August.
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has been reluctant to push Torain into a big role but admitted that 20 carries is possible for Torain if there aren't any other options.
"If he's the only guy out there, he has a good chance," Shanahan said. "I wouldn't want to put him in that situation so quickly, obviously being out for three months."
Selvin Young might have been Denver's best option, but he still isn't 100 percent because of a groin injury. Young was limited in practice two days before Denver was to play Cleveland in a Thursday night game, so his availability is uncertain. He hurt the groin on Oct. 5 and hasn't been through a full practice since.
Because of Young's injury, the injuries to Pittman and Hall left the Broncos very thin. Pittman has an inflammation around his spinal cord, and it would have taken him weeks to heal. Hall has a broken left hand.
As perhaps the best option remaining at tailback, Torain said he was ready to carry the ball as many times as the Broncos needed him to.
"I think I can carry the load," Torain said. "I was working out as I was hurt, getting back healthy with rehab and treatment, and I stayed up with my conditioning."
One issue with Torain is if he is ready to play in passing situations. The Broncos didn't use him much in the second half against Miami because they were forced to throw the ball and the coaches didn't think Torain was ready in those sets.
Torain said he was in all of the meetings and at practices when he was hurt, so he felt ready to play on all downs.
"To myself, I feel 100 percent confident," Torain said. "It's just I have to get the coaches to be confident in myself. I just have to keep working hard."
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