Sunday, the (4-1) Denver Broncos visit the (1-4) Cleveland Browns. Despite the obvious difference in the win loss column, this one is shaping up to become a very exciting game. The history between these two franchises is enough to get any fan fired up for the game. The war of words is heating up but the war on the field could be a classic in the making.
Jake Plummer is leading the anemic Broncos offense. Jake is guiding the ship just long enough to allow rookie quarterback Jay Cutler time to absorb the offense. His decision making remains the big question, but there is no doubt he can be a very potent quarterback with the deep throw as well as his ability to run the ball. The key to forcing Plummer to make mistakes is pressure early in the game. Jake will struggle all game if he is taking hard shots in the first... but when he is allowed to get into a rhythm he becomes a completely different quarterback.
The Broncos wide receivers are true playmakers. Rod Smith is what every NFL receiver should aspire to be. He has made the most out of his talent by outworking everyone else. If Smith can post another 1000 yards receiving this year, it will be his 9th in the last ten years. Smith doesn't have the blow away speed but, similar to Joe Jurevicius, he understands how to use his body to get open and how to locate the soft part of zones.
Lined up across form Rod Smith is former Packer WR Javon Walker. Walker is having a tremendous year and it could potentially get better still. He is showing a knack for leaving defensive backs grasping for air as he runs by them. The Broncos also enjoy using Walker in their running game, and have reverse and double reverse plays in their repertoire.
The best way to contain Walker is to play him aggressively at the line of scrimmage. He has tremendous acceleration off the line, and if the Browns corners allow him to run free for those first 10 yards, they won't be able to stay with him.
Despite their pass-catching weapons, Denver is a run-based team that annually produces 1000 yard backs. The Broncos zone blocking scheme is the envy of the NFL but in order for the scheme to be effective the runner must have vision and patience.
The Broncos offensive line will allow two or three options on each running play - the key is for the back to take the right option by looking into the second level to see where those blocks are developing. If the back makes the right choice, he will be rewarded with an easy 5 plus gain.
Tatum Bell is showing that vision and patience that the Broncos desire. He has averaged 4.7 yards per attempt, and has earned back his #1 spot on the Broncos depth chart. Bell is struggling in the red zone mostly due to the fact that he appears to have that moment of hesitation instead of firing his body into the hole with pure blunt force. Patience can turn into hesitation in the red zone.
Browns fans are, of course, very familiar with the starting front four of the Broncos because Ebenezer Ekuban, Michael Myers, Gerard Warren and Kenard Lang were all recent members of their favorite team.
While this should make this game very personal for those four players, the most intriguing member of their defensive line is Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil didn't play in the first three contests and saw few reps in the fourth game, but last week he saw increased action on third downs and registered two sacks while applying constant pressure. Dumervil's speed off the edge could present a match up problem for the Browns tackles.
The Broncos have an excellent group of linebackers led by veteran Al Wilson. They often play well off the line, so if Browns running backs can get through the front four, they will find some room to run. Open space won't last long, however. Wilson and company fly to the ball and their zone coverage is excellent.
The front seven feeds off of the play of the secondary. Champ Bailey is an elite corner with the full compliment of skills. He is willing to support the run and is a terrific open field tackler. He is also known for his solid man coverage as well as tremendous hands in intercepting the ball. Throwing away from Champ is always advisable.
The muscle for this secondary is safety John Lynch. Lynch is one of the hardest hitting safeties in all of football. He has made a career of separating the player from the ball. Charlie Frye must avoid throwing the ball high and leaving the receiver vulnerable to the bone-jarring hits that have made Lynch famous.
Quarterback Charlie Frye reminds me a great deal of Jake Plummer. He has tremendous talent, but accuracy and decision making appears to be an issue. Still, Frye is showing progress.
In his last game, Frye showed improvement with the passes he did not make as he simply threw the ball away instead of taking the sack or forcing the play. If Charlie can get out of the pocket, he could have a big day running the ball. Charlie should take what is given and look to go deep when the Broncos bring the outside blitz.
Frye's best weapon for Sunday is tight end Kellen Winslow. Kellen is leading all tight ends in receptions and is still under-utilized. Kellen should have a huge day against a Denver defense that leaves the middle of the field open. If he can break that first tackle, a big run should follow.
With receiver Dennis Northcutt suffering from a rib injury, Joe Jurevicius will receive a great deal of playing time. Joe will be the safety valve when pressure is coming. Joe should find himself matched up with the second-year defensive back Darrent Williams. Darrent is only 5-8 and going against the 6-5 Jurevicius could be difficult.
Braylon Edwards should not be a viable option as he will be matched up against Champ Bailey. If the ball goes to Edwards, it better be on the quick slant underneath the coverage or on the deep post 25 yards downfield. Wide receiver screens and curl routes are where Champ excels at jumping the route.
The Browns running attack remains a work in progress. Reuben Droughns has struggled thus far but he will have extra motivation going against his old team. He has struggled with an injured shoulder, but indications are that the shoulder and Reuben will be ready for Sunday.
The key to the Browns offense success or failure against the Browns will be the offensive line. The line has provided little pass protection, and run blocking has been abysmal. Head coach Romeo Crennel hinted that Lennie Friedman could see playing time this week. This will be a big test for the line, but the week off to work on their timing and continuity could go a long way in solving the line's woes.
The bye week could not have come at a better time for the Browns defense. With both starting corners out with injuries, the Browns were forced to scheme around this weakened position. Look for a more aggressive front 7 this week with the return of Gary Baxter and Leigh Bodden.
The key to stopping the Broncos running game will be the play of the defensive line as well as the interior linebackers. The Browns defensive line must protect themselves from the chop blocks that Denver is famous for and the best way to do that is penetrate. Look for Orpheus Roye to have his best game this year. He has always been very effective when facing zone blocking teams.
While inside backers D'Qwell Jackson and Andra Davis are looking to fill the gaps and stop the run, it will be the outside backers in Willie McGinest and Kamerion Wimbley that will have their hands full. They must become the best of both worlds in pressuring the quarterback, while holding containment against the run. Kamerion could be a very difficult match up for Matt Lepsis. Matt is a fine left tackle but he doesn't seal the edge as good as he used to.
The Browns defensive backs must take advantage of Jake Plummer's mistakes. Jake will put the ball into the defenders hands and thus far the Browns have not taken advantage of mistakes by opposing quarterbacks. This must change on Sunday.
Look for Sean Jones to have a superb game. He is improving with every snap and this could be the game where he is asked to provide more of a pass rush. Sean also has the ability to go up and get the ball and Plummer is known for hanging a few passes up for grabs during the course of a game.
Former Browns receiver Quincy Morgan is returning kicks for the Broncos. After some of his comments this week, he could receive a not-so-friendly welcome from some of the Browns special teams players as well as from the Cleveland fan base.
The Browns have a special return man of their own. Josh Cribbs is on pace to earn a trip to Honolulu at season's end. Right now he is the Browns MVP along with punter Dave Zastudil. If Josh can break that first wave, the big return will happen.
With parity prevailing throughout the NFL, the Browns control their own destiny as far as the playoffs are concerned. Look for a hard hitting, physical game with neither team finding the end zone very often. Special teams as well as any distractions created by noisy fans could be the difference in this one.