KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Randy Cross
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SERIES: 21st meeting. The Denver Broncos lead the regular-season series 15-5. The most famous meetings between the teams were a pair of playoff meetings in the 1980s. John Elway led "The Drive" in the AFC Championship Game at the end of the 1986 season to send the Broncos to the Super Bowl. In the AFC Championship Game the following season, a fumble near the goal line by Cleveland clinched a 38-33 win and another Super Bowl appearance for the Broncos.
2006 RANKINGS: Broncos: offense 24th (5th rush, 30th pass); defense 10th (12th rush, 11th pass). Browns: offense 31st (29th rush, 26th pass); defense 23rd (27th rush, 12th pass)
PREDICTION: Broncos 24-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: With QB Jake Plummer underwhelming this season, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has been uncharacteristically conservative offensively. So much so that WR Javon Walker voiced displeasure this week with his lack of opportunities downfield. While the Browns have issues in their secondary, the Broncos will still come out running the ball and attempt to grind out an early led. If successful, then Denver might open the offense a bit working off play-action. The Browns are minus-nine in the turnover department, so the onus is on them to protect the ball and prove they can produce against a Broncos defense that is the first since the 1934 Lions to allow fewer than two touchdowns through six games. QB Charlie Frye won't make a living trying to come from behind against Denver CBs Champ Bailey and Darrent Williams, so it's critical for the Browns to keep the game close and get RB Reuben Droughns untracked (3.3 yards per carry). He had the bye week to rest his ailing shoulder and Cleveland desperately needs him to produce on early downs.
FAST FACTS: Broncos: Have won 15 of the 18 previous meetings. ... Their .783
(185) winning percentage against Cleveland's is the franchise's best against any
team. Browns: Frye leads the AFC with 373 passing yards in the fourth quarter.
... Droughns played for Denver from 2001-04 and faces his former team for the
--FB Kyle Johnson practiced on Thursday. He has an ankle injury but feels optimistic about his chances of playing this week.
--RB Cedric Cobbs practiced again Thursday and was upgraded from doubtful to questionable. He has been out since Week 2 with an ankle injury.
--WR Rod Smith said he wasn't panicked about the state of the Broncos offense. He said the Broncos needed to relax and eventually they would start making plays.
--WR Quincy Morgan is another former Brown who will be playing his former team this weekend. Morgan has talent at receiver and could eventually help the Broncos on offense. He is Denver's kickoff returner.
--DE Patrick Chukwurah is having a good season rushing the quarterback. He is a former linebacker, and is also a valuable special-teams player.
--WR Joe Jurevicius should get his first start of the season on Sunday. Jurevicius could be a big factor, as his ability to use his body to make catches always seems to help Charlie Frye.
--KR Joshua Cribbs will add punt return to his kickoff return duties with Northcutt out. Cribbs' explosiveness makes the Browns special teams dangerous on every return.
--TE Kellen Winslow leads all NFL tight ends in catches and is on pace for 96 receptions. Yet he said he's only used properly "sometimes." Winslow is one of those guys who just can't get the ball enough.
--CB Gary Baxter is closer to full health than at any time this season. Baxter took part in practice during the week and said his pectoral muscle injury feels much improved.
--CB Leigh Bodden missed some practice, but still expects to face the Broncos. Bodden almost played in Carolina, but sloppy and wet turf prompted the Browns to protect his injured ankle. Bodden seems on pace to join Baxter in the starting lineup on Sunday.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Denver Broncos took a lot of heat for raiding the Cleveland Browns for defensive linemen the past two offseasons.
With this year's starting front four made up entirely of former Browns, and the Broncos having allowed only one touchdown in five games, the moves look pretty good.
"As far as I'm concerned it's always who's next, and they're next on the list," Warren said. "Nothing extra, man."
That's hard to believe, especially for Warren. Warren was the third overall pick of the 2001 draft, but never lived up to those expectations. He was traded to Denver before the 2005 season for a third-round pick.
Warren was happy to get into a winning situation. He said it was difficult playing for an expansion team that didn't have any history of success.
"I think they're still going through those struggles now," Warren said. "When you came to this team, it had an identity and you knew what you were stepping into."
Myers agreed. He said the difference between the two organizations was easy to see.
"Here, we got one goal, and that's to win the championship," defensive tackle Michael Myers said. "Cleveland, just try to not go 5-11, 4-12, just try to get a winning season. They're in a rebuilding stage now, and I'm glad I'm not a part of that rebuilding. I'm getting too old for rebuilding."
Reuben Droughns is eager to face his old teammates Sunday when the Broncos visit Cleveland, but he's more eager for the Browns offense to get going in general.
"It's going to take all of us to get something going," Droughns said. "But if it has to start with me, then it has to start with me."
Droughns played for the Broncos in 2004 when injuries promoted Denver to move him from fullback to halfback. Droughns wound up running for 1,200 yards, and then asked for a raise to "tailback money."
Mike Shanahan decided to trade him instead, figuring Tatum Bell and Mike Anderson would be fine as tailbacks. Droughns was sent to the Browns for defensive linemen Ebenezer Ekuban and Mike Myers, both of whom start.
Droughns topped 1,200 yards for the Browns last season and got his new contract, but has run for just 224 yards in five games this season. With the weather turning cold and Droughns' sore shoulder finally healed following a bye week, Droughns and the Browns know that running the ball will help the entire team.
"It will take a lot of pressure off of Charlie (Frye)," coach Romeo Crennel said, "and having a weapon like that, teams have to honor the run. That opens up other things. If we can get Reuben going, that will be a big plus for us."