DENVER — The Broncos offense remains hard to watch. By any statistical measure, they cause eye rolls. Denver ranks 28th in points per game (15.6) and 27th in passing yards. This is not the attack fans wanted with a new coaching staff. At 2-6, the mindset should change. As Meek Mill and Rick Ross declare in Ima Boss,"Scared Money Don't Make No Money."
The worst part of a losing record is, um, the losing. The best part? Freedom. The Broncos need to play without pressure and take calculated chances. Denver was more aggressive last week over the course of the game than perception. However, the reality is the timid turtle strategy in the fourth quarter deserved criticism from Joe Flacco. It was unfair to the players to expect the defense to win the game when it only a required a first down or field goal for an uplifting road victory.
With Flacco possibly having taken his last snap for the Broncos, Brandon Allen buckles into the cockpit. The backup is charged with lifting the Broncos back up off the mat against the slumping Cleveland Browns. My Denver7 keys to victory as the Broncos seek only their second home win:
Let the kid play
Allen represents the Broncos' sixth starting quarterback since Peyton Manning retired. He has never taken an NFL snap, having bounced from the Jaguars, Rams and waiver-wires the past four years. Please, tweak the offense to his strengths. Mix in some run-pass-option concepts. Use the bootleg -- a staple of this offense that did not fit Flacco -- and tell him to run and slide when the field opens. Allen brings confidence, mobility, and being around the team this week, the players are rallying around him. Play off that. Play without fear. According to Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, the past 42 quarterbacks who have made their NFL debut are 16-25-1, while completing 60 percent of their passes. What does Allen have to lose, but another game? Enjoy the moment, kid.
Win third down
The Broncos stink on third down. It is squarely why they lost last week. Denver converts 28.2 percent for the season, third worst. You think that's bad, the percentage drops to 16 percent the past two weeks, a sobering 3-for-25. Speaking with players, they said Flacco didn't have the luxury to audible on the third-and-5 run play that led to the Colts' loss. Allen certainly won't be changing much at the line of scrimmage. As such, put him in position to succeed by using his mobility.
Establish the run
The Browns have playmakers on defense. It starts with defensive end Myles Garrett, who leads the team with 10 sacks. Cleveland can get to the passer, and, with the return of Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, their secondary will make plays. How to make them vulnerable? Pound the ball. The Browns rank 29th against the run. San Francisco embarrassed them on the ground. The 49ers' offense is what Denver's is supposed to look like someday. The Browns learned from facing the 49ers and will simplify their approach upfront. Denver has to win this matchup to have any chance.
The Browns limited the Patriots to 79 yards on the ground last week. So there's reason to think they will be better in the trenches. That means play off their aggressiveness. Once Denver creases the Browns a few times, it should set the trap for a screen pass to Phillip Lindsay. Does any team employ this concept less effectively than the Broncos? It's time to implement it, taking pressure off Allen.
Baker the turnover maker
The Broncos cannot win this game without creating a short field for their offense. It starts with stopping Nick Chubb, forcing Cleveland's offense off schedule. The Browns give out more gifts than Santa Claus. Mayfield has been awful this season, throwing 12 interceptions with six picks. When he struggles, the blueprint is simple. Make him hold onto the ball, disrupt his timing and flush him right. He's been atrocious scrambling right, leading to sacks and picks. Von Miller needs at least two sacks. Denver has to strike the right balance -- be aggressive without allowing a big play that could spell doom in a low-scoring game.
Getting a lead is always important. It's paramount against the Browns for this reason: the crowd will become a factor when the Broncos are on defense. That spells trouble for the Browns, who lead the league in penalties. A few false starts and a holding could be the mix the Broncos need to produce a pick six or strip sack on third and long.
Losing stinks. But the nature of the losses is equally important. Anyone who watches the Broncos knows they are rebuilding. They are a young team. These final eight weeks remain important to creating a culture of competing, and, hopefully, finishing close games. I don't know if the Broncos will win this week. I do know they may not find a more favorable matchup the rest of the season. What the heck, I believe Allen will play just well enough not to lose the game.
Renck's Prediction: Broncos 19, Browns 18