What We Saw: Broncos at Browns

The Browns scratch past the Broncos in a forgettable Thursday Night Football game.

Broncos @ Browns

Final Score: Browns 17, Broncos 14

Writer: Benjamin Haller (@benjaminhaller1 on Twitter)

 

Two 3-3 teams met in an unattractive Thursday Night Football matchup which felt like a season-defining game for both the Cleveland Browns and the Denver Broncos. The Browns just about did enough on the back of a gutsy performance from backup quarterback Case Keenum and a scintillating first start at running back from 2018 undrafted free agent and former AAF standout D’Ernest Johnson out of South Florida.

The Broncos will now be left with many questions to ponder after an uninspiring outing from starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a questionable, ineffective game plan on offense that didn’t get the most out of their star assests, namely Courtland Sutton andย  explosive rookie rusher Javonte Williams. Star pass rusher Von Miller also hurst his ankle just before the half and did not return. Uncertain times for third-year Head Coach Vic Fangio.

The game was actually better than the scoreline, and the quarterback statistics, suggests, however it was by no means a classic. The night belonged to one man, who singlehandedly propelled the injury-hit Browns to a much-needed victory. Take a bow, D’Ernest! We leave you with his game-clinching run that was evocative of most of his runs in this game.

 

Denver Broncos

 

Quarterback

 

Teddy Bridgewater: 22/33, 187 yards, 2 TD, INT, 2 sacks | 2 carries, 3 yards

 

On a night when the Broncos needed their starting quarterback to be the positive difference in the game, it ended up being the exact opposite. Teddy Bridgewater‘s terrible first quarter turnover, an under thrown deep ball to John Brownย that was easily snagged by big money free agent John Johnson III, proved to be a crucial moment in the game, handing the momentum to the Browns and taking the pressure off Case Keenum.

 

The Broncos ran just 16 plays in the first half, punting three times to go along with the interception. Teddy finally found some groove in the second half, driving down the field for a 13-play, 79-yard touchdown drive, connecting with Melvin Gordon III out of the backfield in the red zone on third down to get the Broncos on the board.

 

There were just far too many check-downs and short throws for little gain from Bridgewater to put the Broncos in a serious position to challenge for the win. Denver only had three total possessions in the second half, and two of those were long, stuttering touchdown drives that took too much time off the clock. It really felt like death by a thousand paper cuts from a viewing perspectives.

Unfortunately, Teddy just doesn’t have the ability to move the offense down the field in different ways as this showing made all too clear. But the coaching staff and Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur need to take plenty of heat here too. They set up their team to fail by underutilising Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant and Javonte Williams.

 

Running Back

 

Javonte Williams: 4 carries, 20 yards | 7 targets, 6 receptions, 32 yards, TD

Melvin Gordon III: 8 carries, 18 yards | 3 targets, 2 receptions, 14 yards, TD

 

This split backfield defies sense if truth be told. It was clear from the off that Javonte Williams had the explosive nature and nifty footwork to do damage in this game, but for some reason Melvin Gordon was preferred as a veteran presence as soon as the Broncos slipped to a 10-0 hole in the second quarter.

Gordon led the backfield in the first drive of the second half, which Bridgewater methodologically executed to put his team in the red zone for the first time. After getting stuff on a second down run, Bridgewater found Gordon with a check down and the veteran back made a nice move to get past Browns star corner Denzel Ward and extend for the score. It was a great play and maybe exactly why the Broncos tried to lean on experience in the second half to get back in the game.

Williams did get his opportunity in the third and final drive of the second half for Denver, however, but by then it was too late. Williams took yet another screen pass from Bridgewater to the house with some smart, powerful running out of the backfield.

 

Both running backs are decent low-end RB2 options because of their ability to make plays when it counts. The volume is a worry as is the limitations of Bridgewater. Still, you feel comfortable knowing that the production will be at least acceptable, at best surprisingly valuable.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Courtland Sutton: 5 targets, 5 receptions, 68 yards

Noah Fant: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 39 yards

Tim Patrick: 5 targets, 2 receptions, 16 yards

Kendall Hinton: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 15 yards

Eric Saubert: 1 target, 1 reception, 3 yards

John Brown: 1 target

Tyrie Cleveland: 1 target

 

It is a travesty that on a night littered with the absence of great players and playmakers, the one true quality receiver on the field โ€“ Courtland Sutton โ€“ was given just five targets, ceding 17 targets to the rest of an average receiving corps. Sutton did what he could with what he was given, hauling in all his targets including this amazing one-handed catch in the first quarter to finally get things moving for the Broncos.

 

Yes, he is still not fully 100% after the ACL injury but he has shown enough to insist he should be featured more than he was tonight. When they targeted him, something good happened. He was flagged for an offensive pass interference penalty, however if he hadn’t committed the foul the ball would have likely been intercepted.

Former Iowa tight end and first-round pick, Noah Fant was used mainly as a check down receiver underneath for most of this contest, which accounts for his targets and catches but minimal yards count. Bridgewater didn’t look to feature Fant and he seemed to be used as an afterthought on broken plays.

Tim Patrick and Kendall Hinton both made useful plays to convert third downs in the second half. The Broncos went an ugly 0-of-4 on third downs in the first half but flipped the script after the break. Still, these guys are far from fantasy relevant in this offense under this quarterback.

 

Cleveland Browns

 

Quarterback

 

Case Keenum: 21/33, 199 yards, TD, sack | 4 carries, 7 yards

 

The former Minnesota Vikings quarterback and NFL journeyman is a highly likeable character due to his character, work ethic and courage to put his body on the line for his team. After a brilliant opening drive of the game, spearheaded by the running of D’Ernest Johnson, Keenum struggled to complete drives and turn them into points despite the Browns controlling the time of possession and moving the chains with creative third-down plays.

After the Broncos scored with their opening drive of the second half, Keenum came alive when his team needed him the most. He led a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive during which he converted a key third-down on a QB sneak, and ran for the first-down on a 4th & 3 inside the Broncos’ 6-yard line. It was a game-winning, gutsy play.

 

On the very next play, Keenum found his fullback Johnny Stanton for an old-school score.

 

It was a functional, turnover-free performance from Keenum, which is exactly what Head Coach Kevin Stefanski needed. But, much like Bridgewater, the game plan involved a lot of screens and dump offs rather than a playbook with multiple progressions and reads.

 

Running Back

 

D’Ernest Johnson: 22 carries, 146 yards, TD | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 22 yards

John Kelly: 2 carries, 13 yards

Demetric Fulton: 2 carries, 13 yards | 3 targets, 3 receptions, 21 yards

Johnny Stanton: 2 carries, 5 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, 1 yard, TD

 

In his first career start for the Cleveland Browns, D’Ernest Johnson had a night! He showed his phenomenal cut-ability and speed out of direction changes in the first drive of the game.

 

A surgical first drive from the Browns was finished off by the 2018 undrafted free agent with a tough, determined run after being handed the rock on three straight plays. That’s the kind of trust that a young running back will take a lot of confidence from.

 

Johnson cut and sliced his way through the Broncos defense all night long, as his carry chart from Next Gen Stats highlighted.

 

He even made 2021 first-round cornerback Patrick Surtain II look a bit silly after this move. What a night for the young man, a complete performance backed up by a stellar fantasy output.

 

Overshadowed by Johnson, sixth-round rookie Demetric Fulton had a nice night with the ball on the ground and out of the backfield catching passes. He moved the sticks on a number of key plays and was a useful too for Keenum in his game-manager role. Let’s also show some love to fullback Johnny Stanton, who grabbed a cheeky TD much to the devastation of the fantasy world!

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Austin Hooper: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 42 yards

Jarvis Landry: 8 targets, 5 receptions, 37 yards

Odell Beckham Jr.: 6 targets, 2 receptions, 23 yards

Anthony Schwartz: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 22 yards | 1 carry, -2 yards

David Njoku: 2 targets, 2 receptions, 18 yards

Harrison Bryant: 2 targets, 1 reception, 15 yards

Rashard Higgins: 2 targets, 1 reception, -2 yards

 

After the disaster with all the injuries over the past week, Kevin Stefanski was glad to have veteran receiver Jarvis Landry back available to help Keenum. He immediately had an impact in the passing game, moving the chains on third down, which is one of his premiere qualities. Yet, again like many playmakers in this game the ball unexplainably drifted away from him after the first quarter for mich of the game. He did pop up on the final Browns drive of the day to complete another key first down.

 

There wasn’t much else to shout about in this receiving corps as the Browns led with Johnson and the run-game, however the inability of Odell Beckham Jr. to make plays was once again all too noticeable multiple times in this game. He dropped a straightforward pass out of the slot that should have resulted in a first down before falling to the floor on a pass deeper downfield. It was lucky that the ball hit his body as it would have gone straight into the hands of Ronald Darby for an interception.

 

Beckham dropped another third-down pass just before the half and seemed to reaggravate his troublesome right shoulder. He did return to the field in the second half to make a couple of useful catches but this is far from the production we expected from the once-enigmatic receiver.

Note, Donovan Peoples-Jones was a late scratch from this game, designated as questionable with a groin injury right at the start of the game. Sorry if that killed you in some lineups!

 

Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire | Adpated by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.