By Tony Grossi
Browns vs. Denver Broncos
Sunday, 4:05 p.m., in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
Last game: Beat Baltimore Ravens, 34-17, Dec. 16, in Baltimore.
Coach: John Fox, 19-11, second year; 98-86 overall.
Series record:Broncos lead, 21-5 (counting postseason).
Last meeting: Broncos won, 27-6, Sept. 20, 2009, in Denver.
League rankings: Offense is fifth overall (18th running, sixth passing), defense is fourth overall (second rushing, eight passing), and turnover differential is zero.
Offensive overview: Coordinator Mike McCoy intended to blend a hybrid of the New England offense he ran under former coach Josh McDaniels and the Indianapolis offense for Peyton Manning. But it’s turned into the Manning offense completely. Manning actually helps McCoy write the game plan on Tuesdays – the regular players’ day off. Manning is the same maestro he was with the Colts, gesticulating and changing plays at the line of scrimmage without huddling. But his arm strength never fully returned following three neck surgeries. So he relies more on short passes – hitches, crossing routes, slants, checkdowns – to set up the occasional 30-yard throws. And he doesn’t go much longer than that, though his receivers, particularly Demaryius Thomas, has turned many into big gainers. Thomas, Eric Decker and Brandon Stokley form the base of the pass offense, but Manning also uses tight end Jacob Tamme in the slot in a frequent two-tight end set. Manning’s brilliant run audibles often catch defenses unawares.
Defensive overview: Former Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio, who’s calling the plays, has been the beneficiary of some athletic playmakers – notably pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Miller has been almost unblockable in his second season. He lines up mostly opposite the left tackle, but has also been effective stunting inside. With Dumervil rushing from the other side, the unit sports one of the most fearsome rushing tandems. The unit came together after its last loss 10 games ago to New England, which hit it up for 31 points with a fast attack. Keith Brooking moved in at middle linebacker to solidify the run defense. The loss of cornerback Tracy Porter most of the year to unexplained illness (seizures) has been absorbed by Chris Harris and Champ Bailey, 34, who’s having his best season in six years.
Special teams overview: Kicker Matt Prater is 23 of 29 on field goals with a long of 53 yards. Prater has a league-high 56 touchbacks on kickoffs. Punter Britton Colquitt is 17th in gross average (46.2 yards) and fourth in net (42.0). Return specialist Trindon Holiday, a 5-5, 170-pound world-class sprinter, has punt and kickoff return TDs. The coverage units are excellent, each ranking in the top five.
Players to watch:
1. QB Peyton Manning: After three neck surgeries and facing the prospect of not playing again, he cemented his place as one of the sport’s all-time greatest quarterbacks with another MVP-caliber season. In a totally new environment with mostly unfamiliar teammates, he has 31 TDs v. 10 INTs and he has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in eight of 14 games.
2. LB Von Miller:The defensive rookie of the year in 2011 has his eyes on league player of the year this season. A one-man wrecking crew, he has 16 sacks, 25 tackles for losses and six forced fumbles.
3.WR Demaryius Thomas: The main beneficiary of Manning’s arrival, he’s had a breakout year in his third season – leading the team with 78 catches for 1,210 yards and eight TDs. The 6-3, 229-pounder is second in the league with 17 receptions of 25 or more yards.
Injury report: CB Tracy Porter (illness) has been inactive the past nine games but could return this week. RG Chris Cooper (forearm) missed first five games and last four (ankle) and will be questionable.
Small world:Safety Mike Adams played for the Browns from 2007 to ‘11 … Kicker Matt Prater is a native of Mayfield Heights … Jerry Butler, director of player development, had the same position with the Browns from 2001 to ’10 and was an assistant coach in 1999-2000 … Keith Kidd, director of pro personnel, held the same job with the Browns in 1999-01 … Quality control-defense coach Cory Undlin had various coaching roles with the Browns in 2005-08 … Mark Thewes, director of team administration, is a Canton native and worked in Browns marketing from 2000 to ’04.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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