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Week 6 preview: Broncos at Browns


The Sports Xchange

Denver Broncos (5-0) at Cleveland Browns (2-3)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at FirstEnergy Stadium – TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn

*Keys to the game: Fan calls for the Broncos to bench 18th-year veteran QB Peyton Manning aren’t going to produce a change under center any time soon, but Denver’s offensive struggles are legitimate. They begin up front with an offensive line incapable of establishing the strong running game coach Gary Kubiak envisioned entering the season. Defenses unafraid to challenge Manning to beat them deep or to the outside are stacking the box and limiting RBs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman to a combined 3.51 yards per carry – and that includes a 72-yard scamper by Hillman. The Browns own the league’s 31st-ranked run defense, struggle to generate much of a pass rush, have zero interceptions and could be without CB Joe Haden, so this could be the game Manning regains some old form.

The Browns are trying to use last week’s comeback over the Ravens as a stepping stone for more sustained success, but it won’t be easy against the league’s second-ranked defense. QB Josh McCown is quietly playing very well, completing 67.8 percent of his passes with six touchdowns vs. a lone interception. But he needs more than 3.5 yards per carry from RBs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson to have success against a Broncos defense that will crash the edges on long passing downs and have far superior cover talent than the Baltimore secondary McCoy tore apart.

*Matchup to watch – Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders vs. Browns CB Pierre Desir: Desir is likely to get the start in place of Joe Haden (concussion). Sanders was targeted 12 times last week and came up with nine catches for 111 yards. He leads the Broncos with 418 receiving yards and is averaging 12.3 yards per catch. Desir, a second-year player out of Lindenwood, has started two of 10 career games and has 15 career tackles and six passes defensed.

*Player spotlight – Browns TE Gary Barnidge: He’s not going to be mistaken for Rob Gronkowski any time soon, but Barnidge is the first Browns tight end with touchdowns in three consecutive games since Ozzie Newsome in 1984 and his 24 receptions through five games equals what Jordan Cameron produced for Cleveland all of last season.

*Fast facts: Only two of the Broncos’ 18 rushes against Oakland last week produced first downs. … Johnson is the first Browns running back with 20-plus catches over a three-game stretch since Peyton Hillis in 2010.


Denver looks like an extremely fragile 5-0 team because of the struggles of the once-mighty offense. But the Broncos’ second-ranked defense is extremely good and will control field position until Peyton Manning & Co. are able to create some breathing room.

*Our pick: Broncos 30-19.

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