The Denver Broncos defense has been a constant this season. On Sunday, the Broncos get another chance to jump-start their listless offense when they face the stumbling Cleveland Browns, an opponent they have dominated.
Denver (4-1), tied for first place in the AFC West, defeated winless Oakland 13-3 last week. The Broncos have allowed one touchdown through five games and 37 total points—easily the fewest in the NFL.
It’s the first time a team has held the opposition to one touchdown or less in that span since the 1934 Detroit Lions shut out their first seven opponents.
The Broncos defense has had to be good for the team to have any success at all this season. Denver has scored only 62 points, tied for next-to-last in the league with Tampa Bay and only 12 more points than the Raiders.
“We will find an answer,” quarterback Jake Plummer said. “Coach (Mike) Shanahan is one of the smartest offensive minds in the game.”
One of the answers for Shanahan is getting more productive performances from Plummer, who completed and attempted his fewest passes this season when he went 11-for-18 for 102 yards last week. Plummer has three touchdown passes, five interceptions and a 63.1 passer rating through five games, ranking him 31st out of 36 NFL quarterbacks.
“Sometimes a lineman will make a mistake, sometimes a wide receiver will make a mistake, a quarterback will make a mistake,” Shanahan said. “But as a group, to make an offense work, it’s the whole group. And all the pressure will go to the quarterback because most people don’t understand who broke down.
“I’m not going to tell people who broke down. Our job is to fix it.”
Another solution for Shanahan may be getting receiver Javon Walker more involved in the offense. Walker, acquired from Green Bay in an offseason trade, has just 20 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns.
“I feel like any time I get the ball in my hands something good can happen and I think more points can be scored,” Walker said. “But like I said, I’m just executing the plays that are called right now.”
While Denver has to improve its offense soon, the sputtering unit hasn’t kept the team from being tied with San Diego atop the division, and a second straight favorable matchup this week doesn’t hurt. The Broncos have won six in a row against the Browns franchise, dating to Dec. 8, 1991 before that team moved to Baltimore to become the Ravens.
The Browns (1-4), in fact, are largely responsible for the Denver defense they will be trying to solve this week. Former Browns Ebenezer Ekuban, Michael Myers and Gerard Warren start on Denver’s defensive line, with veteran Kenard Lang also playing an integral role along the front four.
“It’s going to be extra motivation going back,” Ekuban said. “I think I speak for all of us when I say that we’re excited and ready to play those guys.”
In all, eight current Broncos are former Browns.
While Denver has won six in a row and 15 of 20 all-time matchups with against Cleveland, the teams have only met twice since the Browns were reconstituted in 1999. Sunday’s game will be Denver’s first in Cleveland since Nov. 7, 1993.
The Browns had a bye last week, but will be facing a second straight formidable defense as they return to the field. Cleveland fell 20-12 to Carolina on Oct. 8.
The Panthers’ Julius Peppers was a nightmare for Browns quarterback Charlie Frye, as the defensive tackle had a sack, a forced fumble and hit Frye five other times. Carolina limited the Browns to 98 yards rushing and held Cleveland to four field goals by Phil Dawson.
Frye went 26-of-43 for 173 yards and two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. The 25-year-old quarterback has a league-high nine interceptions on the season.
Cleveland has topped 20 points only once in five games under offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, and has managed only 81 points all season.
“I’m not changing the offensive coordinator,” said Browns coach Romeo Crennel, whose team is 2-3 all-time after the bye. “I’ve talked to players and coaches and we think our team has ability and we’ll be able to get some things done. I think we can get some things straightened out. I don’t think we’re that far away.”
Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. attended Tuesday’s funeral for his brother Justin, who died last week at age 23 in Kansas City, Mo. Winslow, though, is expected to rejoin the team and be available to play Sunday.