Many questions for the Browns to answer on Thursday Night Football

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The Cleveland Browns face-off with the Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football with a chance to get above a .500 record. With the offseason expectations much higher, “a chance to get above a .500 record” is a disappointing statement of reality.

In Week 1, the Cleveland defense couldn’t stop Kansas City but the offense was humming. The “moral victory” wasn’t real but hope came out of the game.

In Week 2, the Browns defense couldn’t stop Tyrod Taylor but shut down his rookie replacement, Davis Mills, and the offense did enough to get the victory.

Week 3 saw another rookie quarterback, Justin Fields, and the defense really came alive versus him. The offense once again did enough to get the victory.

Against Minnesota in Week 4, the rushing attack led the offense to victory while the defense shut down a very good offensive attack on the road. The quality win moved the team to 3 – 1.

The Los Angeles Chargers welcomed the Browns in and the game followed much like the first week against the Chiefs where the defense couldn’t make stops and the offense was able to be explosive.

Week 6 was the worst combination of the earlier games where the defense couldn’t get stops but the offense couldn’t get going with Nick Chubb out for the game.

Now comes a short week and a lot of questions that the Browns need to answer. Despite all of the injuries, the team still has to compete on Thursday Night Football.

A few questions going into the game:

Passive or Aggressive?

(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

With a variety of players out with injuries and the team’s back against the wall, will the Browns empty their arsenal of creative plays and aggressive blitzes or go into a shell and try to do just enough to win?

Both are reasonable options and have reasons to be chosen. An extra aggressive approach could give Cleveland the best chance to win the game but put them at risk to cost themselves the game. A passive approach creates less variability to the outcome but, ultimately, can put the control of the game in Denver’s hands (or the referees).

While the Browns have their back against the wall, they have a lot to lose as well. It will be interesting to see where they are on the passive-aggressive scale by the end of the game.

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Dominate Defense or Porous Defense?

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Against the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings, the Cleveland defense looked outstanding. The Bears were starting a rookie quarterback and looked terrible but the Vikings offense has been playing well but got shut down by the Browns defense.

On the other hand, Kansas City, Los Angeles and Arizona (along with the Tyrod Taylor-led Houston offense for a half) were able to do whatever they wanted against Cleveland’s defense.

The dichotomy of the defense has been frustrating and concerning. Coordinator Joe Woods was given a lot of extra talent to work with this offseason and it hasn’t come together with any consistency. Which defense shows up tonight?

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D'Ernest Johnson Break Out Game?

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

There used to be a running joke that you could pull someone off the street and they could run for 1,000 yards in the Mike Shanahan system that is now employed by Kevin Stefanski with the Browns. D’Ernest Johnson was pulled off working on a boat a couple of years ago and played well in spot duty last season.

Last year, Johnson stepped in for Nick Chubb in Week 4 and produced well. He had 13 carries for 95 yards against a bad Dallas run defense. Can he break out in a game where the team needs him to carry the load more than ever before?

If Johnson has a good game, Cleveland could feel better about resting Chubb as long as needed. If he doesn’t, the team could feel some pressure to rush him back.

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Grant Delpit in the Dog House?

(AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Last week, Delpit had very few snaps on defense despite Ronnie Harrison struggling in coverage. This week, with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah on injured reserve, there are more snaps available that could go Delpit’s way.

After an explosive return from injury, the former LSU safety has had his ups and downs this season. Will Woods trust him on national television tonight or will we see more Malcolm Smith and Mack Wilson instead?

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Can Anthony Schwartz Have Another Impactful Game?

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland scripted plays to get the rookie speedster open in Week 1 leading to 69 yards receiving and 17 yards rushing. Since then, Schwartz has only two receptions, for 11 yards, and one carry, for -3 yards.

Schwartz seemed to slow up or give up on a route that led to an interception in Week 2. Since then, his usage has gone down dramatically. While some of that was due to the return of Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns could have used his dynamic speed during their three straight losses.

With Case Keenum starting this week, will Stefanski find a way to get the rookie receiver involved again or is the third-round pick going to continue to struggle to get involved?

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How Healthy Are the Best Friends?

(AP Photo/David Dermer)

Jarvis Landry will return from the injured reserve list tonight while Odell Beckham Jr. is listed as questionable. Landry has missed the last four games and went out in Week 2 after only two plays. The best friend receivers are an important part of the Cleveland offense (as well as taking up a large portion of the team’s cap space).

Coming back from injury, will Landry have the same crisp routes and strength to make an impact?

Will Beckham be able to play and, if so, is his shoulder healthy enough for him to not only make an impact but also to make it through the entire game?

With a lot riding on the outcome of the game, the Browns need their highly paid receiver to contribute, if they can.

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Can The Team Do Enough to Win?

(AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)

A simple question but the most important question, can a Cleveland team with a ton of injuries to a ton of their highly talented players do enough to get the victory tonight?

The Browns still have talent and are hopeful that the returns of Jedrick Wills (still questionable) and Landry will be enough to offset the losses on offense. The defense has guys who can make huge impacts on all three levels of the game.

The Broncos have talent in their own right but the Cleveland team has big aspirations that starting the season 3 – 4 could start to slip out of reach. Thursday Night Football is not must-win for the Browns but they need to win the game, however they can.

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