ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos prepare for a critical AFC matchup against the Cleveland Browns, right tackle Mike McGlinchey recalled the words of one of the greatest professional wrestlers.
"Ric Flair always said, 'To be the man, you've got to beat the man,'" McGlinchey said Wednesday.
Against the Browns' top-ranked defense, that will be the Broncos' challenge.
Led by NFL sack leader Myles Garrett, the Browns rank first in total defense, points per possession (1.2) and yards per possession (18.6) — among a number of other metrics. Cleveland has allowed the fewest yards per drive since at least 2000, the fewest yards per game (243.3) since 2008, the fewest passing yards per game (143.7) since 1982 and the fewest first downs per game (12.5) since 1973. The Browns have also forced three-and-outs on the highest percentage of drives since the stat started being tracked in 2000.
"They're not just great pass-rushers," McGlinchey said. "Their front, they defend the run, they rush the passer, they're a talented group. They do it well, and they're coached well."
Garrett has 13 sacks through 10 games, and his four strip-sacks are tied for the NFL lead.
"Man, he's playing at a high level," Head Coach Sean Payton said. "He's smart, he's talented. He's got every one of those traits that you're looking for. His get-off's fantastic. He's battling chips and nudges and all of those things. He's having a great season. They're playing really good defense. They're first in the league in a lot of categories. He's something else."
The Broncos, though, believe in their chances to succeed against the NFL's best.
"They defend the run, they rush the passer, they're a talented group and they do it well and they're coached well," McGlinchey said. "… But we think we're a pretty damn good group, too. It's going to be a fun challenge and a fun game on Sunday."
McGlinchey said the ability to "answer the bell" against the Browns would be "a great step forward" for a Broncos offense that is still looking to play its best football.
One path to find success could be on the ground. Despite rushing for just 46 yards in Week 11, the Broncos averaged more than 134 yards per game on the ground between Weeks 5 and 10. That total would rank sixth in the league across the full season, and the Broncos believe they can return to that type of success against Cleveland.
"That's the plan, man," center Lloyd Cushenberry III said of running the ball. "It's going to be a physical game. We've got to come ready to play, ready to work from the first snap. We're looking forward to it."
BETTER IN THE RED ZONE
As the Broncos look to find success against Cleveland, they'll need to find success in a potentially limited number of red-zone opportunities. Through 10 games, the Browns' defense has allowed opponents to average just 2.1 red-zone drives per game, which is the fewest in the NFL.
Denver has found success in the red zone at times during this season, but the Broncos' offense was 1-of-5 on red-zone opportunities against the Vikings and ranks 21st in red-zone percentage this season.
"I think it's just execution," McGlinchey said. "I think it's focus. Certainly, [it's] those stupid cliche things that you wind up saying, but penalties kill you. Unidentified blocking surfaces kill you on second-and-1 and all of a sudden it turns into third-and-1 and we draw a penalty and it's third-and-6. Every play matters. You can't slip on a job because you never know what the next play's going to lead to. When you have an opportunity to strike and get points and go in for the kill, you've got to go do it. There's no excuse to not get that done. We're too talented, we're too good of a group. Our offense needs to be better there."
AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SKINNER?
Without Kareem Jackson — who will miss the next four games — Payton said the Broncos will "rep a few different players" at safety opposite of Justin Simmons. Fourth-year player P.J. Locke started a pair of games in Jackson's previous absence, but he suffered an injury against the Bills and did not practice on Wednesday.
"We'll see where we're at health-wise," Payton said.
If Locke is unavailable to play, rookie JL Skinner could be among the Broncos' options to fill in at safety. The sixth-round pick was active for the first time in Week 11 and played six special teams snaps in his debut.
Payton said the Broncos' coaching staff "really started noticing him on scout team" over the last three weeks and decided to activate him for Sunday's game against Minnesota.
"He's got obviously a good handle on what we're doing," Payton said. "He'll have to be ready. He's got good length and good ball skills. There's no exact time frame for rookies. I give him a hard time. … You know, college sometimes you get a redshirt year. There's that sense of urgency here where [it's], 'Hey, let's go.' … In the last month, we feel like he's really picked things up and playing with better eyes, quicker."