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Burning Questions: Broncos vs. Browns

DENVER — Next man up.

After Joe Flacco was placed on injured reserve Friday, that was the message as Brandon Allen prepares to start his first regular-season NFL game.

Allen, who completed nearly 64 percent of his passes during the preseason with the Rams, joined the Broncos ahead of Week 1 and has served as the team’s backup each week. This week, though, as he becomes the team’s starting quarterback, the demands are far different.

“It’s obviously a great opportunity this week,” Allen said Tuesday. “The approach and preparation really doesn’t change. I think as a backup you prepare the same as a starter does and you’re ready to go in at a moment’s notice. As far as preparation and all that, nothing’s going to change there.”

Allen’s performance is likely the single largest deciding factor in Sunday’s game against the Browns, but there’s plenty more to dissect.

As the Broncos look to improve to 3-6 and head into a bye with a win, these are the questions that will help determine a winner.

HOW WILL BRANDON ALLEN FARE IN HIS FIRST CAREER START?

For the first time since Jan. 2, 2016, Allen will start a game that counts in the standings.

He led Arkansas to a win that day over Kansas State, but he hasn’t started a regular-season game in the three years since.

That will change Sunday, when he leads the Broncos against the Browns. And while Allen lacks the in-game experience, his teammates and coaches believe he’s ready to perform.

“He’s got a nice release,” Head Coach Vic Fangio said. “I think he’s got better arm strength than people will give him credit for initially looking at him. I think he’s got a good feel for the game. I don’t think the game will be too big for him. I think he’s got a chance to go out there and perform well. He hasn’t taken a snap in an NFL regular season game, but has had some in preseason, played a lot in college and I think he’ll do fine.”

While the Broncos’ playbook won’t be as open as it was with Flacco under center, Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello said he thinks Allen’s mobility could become a bigger factor in the offense than it had been with Flacco.

“That’s one thing about Brandon,” Scangarello said. “He does have a good a feel in the pocket and he can go off schedule, so we’re excited about that element of this game. Obviously, it’s his first time starting and all that, you’ve just got to go out there and try to find a rhythm and the game is going to take you where it’s going to take you.”

If Allen can play within the offense and avoid mistakes, the Broncos should have a decent chance to pull an upset on Sunday.

“I’m very excited,” Allen said. “Obviously, this is the opportunity that everybody wants and everybody strives for, so I’m going out to do the best I can do.”

CAN THE RUNNING GAME HELP OUT ALLEN?

A year after tallying three 100-yard rushing games and topping the 90-yard rushing mark on five occasions, Phillip Lindsay has broken the 90-yard barrier just once in 2019.

His 4.51 yards per carry remain impressive, and he’s found the end zone on four occasions. But if the Broncos are going to earn a win against the Browns, they may need more from the 2018 Pro Bowler.

If Lindsay can put together a performance like he had against the Chargers in Week 5, that could be enough. The second-year player tallied 114 yards on the ground and recorded five runs of at least 10 yards. Lindsay’s ability to turn pedestrian plays into big gains makes him dangerous, and he showed that skill against the Chargers.

The Browns rank 29th in rushing defense, so it’s quite possible that Lindsay and Royce Freeman will have their opportunities to make an impact. Against a first-time quarterback, Cleveland may load the box to make life difficult for Lindsay and Freeman. If the two players can still find a way to break free for chunk yardage, Allen should find his job becomes much easier.

“Nothing changes,” Lindsay said about the offense on Wednesday. “We have to find ways to win the game. For us, we’re going to have to run the ball, we’re going to have to find ways to make first downs and make explosive plays. That’s just it.”

CAN THE DEFENSE MAKE A PLAY?

Against the Colts, the Broncos were mere inches away from securing a win. There were the inches that separated Von Miller from wrapping up Jacoby Brissett, and there were the inches that separated Chris Harris Jr. from T.Y. Hilton as the Colts receiver dragged his toes near the sideline for a 35-yard gain.

It’s hard to knock the Broncos’ defense for their performance this season, as the unit ranks fourth in total defense and eighth in scoring defense. After a slow start to the season, it also appears the unit has turned the corner in recording sacks and forcing turnovers. The Broncos took down Brissett down four times in Week 8 and forced a strip sack.

In three of the last four weeks, the Broncos have held their opponent to 15 points or fewer.

End-of-game situations, though, remain an Achilles heel. Three times this season, the Broncos’ defense has allowed a late go-ahead field goal to Denver’s opponents, and each drive has been aided by a personal foul penalty.

“I applaud their performance,” Fangio said of the defense’s effort. “I will when we meet, but also make them well aware that the way we ended the half wasn’t good and we have to make the play there at the end of the game. To me, the end-of-the-game play, that’s just — that happens every week in the NFL. Their good player against our good player, and they made it. We didn’t.”

If the Broncos are going to knock off the Browns, they’ll likely need their defense to turn in a superb performance — and to avoid a late-game letdown. It’s a lot to expect from the unit, but it’s also nothing new to the defense.

“We’ve always had a lot of pressure on us every game to win,” Chris Harris Jr. said Wednesday. “Nothing changes from my side. … I have to play good to give us a chance to win every week, I know that. That’s the type of pressure I put on myself every game.”

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