DENVER — To knock off the Cleveland Browns and claim their fifth consecutive victory, the Broncos knew it would be crucial to beat Cleveland at its own game: a gritty, physical style football defined by success in the run games and in the trenches. The Browns entered Week 12 ranked first in time of possession, third in rushing yards per game, first in yardage allowed per game and first in third-down conversion percentage allowed.
The Broncos bested the visitors in all four categories, controlling possession for over five more minutes, gaining 62 more rushing yards, winning the yardage battle and earning four more first downs. The dominance up front added up to a 29-12 Denver victory, giving the Broncos a winning record and the AFC's longest winning streak.
"That was an emphasis the whole week," safety P.J. Locke said of the Broncos' physicality. "These guys were going to come in and try to impose their will. We had to match it and be even better. That was the emphasis throughout the week even though we do not really hit during practice. We just had that mindset and that was one of the keys to victory. We won the fight."
Head Coach Sean Payton said the Broncos prioritized racing out to an early lead against a Browns team with one of the AFC's most punishing ground games and said Denver used heavy defensive fronts to disrupt Cleveland's attempts at establishing the run. Payton also added that he felt "the rushing numbers were going to be really important" in determining the outcome of Sunday afternoon's matchup.
"When you get a team that rushes the ball so well, it's much harder to play them from behind than with a lead, and that kind of forces them to flip the script a little bit," Payton said. "Now that's easier said than done, but we were lucky to do that, and that was something we wanted to do."
On offense, the Broncos held possession for 32:48 and gained a season-high 169 yards on the ground. Four Denver players registered rushes of more than 10 yards, and running back Samaje Perine and quarterback Russell Wilson each recorded a red-zone rushing touchdown.
The Broncos' success on the ground helped neutralize Browns defensive end Myles Garrett and the Cleveland pass rush, which finished with a single sack on the afternoon.
"[The Browns] have a great defense," Perine said. "They have a great pass rush. The more we could take those pass rushers out of the game, the better. I feel like we did a pretty good job of that today."
Denver also improved its third-down efficiency, finishing 6-of-14 in third-down conversion attempts behind a strong performance by the offensive line.
Right tackle Mike McGlinchey said the Broncos' performance in short-yardage situations is a prime example of the offense's improvement during Denver's winning streak.
"You've got to win that one yard by the way you come off the ball and move," McGlinchey said. "... You've got to stay clean on third-and-1, because those are the opportunities that propel drives, that propel points, and we've been doing that better and better each week."
Denver's defense limited the league's third-ranked rushing offense to 107 rushing yards and no rushing touchdowns. The Broncos also recovered three fumbles, tallied four sacks and held the Browns to two third-down conversions in 13 attempts.
Defensive lineman Mike Purcell was one of two Broncos defensive linemen to recover a fumble, while a third member of the defensive line, defensive end Zach Allen, teamed up with outside linebacker Nik Bonitto for a fourth-quarter safety. Purcell said the defensive line's dominance made a major difference in the win.
"We all balled today, and we take pride in that up front," Purcell said. "We put them on our backs to start and we're in the trenches, so it has to start there."
Allen saw room for continued improvement even in the decisive 29-12 victory, but he said the Broncos' performance across all three phases exemplified Denver's ability to play — and win — its most physical matchups.
"Today was a great example of [playing physically]," Allen said. "The cool thing is, at least defensively, we feel there are things in the run that we feel like we could have done better. … If we can just keep on playing that way, we will be in a good spot."