What will the Cleveland Browns need from Case Keenum in order to take home a win against the Denver Broncos?
What is the breaking point between being too banged up to be operational and being resilient enough to win? We are about to find out when the Broncos come to FirstEnergy Stadium.
Good teams grind out ugly wins. Point blank. When the backs are against the wall, that is when the true soul of a team rises. With Case Keenum slated to take the start at quarterback, with D'Ernest Johnson behind him, the 3-3 Browns are at a crossroads early in the season.
This is the game where we find out just how well-coached this team is behind Kevin Stefanski and Joe Woods. Stefanski will have his work cut out for him as he has to dial up plays that fit the skillset of a quarterback with a subpar arm and a running back in his first career start. Not to mention your star wide receiver and two offensive tackles may also be out.
Look for Stefanski to stick to the basics in the passing attack, featuring a ton of quick hitters. Stick concept, spot concept, some bootleg, and maybe a few wrinkles. However, do not expect Keenum to go out there and take shots into the hole of Cover-2 the way that we have seen Baker Mayfield do this season.
And that's okay.
Keenum is a professional in the Kubiak wide zone offense. He led the Minnesota Vikings to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in it. He's four years removed from the heights of his starting career at this point, but there are positives the Browns can call upon with Keenum.
One area where Keenum may actually bring a sigh of relief for this coaching staff is just how well he can operate this offense. Expect Keenum's eyes to be in the right spot pre-snap and post-snap. Expect Keenum to recognize pressure, know when the number of people blitzing outnumber the amount of protection he has, and expect the veteran to find his hot receiver.
Do not expect the Browns to take shots down the field with frequency. However, again, the Browns were not really taking shots before the Mayfield injury either. What you could see, however, is a quarterback recognizing one-on-one coverage and being willing to allow his teammate to make a play. Other than that, it feels hard to believe this coaching staff would dial up designed shot plays for Keenum.
Instead, expect Keenum to get the ball out quick and on schedule, have a good grasp of the pre-snap landscape, and follow what will likely be a very detailed and catered gameplan to a tee.
Get the ball into the hands of your best playmakers early and often, run behind the sturdy interior (that is still healthy, knock on wood), and stay in front of the sticks. This will be key. This team has already struggled when forced into 3rd and 5-or-more situations, and that's when they are healthy. Staying on schedule will be of the utmost importance against the Broncos.
This offense is going to sputter if the Browns have to play from behind the chains early on, and behind the scoreboard later in the game. The issue with Keenum, however, is that he is just not equipped to put a team on his back when they fall behind. The Browns are going to have to remain efficient offensively, even without their running backs and perhaps their tackles, or the game will get ugly offensively.
Again, Keenum knows this offense like the back of his hand. Expect him to run it as such. The issue will be what the issue has always been for Keenum: he just does not have the physical tools to overcome an adverse situation. It's time to find out if this team can grind out an ugly win behind Keenum, or if they drop below .500 in a year with Super Bowl aspirations.