At 38.5, Browns at Broncos has the second lowest Over/Under on the Week 9 Main Slate — and there is a case to be made that this is the least attractive game on the Main Slate, given what each team offers.
When we have a game with a total this low, one of the first things to do is to establish why the game is expected to be low-scoring — and in this particular matchup, all signs in this regard point to the way the Broncos interact with the pass game.
When the Broncos have the ball, they will be playing with Brandon Allen under center — and if you haven’t closely followed the career of Brandon Allen, you’re not alone, as Allen has been primarily a practice squad player through the first three and a half years of his career. And while some of the focus in other corners this week will center around whether or not Allen can play at the NFL level, the most important thing to note here is that he is stepping into the starting role against a Cleveland team that invites teams to run against them (seventh highest opponent rush play rate on the year), for a Broncos offense that would much prefer to win this game with “run game and defense” than through the air with Allen. Only Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, and the Saints quarterbacks have produced a lower average intended air yards than Joe Flacco has produced this season, and it’s unlikely that Allen will be tasked with doing more than delivering on-time passes in the short areas of the field. Against a Cleveland team that already shaves 10% off the league-average aDOT, this will make it difficult for stats to pile up through the air for the Broncos unless the Browns are able to do something when they have the ball that will force Denver to get more aggressive in this spot than they will want to be.
There are two elements, then, that hurt the Browns’ chances of pulling that off. The first is the fact that this game is being played in Denver. The second is the fact that the Broncos have been strong against the pass this year, ranking fifth in DVOA and fourth in yards allowed per pass attempt while allowing only one pass catcher to top 100 yards against them (Tyrell Williams, way back in Week 1) and ranking behind only the Patriots and 49ers in fewest fantasy points allowed per game to quarterbacks. The Broncos have allowed only six passing touchdowns on the year (fourth fewest), and they have held wide receivers to the second fewest yards in the league.
On the Broncos’ side, a player like Courtland Sutton (seven to nine targets in every game before last week…when he saw a “season low” six looks) could still produce in a spot like this, as his role is unlikely to change a whole lot from Flacco to Allen (and it’s fair to wonder how much worse Allen will be than his aging counterpart), while on the Browns’ side you could bet on the talent of Odell Beckham, or could bet on Chris Harris slowing Beckham and Jarvis Landry picking up a solid game as a result. But with the lowest Over/Under on the slate and most signs pointing away from these passing attacks, the clearest path to production in this game is on the ground.
On the Broncos’ side, we know pretty clearly by this point that Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman are going to split snaps and touches fairly evenly, with Lindsay capturing recent touch counts of 19 // 17 // 12 // 19, and with Freeman going 15 // 16 // 14 // 13 in that same stretch. Contrary to what most would assume, Freeman actually has one more target and 34 more receiving yards than Lindsay across their last four games, though Lindsay has seven carries inside the five-yard-line this year to two for Freeman, and while Lindsay only has an edge in yards per carry of 4.5 to 4.1, his three games with a run of 20+ yards is two more than Freeman has, underscoring the extra layer of explosiveness he boasts. While the matchup is good (the Browns rank 20th in DVOA and 29th in yards allowed per carry), neither back has quite the sort of workload we would want for any sort of “certainty” — making each more speculative than lock-and-load.
On the other side of this matchup, the issues with volume go away, as the otherworldly talent of Nick Chubb has been given a chance to shine lately with touch counts of 25 // 23 // 17 // 25 // 21. Chubb’s pass game role remains sporadic and dumpoff-driven (only two games this year north of 17 receiving yards), but he has gone for 87 or more yards on the ground in five straight contests. Of course, the price on Chubb reflects this production on all three sites, and he draws a matchup against a Broncos defense that has been dominant outside their game against Leonard Fournette, holding the Raiders // Bears // Packers // Chargers // Titans // Chiefs // Colts to an awesome-low 3.17 yard per carry. Chubb is averaging 5.5 yards per carry himself and presents a major test for any run defense (creating opportunities for him to hit even in a matchup like this), but his talent will have to overcome the matchup and the low scoring environment of this game in order for him to pay off his high-end price tag this week.
JM’s Interpretation ::
Ultimately (at their prices), even the rushing attacks are a bit thin from a “floor” perspective, as there is a chance that drives stall out and points fail to pile up and production in the yardage department fails to be paired with production on the scoreboard; but if going to this game, the rushing attacks are the main places to look. And outside of tourney bets on Chubb // Lindsay // Royce, this spot is really little more than hoping and praying — either expecting Sutton to get something going in a below-average matchup on a conservative offense with a raw quarterback under center, or expecting the Browns to show a lot more life than they have shown so far this year in a tough road environment against really strong Broncos pass defense. As we often say in these spots: there is a reason this game has the second-lowest Over/Under on the slate. This game offers fringe potential, but nothing that I’ll be looking to actively build around.
:: Compete against the OWS fam in the One Week Season Survivor contest!
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