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Three Keys to Broncos-Browns

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During their three-game winning streak that ended last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, the Broncos discovered a successful formula after two frustrating seasons of trying to find one that worked for their skill set and strengths.

On offense, the Broncos ran the football well and protected the football. In those wins over the Chargers, Steelers and Bengals, they rushed for 100 or more yards every time and turned the football over just once in three games.

Defensively, the Broncos cranked up the pressure, leading to sacks and takeaways. Denver’s defense forced eight turnovers during the team’s three-game winning streak — with special teams contributing another takeaway via a fumble recovery — and maintained the team’s per-game sack rate, averaging 3.0 sacks per game, in line with the season-long average of 3.1.

The sacks were still there against the 49ers; Von Miller and Bradley Chubb combined to bring down San Francisco quarterback Nick Mullens three times. The offense didn’t turn the football over. But the other elements of the success equation evaporated.

As a result, the Broncos’ clash with the Cleveland Browns on Saturday is, for all intents and purposes, an elimination game.

The Broncos are battered by injuries, but they were missing some key players at various points during their three-game winning streak, as well. But regardless of personnel, the Broncos found their road map to success — which makes it easier to get back there after a stumble like last week’s.

“Really, it’s just us getting back to playing complementary football in all three phases of the game,” said wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, who started and scored his first professional touchdown last week. “And that’s what I’ve learned in the NFL, that all three phases have got to play almost flawless football — or better football than the other team — because any slip-up in one area, two areas or all three, and that’s when you start piling losses or things get out of hand.”

But a key element of the Broncos’ complementary football is takeaways, and given that Cleveland is 1-4 this season when it does not have a positive turnover margin, that will be crucial once again.

“We’ve got to get back to getting the ball,” safety Justin Simmons said.

The Broncos still have a pulse for the playoffs, although it grew fainter with their loss last week. Any realistic chance of postseason play rests on forging another three-game winning streak while getting help from other results around the AFC.

Beyond winning the turnover battle, what are the keys to taking the first step towards a winning streak Saturday?

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