DENVER -- As John Lynch says, these preseason games don't count but they do matter.
And Denver's defense is still very much a work in progress with the opener at Buffalo just two weeks away.
The Broncos shored up some things in their 17-16 loss to Cleveland on Saturday night. But the first stringers allowed the Browns to score twice and complete 5-of-10 third downs - and it would have been six if not for an errant call on Brady Quinn's 29-yard toss to Joe Jurevicius in the end zone that was ruled incomplete.
The Broncos (1-2) have been slow to adapt to new boss Jim Bates' system and they sorely miss the leadership and play of middle linebacker Al Wilson, their captain and leading tackler last year whose neck injury and high salary led to his release in the offseason.
D.J. Williams is trying to replace him but all three of Denver's preseason opponents have exploited his inexperience and completed big plays over a wide-open middle.
The line has been in constant flux with rookies Jarvis Moss, Tim Crowder and Marcus Thomas experiencing growing pains and real-life aches, and it's possible all four starters will be new from a year ago.
Denver's strong secondary had been the lone bright spot, but new cornerback Dre' Bly was burned by the Browns repeatedly. Their first touchdown was set up when Charlie Frye completed a 24-yard pass to Braylon Edwards over Bly's shoulder down the left sideline.
"I think it's a little bit of both. Anytime you talk about a unit, you've got to have 11 guys going the same direction, and one guy a little bit off can make you look pretty average awful quickly," Shanahan said. "So we've got a couple of weeks to straighten out those things. Hopefully, we can get there."
Some of the defenders were wondering aloud after the game whether they'd be playing more than planned in the final exhibition Thursday night against Arizona. Traditionally, that last preseason game is only for backups trying to make the roster.
The Broncos' starters, however, have allowed six touchdowns and three field goals in 15 possessions this preseason.
Bly said nobody should be surprised that the defenders don't have everything down yet, however.
"When you've got new guys coming into this system and a new coordinator, it's going to take time," Bly said. "And that's what the preseason is all about, trying to iron out all the wrinkles and get everything rolling. I think if we just keep making progress every week we'll be fine."
The Browns converted 5-of-8 third downs before halftime with Frye and Derek Anderson combining to complete 12-of-15 passes for 142 yards.
"When they're converting like that, it's tough. We got them in some situations where we wanted them: third-and-8, third-and-7, but you've got to be able to get off the field," Lynch said. "There's still some adjusting to the scheme where we're just letting people run free. We've got to clean that up."
The problem with Denver's defense in its first two games was stopping the run. This time, it was the pass.
"We've got to put the whole picture together," Lynch said. "This scheme's been proven to work and we've just got to execute it right."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press