Considering I never have the opportunity to feature Browns cheerleaders, and all of last year's Browns vs. Colts photos featured people not relevant anymore (Peyton Hillis, Colt McCoy, Kerry Collins, Jim Caldwell), I took advantage of an opportunity. - Michael Hickey
Can the Browns win their second game in a row in a game that features two rookie quarterbacks going head-to-head?
It's a re-match from college: Andrew Luck takes on Brandon Weeden. The Browns are coming off their first win of the season and are getting set to play their first game in the Jimmy Haslam era. The Colts are coming off of a loss, and you have to wonder how much if an impact being blown out will have on them. Our full position-by-position breakdown for the Browns vs. Colts game, as well as my prediction, are outlined below.
Also, if you haven't listened to our Browns podcast to preview this week's game, be sure to do so now. Matt Wood talks with our Indianapolis Colts affiliate, and also goes on his soap box about Haslam. Next week, the Dawg Cast will have former Browns receiver Paul Warfield on as a guest.
Andrew Luck was undoubtedly a more highly-touted quarterback in this year's draft class than Brandon Weeden. In terms of where they are at right now, which might have to do with the weapons they have at their disposal, both quarterbacks have played pretty well. Andrew Luck's completion percentage, which sits near 53 percent, is a little lower than I would have anticipated. He's had more of a mixed bag of games, including last week when he really struggled against the Jets' defense.
Weeden, on the other hand, seems to be taking a step forward as each week goes by. His completion percentage has been better over the past two weeks -- registering near a 60 percent rate -- and I would attribute that to less drops from his wide receivers and tight ends. Weeden has also been more comfortable hitting the deep ball in recent weeks. Can he continue that trend against the Colts?
After suffering an injury to his chest/ribs last week, Trent Richardson will play this week with a flak jacket to protect him. Whether he plays the entire game, or if the team decides to mix in Montario Hardesty, remains to be seen. It might be something that is not determined until during the game when Richardson starts taking his first couple of hits. Hardesty looked good in relief last week against the Bengals, and the Colts boast one of the league's worst run defenses. They should be in good shape either way.
As I stated in my scouting report for the Colts, they will probably be throwing the ball a lot against the Browns due to their lack of success on the ground. Starting running back Donald Brown is still out with a knee injury. His replacement, rookie fifth-round pick Vick Ballard, has been indecisive in his runs this season and is only averaging 2.7 yards per carry. The Colts don't have much depth at the position either.
The Colts get the edge here because of Reggie Wayne. The guy is a good route runner, makes awesome catches, and gets lined up anywhere on the field. Beyond him, the Colts don't have a lot of proven talent. Donnie Avery is the Colts' No. 2 receiver and has been stable; rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton has showed some potential. Tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen also see a fair amount of targets.
As a collective unit, I actually like what the Browns have more than the Colts. I'm not ready to proclaim Josh Gordon as a No. 1 receiver yet. I love the fact that he's getting open deep and making big plays, but I'll really be sold on him when I start seeing him with a high number of receptions and making tough catches with a defender draped all over him. The Browns got Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin back in practice this week, but how much they play (if they are even active) remains to be seen. The coaching staff might want to stick with the formula that worked last week in victory, which would consist of Greg Little, Gordon, and Josh Cooper.
The Browns will be without Jason Pinkston against the Colts, and possibly the rest of the season. It was reported by the Plain Dealer that Pinkston's blood clot is in his lungs, which is a very serious condition. I don't want to sound like I'm being callous when I say the Browns will be better without Pinkston. What I'm trying to convey is that Pinkston may have been struggling this season because of this condition, so Cleveland will get a healthy run blocker like John Greco in there now.
The Colts' offensive line has struggled a bit over the past two weeks, giving up a total of eight sacks. During that same stretch, the Browns' offensive line has been brilliant in pass protection, giving up a total of two sacks and keeping their quarterback from taking many hits. The run blocking has been shaky for both teams, but the edge in pass protection for Cleveland is enough to give them the overall edge.
As if the Colts weren't already struggling up front, they will be without starting defensive end Cory Redding against the Browns. Their other defensive end, Fili Moala, has been ruled out for another week as well. Their backup nose tackle has also been ruled out. Starting in their place are last year's third-round pick, Drake Nevis, and former seventh-round pick Ricardo Mathews.
The Browns will get a much-needed boost to the defensive line with the return of Ahtyba Rubin, who missed last week's game with a calf injury. The pressure up front hasn't been as strong in recent weeks, but this is the type of week where Dick Jauron can do some more creative things defensively since he has his three core defensive players -- Rubin, D'Qwell Jackson, and Joe Haden -- all in the lineup.
One thing to keep an eye on this week is that inside Pat Angerer, who is arguably the Colts' best all-around inside linebacker, will make his season debut against the Browns after dealing with an injury all year. Angerer will not start, though, and is expected to rotate with undrafted rookie free agent Jerrell Freeman, who has filled in for him up to this point. The Colts will also be without pass-rushing specialist Robert Mathis, who is out with an injury. Dwight Freeney is expected to start, but he is still not 100 percent with an ankle injury and only has one sack on the year.
The Browns will not have Scott Fujita available again, meaning James-Michael Johnson is expected to start again. Johnson didn't see much action last week against the Bengals since Cleveland operated more from the nickel package. The Browns are in desperate need of a playmaking outside linebacker, which is why they don't have the advantage here. No complaints about D'Qwell Jackson, although it'd be nice to see if he can bait Andrew Luck into some mistakes with zone coverage.
The Colts are expected to get Vontae Davis back this week. He has been out for the past several weeks with an ankle injury. The Colts haven't allowed a lot of yardage in the passing game, but that isn't because they have a shutdown unit. In fact, as I noted in my scouting report last night, the Colts are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 63 percent of their passes and have yielded ten passing touchdowns compared to just two interceptions. Quarterbacks are averaging a 104 QB rating against them.
The Browns were gashed in terms of passing yards last week, but the secondary had three interceptions (including a pick six) and the presence of Joe Haden had a great trickle down effect on the rest of the defense. The Browns might have the 30th ranked pass defense right now, but if teams think the Browns have one of the worst pass defenses with Haden in the lineup, they'll be in for a long day.
Not to be lazy, but I'll just copy my special teams overview from my scouting report, since it is relevant here: The Colts are mediocre when it comes to special teams. They rank 23rd in the league on kick returns and 24th in the league on punt returns. On defense, they rank 9th in the league covering punts and 25th in the league covering kickoffs. Their leading special teams tackler this season has been safety Joe Lefeged. Oddly enough, last season, their punter, Pat McAfee, led the team in special teams tackles. I don't know if there is any carryover to this season on special teams, but that couldn't have been a good sign.
Last year, Joshua Cribbs had a 43-yard kickoff return and a 52-yard punt return against the Colts. Both returns eventually led to touchdowns for Cleveland, in what ended up being their highest-scoring game of the season. It was the only game all year in which Cleveland scored more than 20 points (they won 27-19).
Heading into the season, I thought the Colts were going to be one of the worst teams in the league as they were entering a big-time rebuilding mode. Yes, they've done some good things this year, such as an awe-inspiring comeback/upset against the Packers, but they also lost to what I consider to be the league's worst team (Jacksonville) at home, and looked very poor against the Jets last week. The Colts are facing a lot of depth issues in their front seven right now, and with the Browns [in my mind] on the upswing, I think Cleveland wins this game handily.
FINAL PREDICTION: Cleveland Browns 31, Indianapolis Colts 17