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Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts - Positional Breakdown & Notes

I didn't believe Peyton Manning would ever miss a game until the day he retired, yet here we are, in Week 2, and the Indianapolis Colts are getting ready to move forward with Kerry Collins under center for the second straight week. How was life without Manning last week for the Colts? They lost 34-7 to the Texans and were dominated throughout the game. The Texans could've made it worse if they wanted to. The Browns? They led well into the fourth quarter and saw their demise after a bunch of "bizarre" plays. Who should come out victorious this week?

Here are some notes heading into the game, followed by my positional breakdown and prediction:

  • Wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez is expected to play this week for the Colts after missing last week. He'll join former teammate Brian Robiskie on the field, as the duo will be able to say they combined for no catches in an NFL game.
  • It's a tough situation when thinking what out offensive gameplan would be. I'd like for the Browns to run the ball, but are we confident in anyone on the line besides Joe Thomas and Alex Mack? On paper, it makes sense to run. The Colts are always vulnerable against the run, and last week was no different as they yielded 116 yards on 24 carries to former second-round pick Ben Tate, who carried the ball in the NFL for the first time in his career. The Texans only completed one pass to a running back though.
  • On the other hand, what if the run gets stuffed early due to our offensive line issues? Then, we'll be stuck in the same type of 3rd-and-long situations as last week, except this time, Colt McCoy will have Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis trying to chase him down.
  • I still honestly don't have a huge problem with how our offense was called last week. The thing that killed us early on were penalties and field position. Being on the road, indoors, where the crowd will be going bonkers at the start of the game isn't an ideal scenario. The team will have to fight through that and show some discipline.
  • The Colts' special teams play was not good last week. Only one kick was returnable, and it went for a 49-yard return. They also yielded a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown.
  • Both teams will be trying to avoid the terrible start this week. Last week, the Bengals went up 13-0 on Cleveland. Last week, it was a 3-0 Texans lead, but late in the first quarter, on the first play of two consecutive drives, Kerry Collins fumbled and gave the Texans the ball inside the 18-yard line. The Texans quickly scored touchdowns both times, putting them up 17-0. If the Texans don't get off to that hot start, then who knows how the flow of the game changes. Maybe Indianapolis doesn't get blown  out as badly as they did.
  • The Colts did have two interceptions last week. The first interception came on the second play of the game, but they could not capitalize due to a Mario Williams sack. The second interception came in the fourth quarter, and that one led to the Colts' only touchdown of the game.
  • I think Evan Moore should see some more snaps at the tight end position this week, but I also get the feeling that we'll play Alex Smith quite a bit to help on Mathis. The alternative is to have Owen Marecic be an extra blocker next to McCoy, but I'm nervous about putting him in that type of situation without more experience.
  • The receivers need to help out McCoy a little bit more this week too in terms of catching the ball. We saw several passes last week that, had the receiver given a better effort or secured the ball better, could've resulted in touchdowns or the continuation of drives. Take a look at the Miami Dolphins' first possession drive last week and the catches that were made. Joshua Cribbs and Greg Little are probably the two guys who can make those plays. I want less of Little in the slot, and more of him split wide. You want a good hands guy in the slot, and if the staff isn't ready to commit playing time to Jordan Norwood, put Brian Robiskie there.
  • The Browns should run a deep pattern this week to one of their tight ends off of a fake to Joshua Cribbs on the reverse.
  • I don't know if Dimitri Patterson's injury will continue to linger, but I'd like to see Buster Skrine on defense a little more. I get the sense that he can be the guy to intercept Kerry Collins this week.

Position-by-Position Breakdown

Pos Adv  Reason
QB - With Peyton Manning, the Colts are in great shape at quarterback. Without him, there is no such thing as a replacement. Manning is the Colts offense, and unless a top-ten quarterback replaces him, the offense will be unable to do much of anything. Kerry Collins was not a bad choice to bring in given the circumstances, but despite all of his starting experience, he's never been a "game changer."
I still believe in Colt McCoy, and while he will have to deal with the crowd in Indianapolis this week, he won't have to worry about the weather affecting his play. We saw McCoy perform very well in the preseason and in the second quarter last week, so now it is about bringing that same type of play for four quarters during the regular season.
RB - The Colts got behind by so much last week in the first half that it really wasn't practical to continue trying to establish the run. Even when Manning was under center though, it has been awhile since the Colts' running game has taken off. Joseph Addai remains the starter and is a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, something the Bengals caught the Browns with a few times last week.
I think we saw a gameplan last week that will continue this week, in terms of giving Peyton Hillis several series and then dedicating a series to Montario Hardesty. The lack of continuity along the offensive line seemed to hurt the lanes that were open, but both of these guys can do damage out of the backfield as receivers. I expect them to be used more in that capacity this week.
WR - While Cleveland featured a lot of different tight ends and wide receivers last week, the Colts stick with just three receivers and one tight end: Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Dallas Clark. That was a decent group under Manning, but Wayne and Clark are the stars of the bunch. Garcon has had consistency issues, and although Collie has had flashes of brilliance, he did not have a catch last week despite seeing a bunch of snaps.
The Browns might make some changes at the receiver position, or they might stick with the same groupings and just hope that the execution is better. The tight ends, Ben Watson and Evan Moore, were clearly the biggest assets for McCoy last week, but now it's time for him to start getting something going with the wide receivers.
OL - I've lost a lot of confidence in Cleveland's offensive line...for now. At least last year, we had three solid players from center to left, one "meh" veteran on the right, and one "ugh" veteran. Now, we still have that "ugh" veteran (just with different name(s)), and we have two players with very limited experience at the guard positions. Our pass protection and blocking against the run have suffered as a result.
Thankfully, the Colts aren't much better on the offensive line. I have felt that Manning has been playing behind a pretty bad line for several years now, but the "awesomeness" of Manning compensated for that. Collins was banged around last week and was sacked three times, losing two fumbles along the way.
DL - I give props to Cleveland's defensive line (and defense in general) last week. I thought Phil Taylor did a nice job, especially late in the game. The defensive ends seemed to do a good enough job against the run too, something that was a concern in the preseason.
The Colts have Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis at the defensive end position. The last time the Browns faced the Colts, those guys won the game for Indianapolis in the fourth quarter after stripping Derek Anderson. Given our right tackle situation, one could make a case that the Browns should lose this game solely because of that match-up. Get ready for a lot of reps, Alex Smith.
LB - The Colts are hurting at the linebacker position. Starting middle linebacker Gary Brackett sprained his shoulder last week and will not play. Backup linebacker Ernie Sims is also out with a knee injury, putting the Colts' depth at the position into question. Pat Angerer will shift over to middle linebacker this week. This group has not been very stout in the past against the run, so take note, Pat Shurmur.
Last week was a great one for D'Qwell Jackson, who was a definite force at middle linebacker. Veterans Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong were dependable too. The Browns being favored here comes down to DQ's breakout performance, and the fact that all three of our starters are healthy.
DB - After the Colts' embarrassing performance a week ago, they are going to want to get going fast out of the gate. I'm sure that seeing Jermaine Gresham's early success against out safeties last week will stick out, so the Mike Adams/Usama Young situation still bothers me a little bit. I wish we could just settle on a starter there. I have confidence in Joe Haden going up against Reggie Wayne.
The Colts have a decent group in the secondary, but no longer have Kelvin Hayden and Bob Sanders. Teams usually test the Colts on the ground, but with how Cleveland's offensive gameplan looked last week, it wouldn't surprise me if Shurmur opted to pass a lot again.
ST - If Brad Maynard is serviceable, I will jump for joy. The Colts have no issues with their kicker or punter, but they've never been particularly strong at returning kicks. Joshua Cribbs provided a spark last week, but he may only get opportunities to return punts this week with the game being indoors. Pat McAfee, the Colts' punter, handles the kickoffs for Indy.

Last week was a reality check that there will be some growing pains as the Browns try to come together under another new head coach. Normally, I would not be so confident that the Browns would be able to beat anyone on the road this week. I've said in previous years though that the Colts are probably the worst team in football if you take away Peyton Manning, and I think I need so stand by that. The Browns' mistakes last week were largely there own doing -- penalties, weird defensive huddle lapses, etc. The Colts' mistakes came because they were awful. They were down 34-0 at halftime. If the Colts defeat the Browns without Manning, my expectations will tame until further notice.

FINAL PREDICTION: Cleveland Browns 27, Indianapolis Colts 13.