On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns play their first road game when they take on the Indianapolis Colts. To help preview a few topics from the Colts’ perspective, we reached out to Chris Blystone from Stampede Blue and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Pokorny: “This is like foreign territory to us -- the Browns are favorites for the first time since the 2015 season. Forget about the Browns for a second. In general, are the Colts that bad of a team without Andrew Luck under center?”
Blystone: “The short answer is yes. The better answer is more complicated. If you made a list of the guys the Colts could not afford to be without before this season it would look something like this: Andrew Luck, Ryan Kelly, T.Y. Hilton, Vontae Davis, Clayton Geathers, and Anthony Costanzo. Four of those guys are currently out due to injury. This roster was not exactly overflowing with talent to begin with, but if you remove 4 of your top 6 players you are guaranteed to struggle. The team also got dramatically younger in the offseason, and that does not come without growing pains. There is a ton of potential on this young defense, but a lot of inexperience. Because of that I think they will have a tendency to be somewhat inconsistent.”
Pokorny: “Just going by statistics through two games, the Colts' pass defense is near the bottom of the league, while their run defense is near the top of the league. Is defending the run a strength for the Colts, or has it just worked out that way?”
Blystone: “Like you said about the Browns, this is strange new ground for Colts fans, but our run defense is legitimately that good. Our defensive line is easily the deepest group on the roster, with additions like Al Woods at the nose tackle and Johnathan Hankins at the 3-technique. Defensive end Henry Anderson, who was in the mix for defensive rookie of the year when he tore his ACL in 2015, is now back in top form. Another offseason addition, John Simon, has been a big playmaker as well both in the run and in the pass rush. It will be very interesting to see how this group does against a better offensive line, but so far they have legitimately been good against the run.”
Pokorny: “Where is the biggest strength and biggest weakness on the Colts' offensive line?”
Blystone: “When he is healthy, center Ryan Kelly is the biggest strength. He anchored that line last year and despite being a rookie, we saw a huge impact on the way the line played as the season went on. Losing him for the first few games has been tough, but UDFA Deyshawn Bond has done an admirable job filling in in his absence.
The biggest weakness for the line is a complete lack of continuity. These guys move around so much it is nearly impossible to figure out where people will be playing from week to week. On the one hand it is great to have players who are versatile enough to play at multiple spots on the offensive line when injuries happen. On the other hand, it is frustrating that we seem to never have an opportunity for anyone to get set and really dig in at a position. The right tackle position continues to be a mystery for the Colts and immediately after it seemed that Denzelle Good had staked his claim on the position, he was put on injured reserve. The line is better than they get credit for, but without continuity they will be hard pressed to be considered competitive with the top half of the league at the position.”
Pokorny: “Getting Myles Garrett and Malik Hooker was a dream scenario for me and many other Browns fans. Stunningly, Hooker fell to the Browns with their second first-round pick, but they bypassed on the opportunity to take him (and later ended up with Jabrill Peppers). How has Hooker fared in his short time with the Colts?”
Blystone: “First, thank you so much for passing! Hooker is one of the more exciting prospects the Colts have added in recent memory. He got his first start last week, and was awarded rookie of the week honors for his troubles. It is clear from a cursory viewing that he is a player who has great instinct and ball-hawking ability. One of the concerns for scouts coming out was that he shied away from contact and wasn’t physical enough in his tackling, and that concern has melted away from the moment he stepped onto the field.
While he is typically the guy you want in coverage, it is clear that he is not afraid to put a hit on someone. Working in conjunction with 2nd rounder Quincy Wilson last week he was able to get a pick that prevented a touchdown, which is exactly the kind of opportunistic play the Colts hoped he could bring to this defense. For the most part, we are realistic and understand that he will need time to develop and will make mistakes, but it is going to be exciting to watch him improve.”
Pokorny: “Former Browns Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo are members of the Colts’ roster. What type of roles do they play in Indy?”
Blystone: “Sheard was pegged initially as a rush linebacker across from John Simon. I’m not sure that the two shouldn’t be flipped, because that doesn’t seem to be his strength, but he has been used primarily as an edge setter and pass rusher. In short, he is a good replacement for Erik Walden, who the Colts let go in the offseason. He had a better game against the Cardinals, but before that had been a little bit of a disappointment. Hopefully that trend will continue.
Mingo has been used as a part of special teams and on some pass rush packages to get after the quarterback. He is largely a depth player, and with people on the Colts staff like Robert Mathis who are aiming to help guys improve how they get to the quarterback, I know several of us are excited to see if Mingo can add to his repertoire of pass rush moves, because his speed and length are encouraging if he can put them together with good technique. He will need to show a lot through the season, because his role is one that will be likely to be addressed through the draft and free agency in a significant way next offseason.”
Thanks again to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions.