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Browns vs. Colts: NFL Week 3 Preview and Prediction

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Can Cleveland get their first win of the season now that they face some easier competition?

Arizona Cardinals v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Indianapolis Colts in Week 3 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.


Position-by-Position Evaluation


Quarterback

  • Last year for the Patriots, Jacoby Brissett played in three games, completing 34-of-55 (61.8%) of his passes for 400 yards, 0 TD, and 0 INT. He can run the ball a little, as he had 16 rushes for 83 yards and 1 touchdown during that three-game stretch. In the final preseason game against the Giants this year, Brissett was 28-of-39 (71.8%) for 341 yards, 4 TD, and 1 INT. He also ran 4 times for 29 yards and 1 TD.
  • All of that came in a New England system. And as we all know very well over the years, quarterbacks who leave the Patriots don’t have anywhere near the same luxuries they do with other teams.
  • In one full game with the Colts last week, Brissett was 20-of-37 (54.1%) for 216 yards and 1 INT. He also ran 6 times for 22 yards. It would be a mistake to treat him as a laughingstock; he’s a young quarterback who has shown some promise. But it would be an embarrassment to let a young quarterback who did not spend any offseason time with the Colts come in, behind a bad offensive line, and be overly productive.
  • When it comes to DeShone Kizer, hopefully the worst is behind him now, and one could also try to use the excuse that the unfortunate timing of the migraine just threw everything off for him, which compounded the issue of him struggling against an opportunistic defense.
  • One thing that has to improve with Kizer for certain is how quickly he delivers the ball. He’s throwing the ball downfield more than any other quarterback in the NFL. Both of those figures can lessen if some more passes to running backs or shallow crossers to tight ends and receivers are incorporated into the gameplan.

Running Back

  • I broke down Isaiah Crowell’s 10 running plays from last week’s game and stand by my opinion that he’s the same player he’s always been. The lack of carries has been impacted more by bad early-down situations, which is exactly what plagued the team in 2016. The Colts also feature a stout run defense, so it’ll be tough to put together an impressive statistical day against the Colts — but that doesn’t mean that a 20-carry, 67-yard type of day can’t be effective.
  • The Browns went back to utilizing Duke Johnson in the running back spot last week, but that didn’t stop him from making an incredible one-hand catch. Johnson is on pace for the same type of receiving utilization he had a year ago, which is high by running back standards. However, I think Johnson can be so valuable and shifty as a receiving back that he should be targeted even more.
  • The Colts starting running back is Frank Gore, who is still kicking after all these years. He has 24 carries for 88 yards (3.7 YPC) and 1 TD through two games. He’s not going to have big days on the ground behind Indianapolis’ offensive line, but he can still carry a decent workload and pick up short yardage when needed.
  • Indianapolis’ backup, Marlon Mack, has been ruled out with a shoulder injury. He had 16 carries for 21 yards (1.3 YPC), and that included a 24-yard run in Week 1. If that’s not a bizarre statistical line, then I don’t know what is. Robert Turbin will fill in as the backup this week. He has 5 carries for 18 yards (3.6 YPC) on the year.

Wide Receiver / Tight End

  • The Colts have some receivers with potential on their roster when you look at T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Kamar Aiken. Hilton is coming off of a 91-catch, 1,448-yard, 6-TD season after all. Moncrief has a good combination of size and speed, and Aiken proved a few years ago that he could be somewhat of a possession receiver. But when Andrew Luck isn’t the guy delivering the ball, it’s hard for these guys to get into a rhythm.
  • Because of the Browns’ struggles with tight ends and the way they are using Jabrill Peppers, any tight end should be considered a threat to Cleveland. Jesse James and Benjamin Watson have torn them up already, and next on the docket is Jack Doyle, who is the team's leading receiver with 10 catches for 120 yards.
  • Cleveland’s receiving unit will look different again this week. Corey Coleman is on injured reserve with a broken hand, and Sammie Coates is doubtful with a hamstring injury.
  • That leaves Kenny Britt, Rashard Higgins, Ricardo Louis, Kasen Williams, and Jordan Leslie as the available receivers this week. We’re hoping that Britt can come away with a strong performance to negate some of the negative press that has festered. Higgins was open in the slot last week and capitalized with his best game as a pro by far.
  • The tight end duo of Seth DeValve and David Njoku is where I remain most optimistic. Through two games, tight ends have accounted for 32.5% of the Browns’ receiving yards; last year, that number was at 20.5% for the season. Granted, the 2017 stats are still an absurdly small sample size, but it’s really what the strength of the offense should be. Random note: Randall Telfer had 2 catches for 4 yards all of last season, so his 20-yard catch last week surpassed that amount quickly.

Offensive Line

  • The Colts’ starting offensive line includes LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Jeremy Vujnovich, C Deyshawn Bond, RG Jack Mewhort, and RT Joe Haeg. Bond is an undrafted free agent who was thrust into the starting lineup due to a week-to-week injury to starter Ryan Kelly. Haeg is also a substitute for their starting right tackle, Denzelle Good, who is on IR.
  • The best way to describe the Colts’ offensive line is that they are young, inconsistent, but not a group that is hopeless. According to PFF, they’ve allowed pressure on 27 of their 69 pass plays to begin the year, and their running backs won’t average more than 3.8 YPC. Still, it’s a group that Indianapolis hopes can grow together and improve with time.
  • One of the most encouraging signs for me last week was the improved play of C J.C. Tretter in pass blocking. The player with the most room to improve is Kevin Zeitler as a run blocker. It’s always been a strength of his, but not so much through two games in a Browns uniform. Running backs coach Kirby Wilson again this week re-iterated that the unit is on the verge of being unstoppable:

“They are very close to getting this thing turned around. Once it does, we think that will open the floodgates and you will see some great success in the run game.”


Defensive Line

  • The Colts run a 3-4 defense and were able to re-vamp themselves up front with Al Woods (6-4, 330 lbs) and Johnathan Hankins (6-2, 325 lbs). Together, they’ve formed a good interior duo over the first two weeks, making it appear as though Indy may have actually gotten something right with respect to their run defense. The Colts are only allowing 2.52 yards rushing per play, which is the 2nd best mark in the NFL. With that said, I think Pittsburgh and Baltimore were tougher tests up front than Indianapolis is.
  • The Colts’ defensive ends include Henry Anderson and Margus Hunt. Both have been career backups, but Hunt (coming over from the Bengals) is off to a nice start this season with 7 quarterback pressures through two games.
  • Don’t expect to see Myles Garrett this week for the Browns, even though he’s listed as doubtful. I suspected this would be the case, but it’s still been discouraging to see how Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah have been rendered ineffective without Garrett available. The player who has performed the best in my opinion is Nate Orchard, continuing some of the improved run defense skills he showed off before last year’s ankle injury.
  • T.Y. McGill is listed as questionable this week. The Browns could be looking to the former Colt to provide an interior pass rush; otherwise, they would’ve never cut Tyrone Holmes in favor of him.

Linebacker

  • The Colts' starting linebackers include OLB Jabaal Sheard, MLB Jon Bostic, MLB Antonio Morrison, and OLB John Simon. Sheard and Simon have done a decent job generating pressure through two games, but they only have one sack between them. Similar to the re-tooled defensive line, Sheard (Patriots) and Simon (Texans) are both newcomers to Indianapolis.
  • Bostic is seeing significant action for really the first time since the 2014 season, and teams have exposed his lack of coverage skills to begin the season. Indianapolis would be better off putting Jeremiah George there this week, he’ll be back to the bench as Morrison returns to the starting lineup after missing one game. Morrison, a fourth-round pick last year, is a good tackler but also struggles in coverage.
  • Gregg Williams is open to putting the best 11 guys on the field to start. For the first two games, we learned that Joe Schobert was one of those 11 guys, which means the team didn’t need to always have five defensive backs on the field. But with Jamie Collins out this week, James Burgess will get the “start” in his place. I think Burgess will see some reps, but wouldn’t be surprised if we end up seeing two linebackers on the field as opposed to three.
  • The Ravens’ tight ends embarrassed the Browns’ linebackers in coverage last week. When Christian Kirksey was asked about it this week, he said that it was just bad communication on their part. Hopefully they get it addressed this week.

Secondary

  • This is the spot where the Colts are in deep trouble. Their starters are supposed to be a mix of Vontae Davis, Rashaan Melvin, and rookie second-round pick Quincy Wilson. But Davis has been out with a groin injury and is doubtful this week. Wilson had been playing, but is out with a knee injury.
  • Per PFF, Melvin was targeted 8 times and allowed 3 catches for 41 yards in Week 2. He was the top-graded cornerback for Week 2 and turned some heads, but let’s not kid ourselves: he’s far from a shutdown corner or anything like that. I would say that Baltimore had three better cornerbacks alone last week.
  • Who else fills in at cornerback for the Colts? That’s the big question. That means the Colts are likely going to give significant playing time again to rookie fifth-round pick Nate Hairston in a nickel role, with T.J. Green playing the outside. Green, a second-round safety from 2016, is absolutely loathed by Colts fans for his poor play.
  • Indianapolis’ safeties include a mix of Darius Butler, Malik Hooker, and Matthias Farley. Hooker began Week 1 as a backup, but with Butler hurt in Week 2, he got the start and played well. Butler is questionable to play this week, but it sounds like he’ll be available. The team could decide to use him at his old position (cornerback), given their depth issues there. Either way, the Colts’ secondary as a whole has way too much fluctuating going on to build the needed chemistry with each other.
  • The Colts have been prone to running 1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR sets, so expect to see CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun back with a much bigger role this week. That’s good news, as he’s shown to be one of the more exciting players on defense. Jason McCourty is coming off of a shutdown game, but he has to prove it over the long haul. Jamar Taylor should draw the primary assignment on T.Y. Hilton.
  • It doesn’t sound like the Browns’ deep safety role is going anywhere, so that will remain Jabrill Peppers’ main role for the foreseeable future.

Special Teams

  • Adam Vinatieri is the Colts' kicker. In Week 1, he missed a 38-yard field goal off the left upright and then proceeded to miss an extra point, admitting he was in his own head. He regrouped last week and should continue to perform like a machine in Indianapolis. He’s 72% from beyond 50 yards since 2011, including 7-of-9 a season ago.
  • Rigoberto Sanchez is the Colts' punter. He’s an undrafted rookie out of Hawaii who also handles kickoff duties for Indianapolis. Through two games, he's got a net average of 44.9 yards, which is good for fifth best in the NFL. He's also managed to get a league-high five punts out of bounds, making it tougher for the opposition to gain steam with a good return. Britton Colquitt is 3rd in the NFL with 50.0 yards per punt, but his net average of 40.0 puts him around 20th in that category.
  • WR Quan Bray handles kickoff and punt returns for the Colts. He hasn’t been a home run hitter in either area, but has done a decent job with his kickoff returns over the past three years. Jabrill Peppers continues to handle the role for the Colts.

Predictions

Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.


Chris Pokorny: “There’s a reason the Browns are favored for the first time since 2015 — the Colts are that bad. Cleveland is a very young team that obviously has won together, but Indianapolis is a team with a youngster quarterbacking the team after being there only a couple of weeks, an offensive line that doesn’t dominate in any area, questionable coaching, poor coverage from their linebackers, and a shuffling secondary that can be picked apart.

The ingredients to success are staring the Browns in the face. They don’t even need an exotic gameplan; this is a case where smash-mouth football allows the Browns to win out. Even though it was just a preseason game, I think back to how the Browns’ defense was electric when shutting out the Bears. That’s the type of game I expect from them this week. Offensively, Cleveland just needs to be efficient and minimizing the turnovers. Throwing the ball away or punting can be chalked up as good decisions this week.” Browns 23, Colts 13.


Andrea Hangst: “The Browns have their first truly beatable opponent of the season in the Colts on Sunday, road game be damned. Indianapolis is scoring fewer points than Cleveland and are allowing more on the defensive side of the ball. Their list of injuries is double that of the Browns'. And their previous two performances have been significantly more pathetic than the Browns' two losses this season. Cleveland, despite its 0-2 record, is a team trending upward, while the Colts are—at best—stagnating in place, waiting, waiting, waiting for the return of quarterback Andrew Luck that isn't likely to come until its too late. The Browns need to take advantage of this gift of a situation and truly prove they are the better team. Because this week: They are.” Browns 21, Colts 9.


Matt Wood: “Kizer lights it up. The Colts defense is brutal. He goes deep, the ground game gets going. Kizer has over 300, the defense cranks it up and gets pressure and creates some short turnovers and short fields for the offense. Tight after 15 mins but the Browns pull away.” Browns 34, Colts 13.


Josh Finney: “The colts defense has actually been much better expected this year, and I don’t see the Browns suddenly being the team that exposes them. Vontae Davis should be back, but for a team that spreads the ball around, that’s not an immediate game changer. I expect a much more conservative game plan from Hue; screen passes, quick hitters, and and power runs. If they’re effective, Browns will get some points up. If not, it’s going to be a low scoring affair.

Browns defense will have to stop a creative run scheme while providing tight single coverage on the outside. Look for Peppers and Kindred to play close to the line and dare Brissett to beat them over the top.” Colts 20, Browns 17.


Mike Hoag: “It's hard to be optimistic after how utterly lost the Browns looked offensively against Baltimore last week. This week they get a break after facing two stout AFC North defenses in a row when they travel one state west for a much less daunting task in the Indianapolis Colts. And for the first time in three years (and third time in 10 years), they're road favorites. The Colts defense rebounded to limit the Arizona Cardinals' struggling offense last week after the Rams poured on a 46-9 trouncing in Los Angeles in Week 1. If the Browns are even marginally better offensively than the floundering Cardinals, they should be able to do as much or more than Arizona did last week. And the Browns' aggressive defense should be able to fluster Jacoby Brissett, enough to limit the Colts offense and help get the team's first win of the season.” Browns 16, Colts 13.


Ezweav: “Obviously the Colts are a shell of themselves without Luck, but then they're playing us. There's plenty to look at from week's one and two to suggest that we're not the same LOLBrowns, but at the same time we are a really young team that's prone to making mistakes, and that's probably not going to improve remarkably this week. This one will likely be more frustrating than normal, and we manage to pull off the loss.” Colts 16, Browns 15.


Robo Dawg: “The Colts have yet to score more than 13 points this season, while giving up 46 points to the LA Rams. While I doubt that the Browns can match LA’s surprisingly high octane attack, I do believe that our complex defensive front will keep Jacoby Brissett confused and the points down. Kizer finally gets a reprieve after facing two top 10 defenses in consecutive weeks, and we put our best offensive numbers on the board so far this year.” Browns 24, Colts 13.


Dan Lalich: “The Colts showed last week that their defense might not be as bad as it looked against the Rams, and the Browns offense is still trying to mix in all the new faces. The Browns will move the ball fairly easily but will do some Brownsy things to avoid putting up tons of points. On the other side of the ball, the Browns defense is going to just dominate an overmatched Colts squad. With two bad teams going at it, it's going to be difficult to watch, but the Browns come out on top.” Browns 11, Colts 5.


Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below

Poll

Who do you think will win, Browns or Colts? Pick the one closest to your prediction.

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    Browns by 7+
    (451 votes)
  • 29%
    Browns by 3
    (255 votes)
  • 12%
    Colts by 3
    (108 votes)
  • 6%
    Colts by 7+
    (57 votes)
871 votes total Vote Now