Hey, it’s Week 7 in the NFL. After an emotional win over the once-undefeated San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns look to build off of that performance when their schedule has them traveling to Indiana to take on the Indianapolis Colts.
New year, new team in the Hoosier state.
After going through head coaches Frank Reich and Jeff Saturday (who had no coaching experience prior to the hiring), the Colts hope they got the head coach hire right in Shane Steichen who previously was the offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles. As far as the owner and general manager go... well... we are going to move on.
Offensively, we will not see rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson for the rest of the season after he underwent shoulder surgery. It is unfortunate because he is playing extremely well. Fan favorite quarterback Gardner Minshew will take over as the team signal-caller for the rest of the year.
As far as the weapons go, running back Jonathan Taylor is back after that contract dispute but running back Zack Moss has slowly emerged as a contributor. The pass catchers consist of Michael Pittman, rookie Josh Downs, and Alec Pierce (who is hoping to play despite an injury) which isn’t a bad group. Overall, without Richardson under center, this offense doesn’t have a high ceiling.
Defensively the unit is an average group, nothing more nothing less. The defensive line took a massive hit when defensive tackle Grover Stewart was suspended for 6 games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs but DeForest Buckner is still present on that line.
Linebacker Shaquille Leonard looks to be fully healthy after missing most of last season battling injuries while linebacker Zaire Franklin has emerged as a solid contributor. The secondary for the Colts outside of cornerback Kenny Moore is young and inexperienced and has had its fair share of struggles this year.
Here are three Indianapolis players to pay close attention to this week:
WR Josh Downs
Going back to the draft, many Browns fans wanted current Indianapolis Colts rookie wide receiver Josh Downs on their team. It didn’t happen and he’s in the Hoosier state.
Downs, the 5 ‘9 receiver out of the University of North Carolina has been a contributor for the Colts this season. Downs has been effective in the slot for Indianapolis and he has been finding ways to get involved in this passing offense. His ability to make great catches and the ability to stretch the defense with his speed cannot be understated. He’s been off to a productive start and it looks to be continuing every single game that he plays.
Most targets for a rookie without a drop this season:— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 12, 2023
Josh Downs: 30 pic.twitter.com/xj4qbSFEGp
Grabbing First Downs at a historic pace. pic.twitter.com/aCzMR2COhR— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) October 12, 2023
If there is someone to keep an eye on closely, it’s Downs. Cleveland’s secondary has been primarily effective in terms of locking down the receivers this season but Downs, similar to Baltimore Ravens rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers, has ways to break a game open with his speed so it’s imperative to keep him under wraps.
WR Michael Pittman Jr
In terms of the wide receiver room in Indianapolis, the top one to look out for is Michael Pittman Jr. Pittman is the best receiver for the Colts and he has the ability to get the 50/50 ball if it’s thrown his way. He’s 4th in the NFL in targets and last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars he was targeted 14 times.
Pittman has always been the de-facto number-one receiver in Indianapolis, and he’s had a 1,000-yard receiver season in his career.
Are you kidding, MPJ?— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) September 24, 2023
As mentioned previously, Cleveland’s secondary has been pretty solid against the pass but Pittman is someone who can find ways to come down with the ball, regardless of who is around him. Richardson might not be throwing him the ball, but they will find ways to get the ball in his hands.
LB Zaire Franklin
If there is someone who has come out of nowhere, it's linebacker Zaire Franklin. I’ve heard of Franklin (aside from customizing him to wear the right gear in Madden but that’s not important) but he went from playing mostly on special teams, to getting majority reps on defense. It has paid off. He currently leads the NFL in tackles and he has had 5-plus games with 10+ tackles.
Franklin has the ability to lay the wood, good instincts and the ability to make a play when his number is called upon. Some can make a case that he is the best player on that Colts defense right now and most would agree. For the Browns, it’s imperative to know where Franklin is at all times. He’s someone who can make splash plays and can cause issues for Cleveland if they aren’t careful.
Who are you most worried about on the Colts this week?