This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, and general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
The Tides Have Turned
- Are we good? Great? Bad? Inconsistent? Judging by the “W” shape from our Browns react polls this year, fans still aren’t quite sure what to think about the expectations for this team in the 2023 season. After the team’s 19-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, though, I think the tides may have changed.
- Cleveland’s defense may have gotten off to a historic start, but it wasn’t until last week’s victory over the previously undefeated San Francisco 49ers that the national media started buying into their legitimacy a bit more. Our Colts affiliate pointed this out when asking me a question about the defense this week:
Cleveland leads the league in yards given up, first downs allowed, passing yards, passing attempts, average drive time, average drive plays, average drive yards and average drive points. And most of the things they don’t rank number one in, they’re solidly in the top 10.
The Browns are allowing 200.4 yards per game (1st), and the next closest is Baltimore at 260.8 yards. The Browns are allowing 121.4 passing yards (1st) and 79 rushing yards (3rd) per game. They are generating sacks on 11.28% of pass plays (2nd), are allowing just 10.4 first downs per game (1st), and are allowing 3rd down conversions 23.08% of the time (1st). I don’t think we’re taking the defense for granted as fans, but it’s a stretch that remains pretty damn historic, and teams aren’t likely to figure it out any time soon since the unit remains healthy.
- This defense won’t take anyone for granted, but who are the players to be cognizant of this week? Our Colts affiliate doesn’t think RB Jonathan Taylor will be back to his former self for awhile, but Curtiss Brown knows that the defense can’t sleep on the Colts’ receivers. He broke down how WR Josh Downs is racking up first downs at an impressive pace, and that WR Michael Pittman is on pace for a 100+ catch, 1,000+ yard season.
- For the Colts, their rookie quarterback, Anthony Richardson, is out for the season. We’ve seen Gardnew Minshew have some heroic games before, so it’s not out of the question that he has a magical game. However, over his first two starts for Indianapolis, he has been turning the ball over a lot, and had multiple other throws that were turnover-worthy. That rough start, combined with Cleveland’s defense, should have our guys hungry to make plays. It’s hard to imagine Indianapolis being able to control the tempo of the game offensively.
Back to the Offense
- Cleveland’s offense was supposed to be propelled by the signing of Deshaun Watson, but that unit has been the one that has struggled consistently. Last week, they came together with the offensive line having perhaps their best game of the season, which was enough to allow P.J. Walker to squeak out a victory. Players like Kareem Hunt and Amari Cooper came up with big time plays. And this week, it’s looking like Watson might make a somewhat surprising return to the lineup.
- It’s about time that Cleveland faces a bottom-of-the-barrel defense, as the Colts rank 26th in the NFL. Their pass defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 68% of their passes, getting connections in the short- to intermediate range. That should spell success for Cooper, but when is Donovan Peoples-Jones going to have a breakout game? Cooper has been targeted 39 times (22 catches), Elijah Moore targeted 36 times (21 catches), but then Peoples-Jones has just 15 targets (6 catches) for 75 yards. DPJ had 61 catches for 839 yards last year. It’s understandable that Moore has stolen some of those reps away, but DPJ is very solid at catching the ball and needs to be worked in more.
- The inclusion of Hunt last week was something I predicted ahead of time, and was thrilled to see it pay off. It makes sense — he is a lighting jolt for the offense, gets the team fired up, and kind of makes us think that we can squeak by with the tandem of he and RB Jerome Ford. Seeing Ford be able to close out the game is big for his confidence too — Ford has good speed, but seems to be learning to find the hole, spin through it, and then use that speed to break free at the second level. Take what the defense gives you, and then make your move. At times earlier this season, Browns offensive players have tried silly things like reversing field, only to end up losing yardage.
- Dustin Hopkins has been money for the Browns. Even a game like last week — he was the Special Teams Player of the Week, but not many fans were thinking about him after the game. If Cade York were still kicking here, that close game could’ve gone the other way.
- Joel Bitonio looks ready to return this week after having surgery during the bye and missing one game. It’s fortunate that the one game he missed ended up in victory.
- Cleveland is looking for their first two-game winning streak of the season. The Bengals are off this week, the Lions face the Ravens, and the Steelers face the Rams. We’re always eying the AFC North, and those are two tough games for our division opponents.
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 3.5 point favorites against the Colts.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I think the Browns’ offense gets off to a good start by simply taking what the defense gives them — which can be completion after completion, and a nice mix of runs. The offense doesn’t need to get too cute with trick plays this week. The defense will have Minshew’s number most of the way, but with enough drives to work with, a late drive will get Indianapolis to within a touchdown margin.” Browns 24, Colts 17
Thomas Moore: “This game will go a long way toward telling us if the Browns have really turned a corner. They dominated an undefeated San Francisco team last week on defense and are facing a bland Indianapolis team that starts the equally bland Gardner Minshew at quarterback. This should be a relatively boring win for the good guys, but the Browns have consistently shown that they can’t handle or sustain even the littlest bit of success as they are 3-13 in games following a win since the beginning of the 2021 season.
“Factor in the continued uncertainty at quarterback - Deshaun Watson looks ready to return unless he doesn’t - and this game could turn into another disappointing Sunday afternoon. We’re banking on the defense, however, to keep the game under control and for the offense to avoid the crippling turnovers that plagued them in the losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh.” Browns 17, Colts 7
Barry Shuck: “Let’s look at numbers. Is Deshaun going to play this week? If not, then both clubs are playing with their backups which hinders their offensive play. Indy has the more experienced backup in Gardner Minshew whereas Cleveland starts with minimal talent and experience. Browns are dead last in passing rating with just four TD passes while the Colts are ranked 20th. The Browns are eighth in rushing with Indy 14th. Again, CLE has just four rushing TDs. Overall, Indianapolis has a much better offense overall as Cleveland can’t move the ball or score. However, the defense is what messes up all of these numbers. Browns are Number 1 against the pass giving up just 609 yards which is over 300 yards better than the second-ranked team. CLE is Number 3 against the run and has allowed just three rushing TDs all season. The Colts’ defense is bottom third against the run and 27th against the pass. The Browns’ offense, albeit inept at times, should be able to move the ball well especially with the run while the Colts’ offense isn’t going anywhere. Cleveland’s best offensive weapon is K Dustin Hopkins. He goes 3-4 in field goals since the Browns are not finishers.” Browns 16, Colts 3
Jared Mueller: “Coming off a big win in Week 6, the Cleveland Browns are setup for a potential letdown game against the Indianapolis Colts. Both teams seem likely to be rolling with a backup quarterback as their starter but Gardner Minshew is more proven than PJ Walker. The Colts also have injury concerns with their starting right tackle and #2 wide receiver while the Browns are hoping to get Joel Bitonio back for the game.
In the end, Cleveland needs to keep up their winning ways and will be able to do so because they have the defense and Amari Cooper to get it done. Another low scoring affair but the Browns leave Indy with a 4-2 record.” Browns 20, Colts 17
Curtiss Brown: “This game has potential letdown written all over it. But let’s examine the matchup between these two teams. For the Cleveland Browns, I would be surprised if quarterback Deshaun Watson plays on Sunday. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t play. If he doesn’t play, then PJ Walker starts and it’s essentially the battle between Walker and Minshew (otherwise known as whoever doesn’t screw it up bowl and plays smart game). The Colts offense does have some talent on the offensive side of the ball but the team has a low ceiling with Minshew under center instead of Anthony Richardson. Colts running game couldn’t get anything going last week and this week they are going against a stout Browns run defense. Not good.
Defensively for the Colts, losing defensive tackle Grover Stewart will hurt and I think it will show on Sunday with their run defense. The Colts defense is really young in the secondary and I could see (I’m not saying it’s gonna happen) the Browns testing the young corners of Indianapolis. I think this Cleveland team is different than last season’s team in terms of the veteran leadership on this team and the overall mindset. Game will be close to start and Cleveland pulls away late. Browns leave Indy 4-2 with a pivotal matchup looming in the Pacific Northwest in Week 8 (a game that should be flexed to SNF but we won’t get it.)” Browns 24, Colts 16
Matt Wood: “It doesn’t matter is Watson plays or not, the Browns are going to roll. Don’t get me wrong, no game in the NFL is easy. But when your defense is playing like the Browns are playing right now, you should beat teams like the Colts. Get that offense in obvious passing downs and let the defense cook.
As for the offense I think this is the week that Ford really shows out. I’m talking 125 yards and a score as PJ does enough to protect the football and do the little things to not shoot the Browns in the foot.
Sunday is the first game the Browns win the turnover battle (!!!) and they roll…” Browns 27, Colts 3
Ezweav: “To say last week was tremendously encouraging is underselling it. Taking down San Francisco with PJ Walker resets the expectations for this season, provided we do actually get our starting QB back at some point.
Neither the Colts’ offense nor defense is as tough a challenge as was the 49ers. While I actually quite like Gardner Minshew I don’t see him doing anything against this defense. And yes I’m not even mentioning Jonathan Taylor because I think he’ll have about as much impact against us as Derrick Henry and CMC had. At that point, our rush and our DB’s have them completely overmatched.
Literally, all the offense has to do is not give them the damn ball at point-blank range. PJ getting another week of reps should allow him to be a little less-bad than he was last week, and that should be plenty.” Browns X, Colts X
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.