Browns @ Colts – Game #7 Preview
Can the Browns continue their winning ways on the road on Sunday? The 2011 team was able to pull off a victory in Indianapolis, but both teams have a couple new faces this season (starting at. quarterback). Once again, I will be in attendance – I hope my presence (along with officially playing their first game under new owner Jimmy Haslam) will inspire the Browns to a victory. Last week’s contest was hard fought, and the Browns must excel in all three aspects of the game to maintain success.
Offense: For the first time, the Browns employed the running game more and reduced Brandon Weeden’s role against the Bengals – resulting in his fewest pass attempts (twenty-nine) this season. This proved to be a great game plan for the rookie quarterback, who largely avoided mistakes (outside of an early tipped pass). Last week, the Jets were able to put up thirty-five points on the Colts with only nineteen passes and forty-four rushing attempts. I would not be surprised if the Browns used similar play calls this week; Weeden will still throw several passes, but the team will likely employ the run to set up passing plays. Converting on third down (seven of seventeen last week) and hitting a few deep throws will be key for a successful performance. The signal caller must keep his passes high (and away from defenders) following the release to avoid negative plays. The Colts only have two interceptions this entire season, but the Browns should not take their opponents lightly; they still have a rookie quarterback who has succumbed to errors.
Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight combined for over 230 yards rushing for the Jets last week; together they were able to gash the Colts on the ground. Montario Hardesty’s performance last week gave Browns fans faith that he can enter the game and produce, even if he has not been active for several weeks. The trio of Richardson, Hardesty, and Ogbonnaya could do a number this week – provided all three are healthy and are put in the best position to excel. If the rookie and veteran from Tennessee can each have ten to fifteen carries, along with Ogbonnaya getting a couple receptions, the running back unit will likely cause problems for the opposition. I look for the Browns trying to get an early lead in this contest; thus allowing the team to rely heavily on the run until the defense can stop them – pitting their strength against the opposition’s perceived weakness.
Although the Colts barely allowed one hundred passing yards last week, it was largely due to the Jets’ success in the running game. I have faith the Browns will be able to have a big game through the air. Josh Cooper’s first-game production and Josh Gordon’s recent success have shown that the Browns can move the ball in crucial situations, as well as score on long plays. Implement Mohammed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin (both returning from injuries), and the unit can become dynamic. A consequence of multiple receivers stepping up has been the elimination of entitlement for Greg Little. The days of guaranteed playing time and opportunities for the young veteran are all but gone – he now has to prove he belongs on the field and is deserving of the football. Last week, the tight ends of the Browns enjoyed success in many ways – Alex Smith did a great job blocking, while Jordan Cameron had a huge reception and Ben Watson recorded a touchdown. Employing multiple weapons here will make it extremely difficult for the opposing, relatively young linebackers.
In the two victories for the Colts, the defense was able to get to the quarterback – notching a combined nine sacks. It is imperative that the Browns offensive line keeps the team out of unfavorable situations. Last week, the Browns had third and long a couple times and played conservatively (i.e. runs and short throws), and the team ended up punting as a result. Several of these series almost cost the Browns the game; they cannot face longer yardage to gain consistently – whether it is due to sacks allowed or by penalty. The offense can eliminate the latter by playing under control and blocking out the home crowd’s noise. Sacks have largely not been an issue, as the Browns typically only lose ten to fifteen yards per game in these situations. John Greco filled in well last week after Jason Pinkston left the game with an illness. Going forward, I believe he can be an important part of the interior line that helps the offense produce yards (and more importantly points).
Defense: Well, the bounce back game occurred for the defensive line; the Browns held the Bengals to a low rushing output (less than eighty yards total). The Colts, in defeat, had forty-one total yards on the ground last week. In the upset of the Packers, Donald Brown lead the team with eighty-four yards, as the franchise rushed for 119 total. In keeping with trends, the Colts do not have a dominant “feature running back” (whom have given the Browns fits this year). Billy Winn, John Hughes, and Athyba Rubin (assuming he’s healthy to play) must eliminate this part of the opponent’s offense and force rookie quarterback Andrew Luck to throw a majority of the time. The past two weeks saw the Colts give up eight sacks – Frostee Rucker, Jabaal Sheard, and Juqua Parker, (among a few others) should be able to get into the stat sheet after tacking the opposing quarterback. If the Browns can do what other teams have done to Luck and his offense as of late, they will get off the field and give Weeden and the offense more opportunities to score.
After facing a great tight end last week, the Browns will go against rookie Coby Fleener (a second-round draft selection). The talented, Stanford product has been averaging almost four receptions a game for over thirty-six yards. This may not seem like much, but he brings a big-play ability (catching and running for long gains). As a result, the Browns may have to use safeties to keep up with the speedster. Fellow tight end Dwayne Allen and running back Vick Ballard are also threats in the receiving game; the youth and speed of the linebackers can help the Browns guard these athletes however. It’s been reported that Scott Fujita has a neck injury and will miss several games (at the very least); the lineup of D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, and James Michael-Johnson will likely lead the unit for the remainder of the season. I anticipate this group continuing to grow – i.e. being in the best position possible during both running and passing plays. Doing so limits the opposing offense and can potentially create turnovers with physical and instinctual play.
Joe Haden has another tall order this week, with the task of covering long-time veteran Reggie Wayne. The star from the University of Miami has proven he is still one of the NFL’s best – averaging slightly over eight catches and 118 receiving yards per game. Wayne can create a huge passing day for Luck, as well as pull coverage away from reliable targets like Donnie Avery and rookie T.Y. Hilton. If Haden can play they way he did against A.J. Green last week (sans the one long pass), the Browns will have somewhat hindered the Colts’ passing attack. I believe Buster Skrine and Sheldon Brown can keep up with the remaining wide outs – they both had solid performances last week and I can see something similar occurring. Combining the opponent’s inconsistent rushing attack with the uncertainty of wide receiver output (except for Wayne), and I look for safeties T.J. Ward and Usama Young to be extremely active this game. Dick Jauron should employ Ward in rush and blitz schemes to disrupt Luck’s timing – especially on the quicker throws. Young will, more than likely, be asked to help in matchups where the Browns appear to be at a disadvantage. He came away with interceptions in each of the past two weeks; I anticipate the veteran being around the ball again on Sunday.
Special Teams: The Phil Dawson-Adam Vinatieri matchup is a tough one to call; both are fantastic kickers who will likely thrive in their opportunities. The remaining special teams for the Colts are good – they employ several younger returners who get decent yardage but have yet to get “the big one”. The Browns have limited their opponent the last few weeks in the return game; whenever it seems they have room to run, a player like Josh Cribbs is there to take down the runner. I look for better punts this week by Reggie Hodges – perhaps a change of scenery (i.e. indoors) will help the veteran. Assuming the offense can move the ball, Hodges may get opportunities to keep the Colts inside their ten yard line. This has not happened too often this year, but if last week was an indication, he is able to get the job done.
Coaching: As stated, I hope the Browns use their multiple running backs early and often to move the football. Sprinkling in several throws of different distances is important too, including the successful slant route (which the Bengals took away last week). Getting many receivers involved will be paramount for the offense – so long as the throws are not forced. Having many options at Weeden’s disposal keeps the defense guessing, and the Browns need this. I am optimistic the defense will utilize many blitzes and rushes; making it hard for Luck and their offense. This should be one of the few weeks where playing man coverage will work to the Browns advantage.
Prediction (My Record: 4-2): I think this is where the Browns are finally able to build off a victory; there’s a lot of positive momentum currently in the locker room and around the franchise. After getting a huge win for coach Chuck Pagano, the Colts had a letdown last week. I see the opponent playing somewhere in the middle this week and the Browns earning a 31-23 victory.