Eyes in the Backfield-Browns

12 Things to Watch in Sunday’s Colts-Browns Game

With this guy at quarterback, I almost want to root for the Browns.

Last week, the Colts’ chance to establish themselves as a playoff contender went by the boards in an epic beat down. Now, one of their best hopes for a win all season sloughs its way into Lucas Oil Stadium. Here’s what to watch for.

1. Watch for the turnovers. Perhaps the most distressing part of the 2012 season has been the defense’s utter inability to force turnovers. Brown’s quarterback Brandon Weeden is an interception machine, but to this point the Colts don’t look to have the playmakers necessary to force the ball loose. In all the defense has been worse than anyone could imagine, and in almost every conceivable metric, has gone backwards from 2011. If the Colts can’t get turnovers from Weeden, they can’t get turnovers.

2. Watch for Joe Hayden on Reggie Wayne. Hayden is one of the goodish corners that people are waiting to turn into a great corner. If he can take Wayne away, the Colts are left with no offense at all. This is a big test for him and a chance to establish himself firmly in the upper eschalon of corners. If Wayne can take advantage of him, the Colts will win big. Hayden says he doesn’t want to follow Reggie Wayne around the field, so Wayne could wind up in the slot all game. Again, it would be a huge plus for Indy.

3. Watch for the continued development of the tight ends. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen didn’t have huge high-volume games against the Jets, but there was something about how they were both used that seemed to make more sense. One of the criticisms of Bruce Arians has been the lack of short routes, and safety valves for Andrew Luck. It seemed like last week, he gave the tight ends more useable routes. More of that would be good.

4. Watch for a reshuffling. Word on the street is that a certain angry Caucasian linebacker will be in his first game of the season this week, and he’s ready to hit someone. The problem comes in figuring out where and when to play him. Inside linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Kavell Conner have played reasonably well this season, should one of the two be benched for a promising young linebacker like Angerer? Freeman plays a role similar to what Angerer’s figures to be and likely will be the one who’s snaps get reduced. 

5. Watch for big plays. The Browns safeties both excel in run defense, so don’t expect Vick Ballard to have more success this week in turning runs into big gains. However, both have been inconsistent against the pass, and the Browns defense generally has struggled to contain third and fourth receivers, coming in at 25th in DVOA against those players. T.Y. Hilton has been relatively invisible since his 113-yard day against Jacksonville, but could have another big day on Sunday. 

6. Watch for geritol. The Browns have gone all in with their 54-year old rookie quarterback. Weeden is so old that Wilford Brimley turned him down for a spot in the Cocoon. Weeden is so old he gets a joke about Cocoon. Weeden is so old he knows who Wilford Brimley is. Weeden is so old…just keep reading, this could go on for a while…when he played high school ball, they called the huddle ye olde pre-scrum parlay. Weeden is so old that he’s bad at football. Weeden is so old…

7. Watch for tired legs. The Browns not only drafted a quarterback old enough to be Chris Weinke’s father, they drafted Trent Richardson. Running backs drafted in the first round aren’t such a great value given their tendency to wear out quickly. I guess they though Trent needed a Big Brother. Regardless within five years they’ll have a quarterback that’s over the hill and a running back whose legs are dead. Word is that he’ll do “whatever it takes” to play on Sunday which will just keep that odometer rolling.

8. Watch for the generational rivalry. Andrew Luck and Old Man Weeden met in the Fiesta Bowl in January. Luck lost 41-38 in overtime while Weeden and teammate Justin Blackmon (now Jaguar) hooked up three times for touchdowns. After the game Weeden mussed Luck’s hair and bought him a malt at the soda shop.

9. Watch for home, sweet home. The Colts young team has performed far better at home this year than they have on the road. That’s not a surprise with a young, rebuilding team, but it sure hasn’t hurt that the Colts opponents at home have been the Jaguars, Vikings, and flailing Green Bay Backers, versus the upstart Bears and inconsistent Jets. The home record will be helped again by playing Cleveland at home this week, and I’m expecting to see Andrew Luck’s passer rating look more like his home 85.4 rather than his road rating of 52.1. 

10. Watch for invaders. The game is sold out, but there will no doubt be a lot of Cleveland fans there. Browns fans travel well, and many have relocated to Indiana to escape the crushing crapulence that is Cleveland. Moving foreward, I worry this could be the last sell out of the season if the team plays poorly the next two weeks. As long as Indy gets a win today, the Colts can probably count on another against Miami, but as the season goes along, it will get harder and harder to sell those last 1,000 tickets as the wins taper off.

11. Watch for Mike Holmgren chuckling. Is it just me or did Holmgren get the best end of the deal in the recent Browns sale? While Holmgren is not the level of genius some portray him to be something tells me he’s quite happy slipping out of Cleveland while the getting is good. Without question he’ll be in demand for teams with lots of money and little sense. I can already here him telling Jerry Jones, “Did I tell you about the time I managed to convince a team that Hume Cronyn would be a great starting quarterback? Boy was that a hoot!”

12. Watch for another week of “Luck is great” stories. When the Colts win, all the focus is on how good Luck is. When they lose, the focus is on how weak his traditional numbers are. This week, they get the win. Colts 23 Browns 19.

Eyes in the Backfield-Browns

Five things to Watch for in Sunday’s Colts-Browns Game

There’s going to be Colt on Colt violence this Sunday

Last week was a disaster. We had might as well admit it. This week, there is going to be some Colt on Colt violence as Colt McCoy leads the Cleveland Browns into the Luke to take on the Colts and Kerry Collins. Which horse should you bet on? I don’t know that anyone knows at this point.  Here’s what to keep an eye on…

1. Watch Peyton. Just typing that made me sick. The Browns bring Madden cover-boy Peyton Hillis into Indy, just to rub it in that the Colts season is probably ruined before it started. Thanks for that Cleveland.  Hillis had a nice season in 2011, but it was anything but spectacular. Just under 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns are credible numbers, but his DVOA was lower than Joe Addai’s. He also fumbled 8 times. Frankly, he’s a nice player, but is not worthy of the name Peyton. For the next 48 hours, I will refer to him as Eli Hillis. The Colts are without Brackett and Sims this week, which means Conner and Angerer are going to have to play more frequently. They are going to have to maintain their gaps, because Cleveland’s game plan is going to be to pound the ball. Indy did their typical D- job against the run in the Houston game, and will have to control the Browns’ ground attack if they are going to keep the offense in it.

2. Watch the response. As much as people love to rag on Jim Caldwell, the Colts problem in week one was not motivation or preparation. It was that their quarterback, who had played a total of one half of one preseason game with the team, fumbled twice inside the 20 yard-line. That makes it hard to win. The Colts have a habit of bouncing back very well from losses that would cripple other teams. In the past two years, the Colts have shaken off more devastating losses than most team endure in ten years. The veterans showed last week that they play hard and stay motivated no matter. The Colts should give a top-shelf effort this week. Against a bad Cleveland team, that might just be enough. In the long run, however, games are won on talent and execution, not motivation. The Indy season isn’t lost yet, but if the Colts get off to an 0-4 or 0-5 start, it could go down the drain fast. 4 of the next 5 games and 5 of the next 7 are against 2010 playoff teams. The Colts need this win to have any hope of treading water until Manning is hypothetically ready. It’s fair to say that this game IS the season. If the Colts lose it, it’s officially time to go on the Andrew Luck watch, because Cleveland may be the worst team they play all year.


3. Watch the shotgun. Collins threw 27 of his 31 passes last week out of the shotgun formation. More often than not, when he’s not under center, Indy’s throwing the ball. As Collins gets more comfortable with the offense, look for the Colts to run more out of the shotgun. For all the complaining people did about the line last week, the Colts backs were reasonably effective running the football. Obviously the score of the game dictated some of what Indy did in week one, but as Collins becomes more comfortable in the offense, the Colts have to try and run the ball more.  It’s not the way the offense is designed, but Christensen is going to have to make adjustments. Collins will take 3-4 sacks if asked to throw 30 times in a game. The best way for the Colts to limit big mistakes in the passing game is to run the ball as much as possible. Doing so out of the shotgun will help to keep Collins comfortable while still maintaining balance in the offense.

4. Watch the guy who isn’t any good, but some people think he’s good. If Colt McCoy played for a team with a less rabid (read desperate) fan base, everyone in the NFL would know he’s not very good. However, fans and the media down-right love guys who played good in college and are average at best in the pros. McCoy managed to pull off a pair of high profile upsets in 2010 (against two big name teams in NO and NE with awful secondaries…oh and the Browns returned two picks for scores), and that seems to be all anyone remembers about his season. The Browns are now 2-9 with McCoy as a starter. His career passer rating is 73.8. He’s thrown more picks than touchdowns. He has a sack percentage of nearly 9%. There’s a reason McCoy isn’t a first round pick. Much of the perception that the Browns could be feisty this year revolves around the myth that McCoy is a viable NFL starter.  I’m convinced this has way more to do with mythical intangible qualities than his actual play. Colt McCoy will ride that perception of him to a nice long career as a backup quarterback in the NFL.

5. Watch me watch a win. I’ve been to Lucas Oil Stadium six times to watch the Colts live. I saw both preseason games in 2008, then the first two games of the regular season (Bears and Jaguars). Then I left for Argentina. I’m back now, and have watched two more preseason games there. Add it up and I’m 0-6 at the Luke. Considering the Colts have only lost a handful of games there total, I’m due for a win. It’s going to be ugly, but I like the Indianapolis Colts to come through and pull it out 17-13 over the Cleveland Colts.