Browns at Colts: Pregame Pancakes Week 2

Execution. Correctable. Marathon, not a sprint. These were the messages coming from the Indianapolis Colts (0-1) a day after suffering one of the worst losses in the Polian Era. A day after their quarterback played as though he was 38-years old and had retired earlier this year. A day after their offensive line played as though it was comprised of four new starters. A day after the defense played as though it was built to play with the lead but was now being asked to play tight, low-scoring games. A day after the special teams … looked like every other ****ing special teams unit the Colts have trotted out for the past ten years. For all of the flack Jim Caldwell took for his message that preached a calm patience, he was technically right. The problems that plagued the Colts on Sunday are all correctable. Two sack-fumbles that set your opponents up inside the 20-yard line on back-to-back possessions should be preventable. Horrendous gap control and over pursuit from the defensive back seven is a common problem in the NFL, one that should be correctable. Getting gashed by roll out after roll out after roll out, yes, in theory, is correctable.

The issue is not correctability. The issue is ability to correct. It is one thing to realize you have a problem and to recognize that problem as correctable. It is an entirely different thing to correct that problem. On defense, poor gap control and an inability to adjust and adapt to the play-action roll out have plagued the Colts for years. Those issues, while highlighted by the absence of Peyton Manning, were there long before he had multiple neck surgeries. In fact, the Colts defense, by any measure, has gotten progressively worse since the new coaching staff took over. The problems on defense are correctable, but, to date, Jim Caldwell’s staff has proven unable to correct them. On offense, the issues, on their face, are also correctable. Blocking an all-world defensive end one-on-one with a tight end is probably not the best way to go about running an offense, especially when that offense is run by a 38-year old quarterback that lacks the awareness and mobility to deal with free rushers. Kerry Collins is who he is. We have mentioned many times leading up to this point that Collins would be a serviceable quarterback if the offensive line gave him time. As one might expect, a line with four new starters is going to take some time to come together as a cohesive units. There will be blown assignments, there will be technical errors, there will be mistakes. With Peyton Manning at quarterback, those mishaps would be a blip on the radar. With Kerry Collins at quarterback, those mistakes are sack-fumbles. Execution. Correctable. Marathon, not a sprint. The words the Colts will live by for the rest of the 2012 season also ring true for their Week 2 opponent, the Cleveland Browns (0-1). They entered the 2011 season a young, upcoming team with a bright future. They left Week 1 with a 27-17 loss to a Bengals team many pundits thought would be vying for the top draft spot in the 2012 entry draft. For a team full of young players being asked to take the next step, it is often that one mistake in execution that leads to another. An inability to correct yourself after one bad play leads to a series of them. For both the Browns and the Colts, the question will be: who corrects their mistakes soon, executes better, and sprints into the lead in this marathon of a season?  

When the Colts have the ball


Indianapolis Colts Offense Cleveland Browns Defense
87  WR  R. Wayne 92  DE   J. Mitchell
44   TE  D. Clark 98  DT   P. Taylor
74   LT  A. Castanzo 71  DT   A. Rubin
76   LG  J. Reitz 97  DE   J. Sheard
63   C    J. Saturday 99  SLB  S. Fujita
71   RG  R. Diem 52  MLB  D. Jackson
72   RT   J. Linkenbach 51  WLB  C. Gocong
17  WR   A. Collie 23  CB    J. Haden
85  WR   P. Garcon 43  SS    T. Ward
5    QB   K. Collins 20  FS    M. Adams
29  RB   J. Addai 24  CB    S. Brown

  Make no mistake about it, while the Colts’ defense played a poor game on Sunday, no defense will look good when forced to deal with short fields on back-to-back possessions. The first thing Kerry Collins and the Colts must do is hold on to the ball. Collins is going to take hits, he is going to take sacks. That is the reality of a situation that combines an offensive line that is going through some growing pains with a quarterback that has the self-awareness of a cast member on The Bachelor. Sacks are bad enough as is, Collins will need to be able to hold on to the ball when they occur, or the offense is going to continue to put the defense in untenable situations. When it comes to attacking the Browns’ defense, the Colts should have some success running the ball. The Browns fielded one of the worst rush defenses in the league in 2010 (27th in rushing yards per game, and 22nd in DVOA/Advanced Stats) and were gashed by the Bengals last week to the tune of 139 yards on 31 carries (4.48 YPC). The Colts’ running game, meanwhile, was one of the few bright spots in their loss against the Texans. Running backs Joseph Addai and Delone Carter combined to carry the ball 15 times for 64 yards (4.27 YPC) and the run blocking seemed much-improved over some of last years efforts. One of the issues that plagued the Colts on Sunday was an inability to get into a rhythm. Drives ended too quickly, either because they failed to convert on 3rd or 4th down (Collins was 0-for-9 in such situations), or because of turnovers. Running the ball effectively, and more often, should allow the Colts to stay in 2nd- and 3rd-and-manageable situations. A drive can be successful without putting up points, and perhaps a few successful drives will give the Colts something tangible to grow on. Everyone expects Collins and the offensive line to get better as the year progresses, but they need reps to do so, and they will not get those reps if they cannot sustain drives. In the passing game, Reggie Wayne was superb in Week 1, grabbing 7 catches (including a superb double toe tap touchdown in the back of the end zone) for 106 yards. It was clear that Wayne was Collins’ first choice, and Wayne had no trouble getting open, even when the coverage was focusing on him. While it is nice to have a Pro Bowler to throw to, Collins would be doing himself a favor if he looked for his other targets more often. Whiling throwing the ball 31 times on Sunday, Collins only targeted TE Dallas Clark and WR Austin Collie a combined 8 times. Both Clark and Collie are play-makers that excel at finding a mismatch and exploiting it, utilizing them usually leads to big plays, and Collins should look to them as he gets more comfortable in the system. As the Texans were in Week One, the Browns defense is in a transition period. While the Texans are in the process of switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, the Browns are doing the opposite, and are currently installing a 4-3 base defensive system. Because of this, and the fact that the Browns lack a dominant pass rusher in the Mario Williams mold, look for Collins to have more time this week to find all of his targets. In the process, he may just show a few people why the Colts decided to sign him in the first place.

When the Browns have the ball

Indianapolis Colts Defense Cleveland Browns Offense
93   DE  D. Freeney 80  WR  B. Robiskie
99   DT  A. Johnson 82  TE   B. Watson
95   DT  F. Moala 73  LT   J. Thomas
98   DE  R. Mathis 62  LG  J. Pinkston
53   WLB K. Conner 55  C    A. Mack
51   MLB P. Angerer 66  RG  S. Lauvao
50   SLB P. Wheeler 79  RT  T. Pashos
25   CB   J. Powers 11  WR M. Massaquoi
33   SS   M. Bullitt 12  QB  C. McCoy
41   FS   A. Bethea 48  FB  O. Marecic
27   CB   J. Lacey 40  RB  P. Hillis

  The Browns’ offense will be lead by a pair of 25-year olds: QB Colt McCoy and Madden Cover Boy RB Peyton Hillis. Hillis, a hard-nosed straight-line runner, was the surprise breakout player of the 2011 season. Acquired from Denver in the QB Brady Quinn trade, Hillis put up over 1,500 total yards of offense and 13 touchdowns in just 14 starts. Hillis did show signs of slowing down towards the end of the season, however, and only managed to rush for 107 yards total in the final three games of the season. That drop-off in production, combined with a slew of late-season injuries, had many people questioning Hillis’ ability to carry the load for an entire season. Shutting Hillis down will be the number one priority for a Colts defense that once again looks shaky against the run, having surrendered 167 yards on 37 carries (4.51YPC) in Week 1 against the Texans. The Texans, however, employ a zone blocking, cutback scheme that has given the over-aggressive Colts’ defenders trouble for years. Though the Browns field an impressive offensive line, including LT Joe Thomas, one of the best tackles in all of football, they do not utilize a lot of cutback runs. Look for the Colts to bring SS Melvin Bullitt into the box, using a lot of 8-man fronts to contain Hillis and force the Browns to beat them through the air. Keep an eye on Hillis’ hands, as well: he only carried the ball 270 times last year, but he fumbled the ball 8 times. The Colts have had bad luck in recovering fumbles, this seems like the perfect time to turn that luck around. When they are not handing the ball to Hillis, the Browns will look to to 2nd-year QB Colt McCoy to move the ball in the air. Sunday will be McCoy’s 10th career start, and while you could best describe McCoy as efficient, he has shown flashes of ability that give the Browns hope that he can be a mainstay at the position. McCoy did take a step back Sunday against the Bengals, completing less than 50% of his passes and turning the ball over twice (1 interception and 1 fumble). As opposing defenses continue to devote most of their attention to Hillis and the Browns’ running game, McCoy will be forced to make plays through the air if the Browns will have any success on offense. McCoy’s receiving targets could best be described as average. While there is hope that 2011 2nd-round draft pick WR Greg Little will eventually develop into a play-maker, McCoy’s current targets are WRs Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and TEs Ben Watson and Evan Moore. While Massaquoi has shown flashes of explosiveness, he has been too inconsistent to be considered a true number 1 target. The Browns may find their best success against the Colts not through the arm of Colt McCoy or the legs of Peyton Hillis, but through the body of do-it-all dynamo WR Josh Cribbs. Cribbs is one of the best returners in the league, with 8 career return touchdowns. The Colts continue to have problems on special teams, having allowed multiple big returns, including a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown, to the Texans. Unless P Pat McAfee is able to remove Cribbs from the game with his leg, Cribbs should be able to provide the Browns will excellent field position throughout the game. The Browns have also deployed Cribbs in the “wildcat” formation, so the Colts, who have struggled with that formation at times in the past, will be sure to watch out for Cribbs in those situations, as well.  

Five key match ups

1. Dwight Freeney v. Joe Thomas -  ESPN Scouting Reports consider Joe Thomas to be the best left tackle in the NFL. Those same scouting reports list Dwight Freeney as the fourth best defensive end in football. You can quibble on the rankings, but what you cannot argue is that this will be a match-up between two elite players. Thomas, 26, has technique, maturity, and instincts beyond his years. Don’t expect Freeney to have a huge day, but he will need to be disruptive when left in a one-on-one match up with Thomas. Freeney’s best bet may to be use the spin move to set up Thomas for his underrated bull rush. Thomas has shown, in the past, that he can be overpowered. If Freeney can get him off-balance with the spin move, he will be able to use his bull rush to push Thomas straight back into QB Colt McCoy. 2. Peyton Hillis v. Indy Rush Defense – Hillis was the surprise player of 2011, gaining over 1,500 total yards and 13 touchdowns, despite starting only 14 games last season. He will be facing a rush defense that once again appears to be heading for a bottom-half-of-the-league ranking, and will look to spark a Browns offense that struggled to move the ball against the Bengals. Hillis may leave Lucas Oil Stadium frustrated, however, as the Indy defense prefers to struggle against a specific type of rushing attack – a cutback style designed to exploit their tendencies to over pursue and abandon their gaps. Hillis, on the other hand, is a hard nosed, straight ahead runner, and the Colts have had success against these types of running backs in the past. If the Colts contain Hillis, it could be a long, frustrating day for the Browns. 3.  Indianapolis Players v. Injuries – The only way the Colts can hope to be a competitive team in a post-Manning world is if their roster can do something they have not been able to do effectively in recent years – avoid injuries. The team will be asking for each player to play to their maximum level on each play to make up for Manning’s absence. We have already seen the Colts suffer injuries to LBs Gary Brackett, Kavell Conner, and Ernie Sims. Brackett and Sims have already been declared out by the Colts who have no room for error, and the loss of each additional starter beyond Manning will only magnify the Colts’ deficiencies. Playing well and winning is the number one goal in any game. Coming out of the game injury free should be (a relatively distant) second. 4.  Larry Coyer v. Adjustments – The Texans ran approximately 1.2 million (estimated) roll outs against the Colts on Sunday. They only stopped running them when they had a comfortable 34-0 lead. If Larry Coyer’s plan was to wear the Texans out, it worked. Sunday was not an isolated incident, unfortunately. Teams have used many tactics to exploit the Colts’ defense – cutback runs, play action roll outs, or the shotgun draw to name a few – and Coyer and the defensive staff have shown an inability to adjust to those tactics. One of the challenges for a post-Manning defense is to adjust and adapt quicker, to not allow opposing offenses to put games away in the first half. The Colts offense will get better as the season goes along, but the defense has to be give them time to work in close game situations. It is time for Coyer to go to Taco Bell and think outside the bun. 5.  Colts fans v. Alcohol -  With each post-Manning snap Colts fans witness, the more they are prone to fits of (understandable) freaking out. My advice? Relax. Sure, it was hard watching Kerry Collins make all of us feel old. My knees are still aching. But the season will be what the season will be. It seems as though Manning should be able to play again, if not this year, then in 2012. Take the 2011 for season what is: a chance to enjoy the NFL as a whole, without expectations. If the Colts don’t perform well, they will be looking at some high picks in the draft that will allow them to reload for the stretch run with Manning. If they do perform well, it will be an enjoyable, unexpected ride.  Make 2011 more about the journey, not the destination.

The Injury reports

 Indianapolis Colts

Player Name Injury (STATUS)
Peyton Manning NECK (OUT)
Gary Brackett Shoulder (OUT)
Ernie Sims Knee (OUT)
Dwight Freeney Rest (Probable)
Reggie Wayne Rest (Probable)
Anthony Gonzalez Hamstring (Questionable)
Robert Mathis Neck (Questionable)
Kavell Conner Foot (Questionable)
Tyler Brayton Knee (Questionable)
Blair White Back (Questionable)


Cleveland Browns


Player Name Injury (STATUS)
LB Titus Brown Ankle (QUESTIONABLE)
WR Mohamed Massaquoi Hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)
WR Carlton Michell Finger (PROBABLE)
DB Dimitri Patterson Ankle (PROBABLE)
OL Tony Pashos Ankle (QUESTIONABLE)
OL Jason Pinkston Knee (PROBABLE)
DB T.J. Ward Hamstring (PROBABLE)
DB Usama Young Hamstring (PROBABLE)


Identifying the coverage

  Where(Visually):  CBS Who(Visually):   Marv Albert and Rich Gannon Where(Audio):1070 AM The Fan WFNI and  97.1 HANK FM Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford What:  Thank you, CBS.  If we have to suck, at least let us suck with someone other than Dierdorf.  Dierdorf, Walt Coleman, and Larry Coyer should go buy an island together. Is the game on in your area?   Good question.  The people at The506 will be able to tell you.  (HINT: With Manning abducted by Aliens, the offensive line unmercifully NOT abducted by Aliens, and Kerry Collins still being Kerry Collins, unless you live in either Indiana or the home market for the opposing team, you better get cozy with the term “online streaming” over the next 16 weeks. Yes, I capitalized Aliens consistently in this parenthetical.  No, you may not fix it, Mr. Editor. ALIENS.)  

Series Notes

- The Colts are 12-13 all time against the Browns. – The Colts are 5-0 against the Browns in the Manning/Polian Era. – Expect a low-scoring affair – the Colts have averaged 10.67PPG the past three meetings with the Browns. The Browns? They’ve scored only 6 points in each of those three games. – Robert Mathis scored the only touchdown in the Colts 10-6 victory over the Browns in 2008. – Since 2002, Robert Mathis (3, 0) and Dwight Freeney (6, 2) have combined for 9 sacks and 2 forced fumbles against the Browns in 4 meetings. – Since 2002, Reggie Wayne has 13 catches for 182 yards and 0 touchdowns. – Since 2003, Dallas Clark has 5 catches for 56 yards and 0 touchdowns. – Joseph Addai has only faced the Browns once in his career, he ran for 57 yards on 15 carries and added 1 catch for 6 yards in the 2008 match up. – Since 2003, the Colts have run the ball 71 times for 273 yards (3.85 ypc) – Passing league you say? Tell that to a Browns-Colts match up: Since 2003 Browns quarterbacks have combined to throw 0 TDs and 3 INTs along with 5.75 YPA. Manning and the Colts haven’t fared any better, throwing 0 TDs and 5 picks, along with 6.52 YPA. – The Browns rushing attack has been the cure for a bad Indianapolis rush defense – in the past 3 meetings, the Browns have run the ball 79 times for 268 yards (3.4YPC). – While interesting, most of these stats won’t mean much: Colt McCoy and Kerry Collins, the two starting quarterbacks on Sunday, weren’t even born the last time these two teams met. – The Cleveland Browns head coach is something called a Pat Shurmur. More on this story as it develops.   Songs of the week    


Snark that landed on the cutting room floor

Overheard in a Jim Caldwell press conference:

Execution. Correctable. Marathon, not a sprint. We use these words as a backbone for a season that is going down hill faster than you can say anterior cervical fusion. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to explain myself to you. And things of that nature. I would rather you just asked me how Bob Sanders’ biceps was doing, and I could tell you he was day-to-day, and we could go on our way. Otherwise, I suggest you work for Bill Polian for a year, and see how talkative you are. Either way, I don’t give a [redacted] what you think about our team.