Cleveland at Colts
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium
TV: WANE, Channel 15
Radio: WOWO, 1190-AM
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After a thorough beating by the New York Jets, the Indianapolis Colts return home to face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The Colts have been much more comfortable at home and, let's face it, the Browns have some flaws. Here are five pivotal factors if the Colts are to win:
This is nothing new, and it will be a factor in every game this season. The Colts defense needs to put some heat on Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. Weeden leads all rookies – yes, all – in passing yardage this season with 1,519 yards. (The Colts' Andrew Luck is second among rookies with 1,488.) With outside linebacker Robert Mathis out and Dwight Freeney hobbling, the question is how the Colts bring the pressure. Interim coach Bruce Arians suggested it might have to come via good coverage of receivers, eliminating the quick throw.
Six of Luck's seven touchdown passes have come at home while five of his seven interceptions have come on the road. Coincidence? Doubtful. There's a comfort level to playing at Lucas Oil Stadium with the crowd on his side and an easier ability to run the no-huddle offense. He'll need to be on the lookout for Browns middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who has three sacks and two interceptions this season – a rare combination of disruption. All three of his sacks came in the win over the Bengals.
Those who questioned Donald Brown's value before his injury probably weren't questioning it quite as much after last week. The Colts rushing game was nonexistent against the Jets as none of the three backs (Vick Ballard, Mewelde Moore and Delone Carter) could gain traction. With the possible return of offensive lineman Joe Reitz this week, perhaps the line (and the run game) gets a boost. The Colts have to generate some ground game to take the all-out heat off Luck. The Browns rank 25th in rushing defense. So maybe this week is different.
The Colts allowed 252 yards rushing to the Jets and it wasn't even “throwback” day. It just looked like the vulnerable Colts run defense of yesteryear. Now comes one of the most exciting backs in the game, rookie Trent Richardson. He's dealing with a rib injury, but said he expects to play. As he watched tape of the Colts-Jets, he probably healed even more. The Colts must find a way to stick Richardson and tackle on first contact. This is easier said than done.
The Colts have not been particularly adept at creating turnovers on defense. The Colts offense has turned the ball over 11 times (seven picks, four fumbles) while the defense has only three takeaways (two picks, one fumble). Without the quarterback-strip expertise of a healthy Mathis, it'll be tough for the Colts to change that. It would be nice to see the Colts linebackers force a fumble or for one of the safeties (Antoine Bethea, Tom Zbikowski) to come up with a big interception.