The Colts and Browns were off to a similar start but while the Colts are now neck deep in the wildcard race, the Browns appear to have finally packed it in. The Colts are looking for their 5th straight win and also their fifth straight win against the Browns. The pressure is on head coach Romeo Crennel to salvage this sinking ship. With just five games remaining, the Colts may be fighting for a playoff spot but this Cleveland Browns team is now fighting for careers.
Colts Offense vs. Browns Defense
When everything is clicking, the Colts offense under the leadership of QB Peyton Manning is a thing of beauty. That thing of beauty has looked rather ugly when facing Romeo Crennel's defense. Romeo's zone scheme and bend don't break philosophy has frustrated the prolific passer.
Romeo has been able to do this by disrupting the routes ran by the Colts receivers. It is a combination of being physical with the receiving targets as well as dropping linebackers into those very routes, especially with the tight end.
Peyton is still making the same exact throw with the same exact timing but the slight disruption is the difference between a huge gain and an incomplete pass.
To offset what the Browns defense will be doing, the Colts must run the ball effectively. RB Joseph Addai is one of the most complete backs in the NFL. He has the hands to be a weapon receiving the ball. He is elite when it comes to blitz pickup and his physical hard nose style of running has brought an attitude to this offense. Addai has an excellent first step and he can often avoid the first defender.
The first and best line of defense for the Browns is NT Shaun Rodgers. If the Browns and their defense weren't struggling so mightily Shaun would be the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year honors. Rodgers is impossible to stop one-on-one and is beating the double with relative ease.
This presents a difficult challenge for Colts rookie center Steve Justice. Justice is a very quick and fluid center but he will be giving up 60 plus pounds to the monster Rodgers. Justice will need help and that will free up a linebacker or safety if the Browns ever decide to actually bring pressure.
Expect the Colts to work the underneath routes while challenging the defense to make the tackle. This is something the Browns defense has struggled with. For the Peyton and the Colts to have success, patience is key. They must also avoid becoming frustrated if they do not have early success. This is especially true against a Cleveland defense that is becoming infamous for those 4th quarter breakdowns.
The Colts possess arguably the best group of receivers in the game today with the likes of TE Dallas Clark, RB Joseph Addai, receivers Marvin Harrison, Anthony Gonzales and Reggie Wayne. They will try to spread the Browns young defensive backfield and exploit the individual match up that favors them best. The Browns can not allow Peyton to get too comfortable in the pocket or it will be a long day for the Browns young secondary.
Colts Defense vs. Browns Offense
The Browns quarterback debate is finally solved due to a season-ending injury suffered by Brady Quinn. Quinn will likely be the Browns quarterback next year and that will mean the end of Derek Anderson in a Browns uniform, if a trade can be worked out. This gives Derek Anderson five games to audition for his future. With no pressure on Anderson, this Cleveland Browns offense is poised to have a very good end of the season run.
The Colts are the smallest defense in the league especially up front. They rely on speed to disrupt and to create havoc. The Browns however possess a very quick of foot offensive line which on paper at least should balance out well against the Colts but this unit has issues. Their issue is chemistry and lack of communication.
Center Hank Fraley has struggled mightily this year. Weather it is all on the centers shoulders is up for debate but since Quinn was inserted into the lineup, there has been a free run to the quarterback taking place especially right up the middle where the defender is rarely touched.
Colts DE Dwight Freeney has to be licking his chops after watching the tape of last weeks match up between Browns LT Joe Thomas and Houston DE Mario Williams. Thomas has made the left tackle position look easy as he has stonewalled everyone he has faced until he met Mario Williams one week ago. Freeney one of the best past rushers to ever play the game and Freeney vs. Thomas is a great individual battle to watch in this one.
The Browns must get back to the basics which includes running the football effectively. RB Jamal Lewis and RB Jerome Harrison can be a terrific one two punch if used effectively. The Browns should share carries between the two and go with whichever is having the best game.
Without Bob Sanders in the lineup this Colts defense becomes below-average quickly. Sanders' hard-hitting and physical brand of football just seems to rub off on the rest of this team. Facing the Colts, I believe you need two game plans: one with and one for without Bob Sanders. He makes that much of an impact. Without Bob, run it down their throats over and over. With Bob, you throw it more and send the fullback at Bob whenever you choose to run his way.
The only thing more disappointing than the year the Browns and Derek Anderson is having is the year WR Braylon Edwards is having. Braylon is no longer fighting off smaller defenders to the ball and is completely off his game in every way. The drops have gotten to him and destroyed his confidence.
This is yet another reason to run the football this week. Your quarterback is struggling. Your receiver is in the worst funk of his career. The pass protection is questionable. The opposing defense isn't very good against the run and their best tackler is banged up and listed as questionable.
To beat the Colts you must run the football.