The Browns run the 3-4 defense, just like the Chargers last week and the Steelers in Week 10. In the running game, there are three men that the Colts need to avoid on the defensive line: Shaun Rogers, Shaun Rogers, and Shaun Rogers. Rogers was acquired in a trade with Detroit during the offseason and has been the watershed pick-up that general manager Phil Savage can hang his hat on.
For a player that is supposed to occupy space and eat up blockers in the middle of the field, Rogers has compiled some very impressive stats playing nose tackle all 11 games for the Browns in 2008. He has 53 tackles, which is third on the team and leads all non-linebackers. He also has 4.5 sacks, which leads the team.
DT Shaun Rogers
The two other massive nose tackles the Colts faced in the past month — Casey Hampton and Jamal Williams — are both exceptional athletes and very nimble for men their size, but neither has piled up the kind of numbers that Rogers has thus far. As a matter of fact, Williams and Hampton have combined for 49 tackles and two sacks, so Rogers is beating their production all by himself.
In addition, the two men that play behind Rogers — inside linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Andra Davis — are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on the team in terms of tackles. So, if a team runs the ball up the middle, either Rogers makes the play or he occupies enough blockers that Davis or Jackson makes it.
Once you add in that Jamey Richard will be starting for Jeff Saturday, Mike Pollak is still a rookie, and Charlie Johnson's natural position is guard, it makes absolutely no sense for the Colts to run the ball between the tackles.
Ends Corey Williams and Shaun Smith are no pushovers, but they are certainly not the dominant, disruptive force that Rogers is. Williams was a defensive tackle in a 4-3 scheme prior to this season — he was acquired in a trade with the Packers — and Smith is filling in for Robaire Smith, who was placed on injured reserve earlier this season.
Tony Ugoh and Ryan Diem have the strength and size to match up against these men and win the battle at the point of attack one-on-one. Simply put, Indianapolis needs to avoid the middle of this defense in the running game and seek to contain Rogers by double teaming him in the passing game. There are plenty of favorable matchups to exploit on the edges.
Davis and Jackson, in part because they are protected by Rogers and in part because of the kind of players they are, are tackling machines.
Jackson has 108 tackles — more than twice the 53 that Rogers has and almost twice the 57 that Davis has — and is always around the football. He makes tackles in his area, he makes tackles compensating for Davis, and he makes plays outside the tackle box.
LB D'Qwell Jackson
AP Photo/Mark Duncan
He has the ability to go sideline-to-sideline and is deceptively quick. He also has two sacks, an interception, and three passes defended, so he can make plays in the passing game as well. Peyton Manning and the Colts offense are going to avoid the middle in the running game because of Rogers and it would behoove them to avoid Jackson and Davis, who also has an interception and three passes defended, in the passing game.
Joseph Addai has the speed to get to the corner against Kamerion Wimbley, who is a talented player, but often suffers from lapses in concentration and takes poor angles to the ball. Addai is certainly fast enough to make his way around 15-year veteran Willie McGinest.
In addition, Dallas Clark and Addai match up very favorably against the outside linebackers in the passing game. They're simply too quick and too precise in their routes for any of these linebackers — especially McGinest or Wimbley — to cover one-on-one.
Clark and Addai should have a great deal of success running quick outs, curls, and comebacks to the outside on hot routes — the Browns tend to blitz frequently when they feel as though they are overmatched — and Clark should be able to get off the line and attack the deep seam behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties.
The outlook for the pass defense looked bleak before the 2008 season even got started. Starting cornerback Leigh Bodden was traded to the Lions in the Rogers deal, then his replacement, Daven Holly was placed on injured reserve.
So, Cleveland was essentially down two starters in August. They did not panic and sign a veteran free agent, but instead looked for replacements internally and, at this point in the season, appear to have found the right personnel.
They rank 20th against the pass, but that total is skewed by the fact that Jay Cutler gashed them for 447 yards in Week 10 and Tony Romo put up 320 yards against them in Week 1, while they were still adjusting.
CB Eric Wright
AP Photo/Mark Duncan
They have also allowed the likes of Joe Flacco, David Garrard, and Sage Rosenfels light them up for 248, 283, and 275 yards, respectively. Since the Browns do not pressure the quarterback very well — they have 15 sacks in 11 games — it is going to come down to how well Manning reads the defense and how the matchups stack up.
Brandon McDonald is a second-year player that has struggled against the top-tier wideouts that he has faced, allowing 116 yards to Andre Johnson last week. He does not have the coverage ability or hips to move and turn with a route runner of Reggie Wayne's caliber. Manning will likely target Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez, who has a favorable match-up against nickel back Terry Cousin on the inside.
The one receiver that may have his hands full is Marvin Harrison, who has not played well outdoors this season, has not played well on the road, and faces a pretty formidable adversary in Eric Wright. The second-year player out of UNLV has been a very pleasant surprise, with 47 tackles, 12 passes defended, and three interceptions, one of which he returned 94 yards for a touchdown.
He is physical enough and determined enough to stay with Harrison, who may once again be used as a decoy, sent deep in order clear Wright and safety Sean Jones out of the play in order open things up for Clark, Addai, Gonzalez, and Wayne underneath.
With Jones and free safety Brodney Pool, Cleveland actually has pair of talented young players patrolling the deep area of the field, so expect Manning and the Colts to work the middle, work underneath, and get their yards after the catch as opposed to over the top.
Turnovers. The one thing that this defense does very well — especially over the past few weeks — is force turnovers. Indianapolis will be able to move the ball on this defense, probably at will, so it is very important that they don't shoot themselves in the foot by turning the ball over.
The matchups and the numbers say that the Colts will dominate this game as long as they stay away from Rogers. Cleveland is 1-5 at home and Indianapolis is 4-2 on the road.
Browns fans are among the most loyal and passionate fan bases in the league, but the Colts will be able to take these fans out of the game with early success and building a big lead in the first half. The only way that Cleveland will be able to keep their fans and themselves in the game will be to pick off a couple of passes and recover a fumble or two. Indianapolis cannot allow that to happen.