5 Reasons the Cleveland Browns Could Beat Indianapolis Colts This Week
The Colts were an aging but talented team led by one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history with high hopes for a playoff berth in 2011.
The Browns were a young and inexperienced team led by an unproven quarterback with just one year of professional experience. Most people saw as a team with high hopes for the future, but a 6-10 team at best in 2011.
After a week of play, the Browns status appears to be right about where everyone expected, while things have gone sharply downhill for the Colts.
Browns fans certainly didn't expect to lose to the troubled Bengals in their first game, but you can bet that Colts fans were even less likely to buy that their team would be on the wrong end of a 34-7 disaster in Week 1 against the Texans if you'd asked them about it a few months ago.
Nobody ever wants to see a guy like Peyton Manning go down with a serious injury, but it has leveled the playing field for the Browns as they head to Indy this weekend looking to bounce back from their own Week 1 debacle.
What once looked like a safe bet for a loss for the Browns in Week 2 suddenly looks like anybody's game.
The Colts are still a tough team and they're better than they looked last week, but the door has been left open for the Browns to come in and steal a win.
Following are five reasons why the Browns have a legitimate chance to beat the Colts in Week 2.
1. Quarterback Matchup
Before Peyton Manning went in for yet another neck surgery and was declared to be out for most (if not all) of the 2011 season, the quarterback matchup in this game was almost comically lopsided.
Colt McCoy is developing into a solid player who is already better than most people outside of Cleveland give him credit for, but he's also certainly no Peyton Manning. Or at least so long as Manning was upright.
But now the matchup is no longer between a second-year player with just nine games of experience and a future Hall of Famer. Instead McCoy will be pitted against the 38-year-old (that's about 90 in NFL years) Kerry Collins.
Collins, once a star at Penn State and a guy who ran hot and cold throughout his pro career, has aged and deteriorated to the point where he was pretty much off of the NFL radar entirely before Indy picked him up in a moment of desperation. Not everyone, it seems, can be Brett Favre. And while that's a good thing in a lot of ways, it doesn't help any graying player looking to defy the aging process.
Collins, to be blunt, is just plain too old for this. It's an interesting juxtaposition with McCoy, who in many ways still appears to be entirely too young for this.
I fully expect Collins to be a bit better this week than he was in the Colts' opener (Collins fumbled three times and lost two of them and was also intercepted once) but McCoy, at least for the moment, looks like the better bet.
While Collins' experience surely meant he would have gotten used to the Colts' system and his teammates more quickly than a less seasoned veteran, McCoy has had more time to get in sync with his offense and master his team's playbook.
I believe he also edges Collins in the accuracy department, and his age alone makes him quicker, sharper and more durable.
And you can bet he's hopping mad after what happened to his team in Week 1. I'm sure Collins wasn't thrilled with his team's results either, but I'd pit McCoy against just about anyone in terms of competitiveness, focus and drive to win.
2. How the Rest of Both Teams' Offensive Players Stack Up
Pitting the Browns receivers against the Colts receivers looks a bit like a kids-vs.-dads charity softball game. Do the old guys still have it, or will they be unseated by the next generation?
I've always really liked Reggie Wayne, and I think he's got more left in the tank than many people think. Pierre Garcon was pretty quiet in Houston last week, but I expect we'll see bigger things from him very soon. And the Browns receivers did very little to impress in Week 1.
So the Colts have far more proven talent at wide receiver and on the offense as a whole, but that talent is starting to fade. Doug Flutie excepted, the aging process (especially in the NFL), is not reversible.
The Browns' problem is probably a more correctable one. Their issue is more about honing their talent and getting on the same page with their coach and the rest of their offense than it is about a long, drawn out losing battle with time.
I don't know that the Browns wide receivers will be able to get it together quickly enough to beat their Colts' counterparts in Week 2, but if they do, the scale may tip in the Browns' favor. You also have to wonder what happened with Austin Collie last week, who was targeted just three times and failed to log a single catch.
And the Browns don't even have to adjust completely overnight, thanks to the rest of the match-ups on offense. In the battle of Peyton Hillis and Joseph Addai, Hillis wins hands down. And with no disrespect to Dallas Clark, the Browns have the advantage at tight end as well with the underrated Benjamin Watson and the quietly up-and-coming Evan Moore.
3. Comparing the Defenses
Throughout the entire Peyton Manning Era, offense was always the Colts' bread and butter. Even their best teams had issues on defense, and that has only gotten worse as their offense has started the death march into retirement. Defense, to put it bluntly, has never been their thing.
The Browns can relate of course, as for the last 10 years, nothing has been "their thing". But that's changing now, and as much work as the Browns still have to do to become a contender, their defense has made tremendous strides going into this season.
The Browns secondary has been alarmingly sloppy both in terms of penalties and mental glitches, but the talent is there. Joe Haden is a tremendous asset, and if T.J Ward would quit jumping around after routine tackles like his team just won the Super Bowl and behave like a focused, consummate professional, his star should shine brightly as well. As for the Colts, their secondary is hardly tragic, but it's beatable.
On the front seven, the Browns have enough talent to give them the edge, at least in theory. Whatever else went wrong, I really liked what I saw out of rookies Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor last week, and I'd take Ahtyba Rubin over against just about anyone.
The Browns had major problems at linebacker and still do, but you have to like what you saw out of D'Qwell Jackson last week.Thought to be overrated for quite some time, Jackson (while not perfect), did a great job at least laying the groundwork to shut up his detractors last week.
The Colts linebackers struggled last week as well with the exception of Pat Angerer, who had a pretty nice game, posting 13 tackles and recovering a fumble. Their linebacking corps also lost captain Gary Brackett and Ernie Sims for Sunday's game as well.
4. Who Wants It More?
Because of the timing and frequency of games, momentum tends to have more impact in MLB or the NBA than it does in the NFL. But it also has a lot more impact in the NFL than is often recognized.
A successful MLB All-Star once told me that part of the secret to his success is that he firmly believes he'll get a hit every single time he comes to the plate. Granted, one at-bat in baseball is far more of a microcosm than an entire NFL game dependent on a whole team's success, but as long as you have at least some of the talent to back it up, believing you can win matters hugely.
I can't say for certain how much the Browns believe they'll win this week and I certainly can't say what the Colts believe, but I do know that the Browns want it badly.
Unfortunately for them though, I'm guessing the Colts want this one pretty badly, too. For the Browns, last week's loss was disappointing and frustrating. But for the Colts, you can add colossal embarrassment to what they were probably feeling as well.
The Browns are still a work in progress; people expect them to screw up. But the Colts, with or without Manning, can't have expected that they would be trounced in a mortifying loss in Week 1, even if losing their quarterback meant they knew they might struggle.
5. Who Wants It More? (Continued)
So the question in this relatively evenly matched contest is, Who wants it more? Whichever team you believe to have the advantage on paper, the matchup is close enough that motivation and who wants the win more could potentially be the difference-maker.
The Colts are looking to bounce back from a disaster and to prove their entire franchise didn't die on the operating table while Manning was basically getting his second new neck in a year. Kerry Collins wants to prove he isn't a punchline to a joke that starts with "Peyton Manning and three necks walk into a bar", and the rest of the Colts team needs to prove that Manning wasn't a one man show holding a bunch of parts together that couldn't stand on their own.
As for the Browns, they have a lot to prove as well. They were embarrassed last week, too (albeit on a smaller scale), but still, no one likes to be made a fool of. Coach Pat Shurmur needs redemption badly after a series of coaching flubs in his team's loss to the Bengals. And Colt McCoy has made it more than clear that he just plain old hates to lose.
This could be a pivotal game for both teams. It's certainly possible to start out 0-2, or worse, and bounce back to have a good or at least respectable season (case in point, 2008 Giants). But teams in a precarious state like the Browns or especially the Colts can't afford to start the season off two games in the hole. That alone should be motivation enough for both teams.
So who does want it more? Given the position both teams are in that's tough to say, because how could either one not want it as badly as humanly possible? It's a little like asking two people which one of them wants to die less. But because the matchup looks close to even, at least in theory, we may get the answer to this question based on who comes out the winner on Sunday.
Win or lose, I doubt either team will walk away shocked by their results on Sunday. The Browns have been given a tremendous break and an opportunity to win a game they probably shouldn't have been able to due to their opponents' misfortune. It's a chance they can't afford to squander.
No one can say the Browns will or should beat the Colts on Sunday, but the fact remains that they could. And sometimes, that's enough.
"If you build it, they will come." The old Field of Dreams line doesn't always hold true, but there is something to be said for giving it all you've got and then running on belief the rest of the way. Every once in a while that really works, and if we're fortunate, it might just work for the Browns on Sunday.