The Colts host the Browns on Sunday in a matchup of rookie quarterbacks. The Browns are fresh off of their first win of the season, while the Colts are fresh off of their worst defeat of the season. Take a look at the three biggest keys to the Colts getting back in the win column.
The Colts, meanwhile, are fresh off of their worst loss of the season, losing 35-9 to the New York Jets on the road. On the road this year, the Colts have been outscored 76-30 and are 0-2, while at home they are 2-1 (outscoring opponents by a slim 70-69 margin).
Even a greater disparity occurs when looking at quarterback Andrew Luck's numbers on the road versus at home. On the road, Luck has thrown for 294.5 yards per game, 1 touchdown pass, 5 interceptions, and 2 fumbles. At home, however, he has thrown for 296.3 yards per game with 6 touchdowns passing, 2 interceptions, and a rushing touchdown as well.
That's what happens with a young team - they struggle on the road early on. Sunday's game will feature a young team led by a rookie quarterback on the road - it just isn't the Colts.
In the first matchup of the season featuring rookie quarterbacks, 22nd overall pick Brandon Weeden and 1stoverall pick Andrew Luck will start against each other. Weeden has thrown for 1519 yards (first among the five rookies starting - Luck is second), completing 55.8 percent of his passes for 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for a passer rating of 68.1.
Another rookie for the Browns is an even bigger threat for the Colts, however, and stopping him also happens to be one of the keys to a Colts victory on Sunday.
1. Stop Trent Richardson
Yeah, the Browns have Brandon Weeden, but their main offensive threat comes from a different rookie, running back Trent Richardson. As mentioned earlier, Richardson has gained 340 yards on 95 carries (3.6 yards per carry) andhas four scores on the ground. Richardson also leads the team with 22 receptions, andhe has gained 186 yards (second on the team) andscored another touchdown receiving (tied for second). Last week, however, he carried the ball only 14 times before he left with an injury to his ribs early in the game. He is expected to play on Sunday, but how much and how effective he will be is yet to be determined. The Colts, with their awful run defense, will face a tough task in Richardson regardless of his health. Without Cory Redding and Martin Tevaseau on the defensive line (neither are likely to play) and without Robert Mathis at linebacker (he likely will miss the game as well), the task gets even tougher. If they can stop him, then the Colts will win.
2. Take Advantage of the NFL's 30th Ranked Pass Defense
The Browns rank 30th in passing yards per game allowed, giving up an average of 294.2 yards per game. The Colts, with quarterback Andrew Luck, need to take advantage of that. Luck has been spectacular this year, but last week he struggled en route to his worst performance as a pro by far. He looked off pretty much all game and made some bad throws, as well as some ill-advised ones. It looks like the third worst pass defense in the league is just what the doctor ordered. If the Colts can keep Luck upright (and the Browns are tied for 11th in the league with 15 sacks recorded), then the rookie quarterback should once again look like a polished veteran.
Ok, I know that turnovers are pretty much a key every game and can go without saying, but the Colts offense turned the ball over way too much last week and the defense has struggled to produce turnovers all season long. Last week the Colts turned the ball over four times and produced zero turnovers. For the season, the Colts have turned it over 11 times (9 of them by Luck) and have only forced 3 turnovers. It is really hard to win many games with a minus eight turnover margin. Maybe more so than with any stat, however, the turnover margin is incredibly different on the road versus at home. The Colts have turned it over nine times and forced only one turnover on the road, while at home they have both turned the ball over and forced a turnover twice. Improving on the turnover margin is an obvious key to victory for any team, but with the problems that have plagued the Colts this year, it becomes even bigger.
Bottom line is that returning home should do wonders for this team. It doesn't mean it will be a blowout or an easy win, by any means, but it certainly does mean that I expect the Colts team we have seen at home to show up again - to be competitive and to keep it close, and to be in a position to win it at the end. Stopping Trent Richardson will be hugely important, as will Andrew Luck throwing the ball well and the Colts improving on their turnover margin. I expect the Colts to even their record up at 3-3 this Sunday, which at this point would be tied for the third best record in the AFC (after this weekend it will likely be different, however).
My prediction: Colts 24, Browns 21