The Colts beat the Browns Sunday, 17-13. Indianapolis is 3-3, which is really a minor miracle considering how maddeningly inconsistent they have played. Had Greg Manusky's defense not choked away a lead with 45 seconds left against the Jaguars in Week Three, Indy is likely 4-2 now and in the hunt to win the division. Right now, Indianapolis is fighting for the wildcard, which is currently held by the surprising Miami Dolphins and their rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill.
Understanding how the Colts won this game is critical to gauging how interim head coach Bruce Arians seems to want to win going forward. Just like the Minnesota and Jacksonville games, the Colts jumped out to an early lead and looked very good early on. Then, in the second half, they got conservative. In the previous games, the Colts defense (which is currently one of the worst in football) blew leads in the second half. They only won the Vikings game because of Andrew Luck's late-game brilliance.
Against a bad Cleveland Browns team, Arians' method of "trying not to lose" panned out. It's not a philosophy I agree with, but 3-3 is 3-3. I'll take it.
So, how did this conservative style work this time?
Well, for starters, the Colts were able to run the ball, and they did so by spreading out the carries.
By doing this, especially with running Carter in the third quarter, it kept Ballard fresh for the 4th quarter. Had it not been for a bad play call late in the fourth, resulting in a sack-fumble of Andrew Luck, the Colts were poised to "ice" the game on the final offensive drive. Ballard had runs of 6, 8, and 7 yards to go along with an unnecessary roughness penalty. The sack fumble took place on the Cleveland 44-yard-line, and it was the result of a corner blitz by Sheldon Brown.
After the game, Bruce Arians took responsibility for that play call, saying it put Luck in a bad spot. Had that turnover not occurred and the Colts converted, Indy is working on the Cleveland 40 with 7:25 left.
Thus, for this game, playing conservative worked. In fact, it would have worked better if not for the turnover. Going forward, I'm not a fan of winning this way. Luck is a great young QB. Let him sling the ball. If the worry is the offensive line, then Ryan Grigson has to be accountable for that. This line is built with players he picked or signed.
Another interesting snap stat that seems to enforce the "going conservative" logic: Dwayne Allen (run blocking H-Back) was on the field for 57 of 72 snaps. Coby Fleener (pass-catching tight end who cannot block) saw only 35 of 72 snaps.