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2011 NFL Week Two Preview: Indianapolis Colts Vs. Cleveland Browns

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It's nice to be able to write a preview in the normal Thursday slot, knowing full well whether the guy who hadn't missed a start in 13 years was going to play at all, but I got to enjoy an Italian vacation last week, so the preview had to be written before I left. While it's obviously not good that Peyton Manning won't be suiting up this Sunday, it helps me preview the game much better.

Week 2 brings the Cleveland Browns into Indianapolis for the home opener, who struggled about as much as the Colts did last week in losing 27-17 to the Bengals, at home. The series between the Colts and Browns has been lopsided as of late, with the Colts winning the past 5 meetings, going back to 1994. The last three meetings, however, have been defensive struggles, all close Colts wins. In fact, the Browns failed to score a touchdown in all three meetings, and haven't scored one on the Colts since 2002. Possible good sign for Sunday? The last meeting in 2008 needed a Robert Mathis strip/sack/scoop touchdown to win 10-6 in an ugly, ugly game.

The Browns have a new coach this season in Pat Shurmur, who was the Rams Offensive Coordinator the past two seasons, and was the Eagles QB coach for 10 years before that. He replaced Eric Mangini (who I never knew how he got that job to begin with). The Browns are led by second year QB Colt McCoy, who seemed to be hand-picked by team President Mike Holmgren, and feature Madden '12 cover boy Peyton Hillis. The last time the Colts saw defensive captain Scott Fujita, he was in Miami celebrating a Super Bowl victory with the Saints. He's now the anchor of a young Browns defense that should improve as the season goes along.

After the jump I'll give you some stats for both teams, as well as a prediction...

Since I can't adjust for opponents yet, here's how both teams did last week in Week 1:

Statistic Colts Browns
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 61.5% 26 78.4% 26 61.3% 27 66.7% 13
ANPY/A 5.647 20 5.880 14 4.690 26 6.290 18
Turnovers 2.00 22 3.00 2 1.00 5 0.00 29
Yds/Drive 21.45 28 34.91 23 20.36 29 22.62 8
ToP/Drive 2:07.0 25 3:20.0 29 2:07.0 24 2:20.0 12
Yds/Play 4.720 24 5.818 19 4.191 29 4.594 7
First Downs/Drive 1.36 23 2.36 27 1.21 28 1.31 8
3rd/4th Down 10.0% 30 45.5% 25 29.4% 24 41.2% 19
Avg Start Pos 31.1 6 29.1 24 26.8 16 34.8 29
3 and Outs 3.00 8 2.00 26 5.00 20 5.00 7
RZ Eff 33.3% 29 64.3% 16 71.4% 9 71.4% 18
Plays/Drive 4.545 27 6.000 22 4.857 22 4.923 13
Penalty Yds / Play 1.200 25 0.455 25 1.059 20 0.344 28
RB Success 46.7% 12 50.0% 23 52.0% 5 39.4% 11
Yds/Carry 4.00 14 4.07 20 3.19 24 4.21 23
Net Punts Yds/Game 31.67 30 44.50 23 34.13 29 40.50 17
Overall 28 26 26 14

Some thoughts:

  • Turnovers will, once again, play a critical role in the outcome of the game. The Browns didn't force a turnover last week, but did have four sacks of Bengal QBs, which is a huge concern now with Kerry Collins. I'm already at the point where any sack I assume will jar the ball loose. I see it as a minor victory when he holds on.
  • The Browns defense wasn't that great against either Andy Dalton or Bruce Gradkowski, which is a good sign that maybe the Colts passing game can be a little more effective. I'm looking to see if Collins can get anyone other than Reggie Wayne involved in the offense. That will be a signal to me that this team has a good chance of winning.
  • The Browns were good at RB Success Rate, but had a fairly high Yards / Carry last week, meaning they probably allowed a couple big gainers, but were pretty good at the point of attack. Maybe we'll see Donald Brown this week, since he was MIA last week. The Colts will need to have success in the running game to help slow down the Browns pass rush.
  • On the other side of the ball, both the Browns Offense and Colts Defense really struggled in all the drive related stats last week, meaning it's tough to tell who will have the upper hand. Last season, we saw a giant improvement on the defensive side when the Colts played at home, so I'd like to think they won't be nearly as bad this week. Playing without Gary Brackett won't help though.
  • The Browns were pretty successful in the red zone last week, so for the Colts to win they'll have to continue to force them into field goals. I haven't checked, but I feel pretty confident that there might be only one or two people left from 2002, the last time the Browns scored a TD against the Colts. If the Colts do that again, it should be a good day inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
  • Slowing down Peyton Hillis, especially early on, will be imperative. I expect them to pound it with him often, so getting him down is crucial.
  • It's not specifically in the stats here, but not allowing a special teams touchdown to Josh Cribbs. It'll be tough enough for the Colts to win by just letting the Browns offense score the points. Adding in another element scoring points, and it becomes damn near impossible. Pat McAfee just needs to boom the kicks out of the back of the end zone.

Before I started writing this, I had every intention of picking the Browns to win, and I still think they have a really good chance to do so. In fact, I see them as a Jacksonville clone, in that they'll control the clock, and on third down and X, they'll run X + 1 curl routes in front of the DBs to gain first downs. The "paper-cut" offense. McCoy is very accurate, so if the Colts aren't playing up on receivers, it'll be a long day.

However, after going over these points, and remembering how the team came out in Week 2 last year (defense especially), I think the Colts will win this weekend. It won't be pretty, but I think they get a win. It's probably the homer in me coming out, but dammit I want to see this team win.

Colts 17, Browns 13