The Indianapolis Colts face their toughest test of the young 2020 NFL season on Sunday afternoon in Cleveland. They’re facing an offensive that is loaded with talent at the skill positions and that boasts an offensive line that rivals their own. They’re facing an offensive that likes to grind out yards on the ground and has a backfield, when healthy, that is easily the best one-two punch in the NFL. They’ll be without All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard.
The Colts offense will be facing a defensive front that is as demanding as any they have faced this year. Myles Garrett is an incredible talent at defensive end and will try to feast on backup tackle Le’Raven Clark or to abuse Braden Smith — who struggles with speed on the edges. If the Colts can keep Philip Rivers upright and find a way to at least slow down Garrett, the Browns secondary is somewhat exploitable — though rookie Denzel Ward will likely give his assignment fits all afternoon.
Rivers Needs to Lead
Under the aforementioned circumstances, veteran leadership is at a premium. Rivers needs to be ready to use his years of experience to adjust his coverage or audible at the line of scrimmage. This may be the key to limiting a dangerous Browns pass rush and to identifying weaknesses in the secondary.
To this point in the season, the Colts have been a run first unit. While rushing will still remain a big part of the offense, beating good opponents often comes down to quarterback play. If Rivers can outwit the Browns defense and outgun Baker Mayfield, the slightly undermanned Colts defense could still get the job done.
Colts Run Defense Faces Big Test
The Browns would really rather not put the game on the shoulders of Baker Mayfield. Their offense is also designed to establish the run and setup tactical strikes through the air. The Colts defense has stifled opponents’ rushing attacks, in part due to the pairing of DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart on the interior.
Anthony Walker may be forced into more action in this game, assuming he is active, and is arguably the best run defending linebacker on the team. This could help to minimize the impact of Leonard’s absence.
If the Colts defense can keep the Browns from getting anything going on the ground and keep Kareem Hunt from controlling the game, Cleveland will be forced to ask Mayfield to do more than they’d like and his history suggests that the Colts secondary can bait him into making some mistakes.
Field Position and Turnovers
The name of this game could very well be which team’s offense starts with superior field position and which makes the fewest mistakes. Ball security and taking points when they’re available could put incredible pressure on the opponent. Neither team really wants to be behind in this game. The Browns don’t want to ask Mayfield to press and the Colts don’t want the Browns defensive line to get a full green to pressure Rivers.
If Rivers can make his pre-snap adjustments and take care of the football, it will force the Browns to do the same. If the defense causes a pair of turnovers and gives the offense superior field position and additional opportunities, it will bode well for a favorable outcome.
There is no doubt that in a game between two teams who have similar identities, the one that makes the fewest mistakes will likely win.