In Week 7, our Indianapolis Colts will host the Cleveland Browns. Knowing the party was coming to town, I sat down with Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature. You can find him on Twitter @Pokorny216. We swapped questions about the Colts and Browns and what follows is what I learned about this week’s enemy.
You can find my answers to his questions here.
Chris Shepherd: The Browns defense is on quite the start to the 2023 season. They lead the league in yards given up, first downs allowed, passing yards, passing attempts, average drive time, average drive plays, average drive yards and average drive points. And most of the things they don’t rank number one in, they’re solidly in the top 10. How has defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gotten this output from the defense and if you were an offensive coordinator what would be your plan to beat it?
Chris Pokorny: The starting players are healthy and solid all-around, and the team finally has a defensive coordinator that is playing to the players’ strengths. We had drafted cornerbacks who could excel in man coverage, but for years, they weren’t often allowed to do tight man coverage because there wasn’t enough faith that the pass rush would get to the quarterback in time. With the addition of Za’Darius Smith and Ogbo Okoronkwo, teams can’t double team Myles Garrett without consequence. That has allowed Garrett to excel at times, but if teams do still double him, then the pass rush is coming from unexpected individuals like our defensive tackles or our linebackers. I also like to say that our players are playing very free on their first instinct right now — they aren’t waiting back and trying to react. Opposing quarterbacks have been thrown off their game by it. The one exception was during the second quarter against the Baltimore Ravens a couple weeks ago — the linebackers were off-balance by trying to read what the Ravens were doing in the running game, and the misdirections forced them to be flat-footed and start missing tackles too. I don’t think many teams are built to run that type of offense like Baltimore has, though, and with all those terrific rankings the Browns have in defensive categories, it is hard for me to even think how an opposing team can attack it.
Chris Shepherd: On offense the Browns rely heavily on targeting Amari Cooper and Elijah Moore, but the offense as a whole seems to have struggled to score touchdowns in the first quarter of the season. What has gone wrong, what do you expect to see improve, and what should the Colts defense focus on to make sure it doesn’t improve this week?
Chris Pokorny: I haven’t even thought about the lack of first quarter productivity, because I’ve thought more about the lack of productivity for the offense in general. The injury to Nick Chubb was the biggest loss, but then you also have the offensive line being banged up and underperforming, the whole Deshaun Watson situation (whether it be him trying to get back to his former self, or now sitting out games with a shoulder injury), and how it’s crazy that for as good as the defense is playing, other team’s best chances at scoring have been because of turnovers by our offense. As I’m answering this question, it is looking like Watson might play this Sunday against the Colts, after he started throwing the ball more in Friday’s practice. That would certainly help the offense, but the first quarter struggles still existed with him. I think a lot of the issues just have to do with the chemistry factor of the offense not being very sharp. When certain teams excel at scripting opening drives, everything has to be a well-oiled machine. When your quarterback is trying to find his rhythm, when the offensive line commits a holding penalty, and when your star running back is gone, it just takes this team time to string together their first successful drive of the game. I think the Colts’ defense should focus on trying to pressure the quarterback. So far, Cleveland has not had success with the long ball, and with the various breakdowns in protection, the more you can try disrupting the offensive line when they aren’t excelling, the better (for the defense).
Chris Shepherd: Can you give us a couple of names of Browns who will have an impact on Sunday that Colts fans might not be familiar with? How will they impact the game?
Chris Pokorny: On defense, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah has been really hot the past couple of weeks, especially when it comes to taking a chance at rushing the quarterback off of a play-action pass attempt (i.e. as soon as the quarterback turns around, JOK is right their in the quarterback’s face). He’s also fast and good at dropping back in coverage. On offense, you guys are familiar with Kareem Hunt, but I still need to bring attention to his name. I believe Indianapolis had interest in signing him this offseason, but he waited things out and came back to Cleveland (where he still lived) after Nick Chubb’s season-ending injury. Last week was Hunt’s third game back, and he got more productive reps and looked as fresh as ever. Despite that, the team’s “starting” back, Jerome Ford, used his speed late in the fourth quarter to help generate some key runs.
Chris Shepherd: I feel like I have to ask this question, how are Browns fans feeling about the Deshaun Watson trade now?
Chris Pokorny: Overall, I have been underwhelmed by Deshaun Watson, although I always thought he was overrated from his days with the Texans. On the same note, we also saw how incompetent the offense has been without him (to a greater degree). I don’t doubt that Watson has some tools to be an above average quarterback, but it’s frustrating to have waited through the 2022 season, and now part of the 2023 season, to try getting him comfortable or healthy again, knowing how many assets the team gave up for him. The fanbase is split where some fans are preaching to be patient and optimistic, because “once it clicks, it’ll be awesome,” while the other half is just sick of the whole quarterback situation. I am usually Mr. Optimistic myself, but the whole acquisition and past two years of Watson have me more toward the pessimistic side of things. With that said, I find myself hoping he’s healthy enough to play on Sunday; it’s not like we’re going to have someone else come in and perform better.
Chris Shepherd: DraftKings Sportsbook has the Browns as 2.5 point favorites at the time of this writing. Is that a fair line? How do you see this game going and what’s the final score?
Chris Pokorny: With the Colts having the same amount of wins as Cleveland and being at home, it’s not typical that you would find the road team being favored. I think that is a testament to the level of domination that Cleveland’s defense has had. Initially, the line seemed fair, because if P.J. Walker is the quarterback, it doesn’t matter how good the Browns’ defense is — the offense is going to have trouble stacking up points. If Deshaun Watson ends up playing, then I think the perception changes a little to where Cleveland may be favored by more than a field goal. I’m expecting the defense to play well again (how can I not, right?), and the offense mixes in some good drives for a 24-17 road win.
I just want to thank Chris Pokorny for his time and for answering these questions. Hopefully he got a few things wrong (mainly the final score prediction) and hopefully both teams leave Sunday healthy, regardless of outcome. If you followed the link in the first section of this article over to my answers to his questions, then you know how I feel about this game. I hope I’m wrong too.
As always, go Colts.