Eyes in the Backfield
18 things to watch for in the Browns/Colts game
Now that Cleveland Municipal Stadium is gone, it's a neck and neck race for the title of "Mistake by the Lake"
Another week, another miracle. In what once seemed to be a lost season, the Colts have stormed back to three games over .500 with a chance to put themselves on a serious roll. All that stands in front of them is a matchup with the inexplicable Cleveland Browns. The Browns are not devoid of talent, as proven by their prime time thrashing of the Giants, but still flounder near the bottom of the league, prompted up only by the Bengals in the AFC North. This week watch for:
1. Watch for the back-up who's really the starter, but only temporarily ...probably. The biggest story swirling around the Browns is their inscrutable QB situation. Two drafts ago, they traded up for Brady Quinn, only to start Derek Anderson (after trading Charlie Frye after one game). They then didn't trade Anderson, but rather signed him to a long term deal before benching him midway through the season, thus killing his trade value. They stuck with Quinn for two and a half games before head coach Romeo Crennel benched him mid-game and brought Anderson back. Now, Quinn is gone for the season with a finger injury, and the Browns have Anderson back. God only knows what Anderson is going to do on Sunday, but Colts fans certainly hope that he'll be as utterly confused by the cover-2 as he has been by his role in the Browns future.
2. Watch third down. Peyton Manning slaughtered the Chargers on third down last week and the Colts are once again leading the NFL in third down conversion percentage. Manning has made it brutal on teams trying to get the Colts off the field. The Browns have been better on third down than on first and second, which is usually the sign of a team that is actually worse than their record. That's a scary thought for Browns fans.
3. Watch Romeo. The Bill Belichick legacy grows each week even as his coaching tree withers like Meg Ryan. His plus sized protoges in Cleveland and South Bend will be counted fortunate to still have their jobs at the end the season. Crennel has been especially heinous during his tenure in Cleveland, repeated showing no feel what so ever for game management or the basic rules of time outs. The jury is still out as to whether Crennel is or isn't the worst coach the Colts have faced this month.
4. Watch the special teams. Josh Cribbs of the Browns is a terrifying force in the return game, which would normally terrify Colts fans. This season, however, the Horse is spouting a new found confidence on special teams thanks in large part to the outstanding special teams play of several recent draft picks. Last week, Jordan Senn (picked up as an undrafted free agent) made a couple of nice plays as well. Honestly, the Colts don't need to worry about getting big returns (although Simpson has been a nice upgrade recently). They just need to continue to hold the opposing offense inside the 30.
5. Watch the Weather Channel. The game is projected to played in rain and snow, neither of which is as big a problem as wind. The last two games in which Indy played in hefty wind this season didn't turn out well. If it's blowing up a storm, the Colts will have to depend heavily on the run game to move the ball.
6. Don't get watching the paint dry, or you'll be just like the DBs trying to cover the Colts WRs. Indy is running more pick plays (legal and barely so) than ever in an effort to get players open. When Tom "Shooter" Moore dials one up, be on the lookout for flags this week. The officials watch tape as well, and it seems like the league would have them on the look out for offensive pass interference given the criticism of the officials (mostly wrongly) by John Madden last Sunday night.
7. Watch the skies. Cleveland's DBs have 15 interceptions, but they generally struggle against the pass. They are near the bottom of the league in completion percentage and yards allowed. If Manning is patient he should be able to move the ball up and down the field.
8. Watch the big guy labor. Cleveland averages about 25 rushing yards more per game than Indianapolis, but that still puts them near the bottom of the league. Jamal Lewis is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry this season and the Colts have had success against him in the past. The Colts run defense has become pretty reasonable in recent games, so don't expect Lewis to rack up 100 yards.
9. Watch Bray-Bray. You think Marvin Harrison has struggled this season? Take a look at Braylon Edwards numbers and he's only 25 years old. After snagging 80 balls last year, he has only 40 receptions and 3 touchdowns most of the way through 2008. Don't be surprised when Derek Anderson targets him early and often.
10. Watch for three seconds. This game features two of the least effective pass rushes in the NFL. The Browns are 30th in the league in sacks with 15. The Colts are only one spot better with 16 sacks. Both quarterbacks will likely have time to scan the field. Expect one of them to be significantly better.
11. Watch the little things. The Colts have won many close games with their kicking game. Adam Vinatieri has been excellent, going 27 for 30 on the year. The Browns rank 30th in the league in field goal percentage, having hit only 14 of their 21 attempts. If the game comes down to kickers, expect the Colts to have the edge.
12. Watch for a lame story-line. The fans and announcers will harp on the fact that the Colts rested their starters against the Titans in the 2007 finale. They will whine and claim that Dungy's decision cost the Browns a playoff spot. Meanwhile the coaches and players will ignore this and play the game.
13. Watch for a little extra satisfaction. We both have friends who root for all things Cleveland. We hate Cleveland in all it's various iterations. Actually, outside of the Reds, we mostly hate the whole damn state of Ohio. We'd like nothing more than to see Peyton Manning improve to 5-0 lifetime against the Browns.
14. Watch for clarity. What are the Browns? Are they bad? Are they good but snake bit (like San Diego)? A quick look at their schedule does not offer up an easy answers. They beat the Giants and a decent Bills team on the road. They've lost a lot of close games, but only managed 6 points against a struggling Houston defense. If the Colts blow them out the question will be answered: A bad team.
15. Watch for steam to come from DZ ears. He signed up for DirecTV almost a month ago, and was promised 5 day installation. Many weeks later, he still doesn't have it installed, and worse altered his schedule the last 4 consecutive days waiting for an installer who never came. Today, he simply laughed at the operator at DirecTV when she said the technician wasn't coming. He laughed and laughed. He laughed so hard, she finally hung up on him. DZ is once again stuck with the sling box this week.
16. Watch other games. This one might get ugly, but there are several games that are critical to the Colts' playoff hopes. We tend to forget that even one loss would drop the Colts right out of the 5 seed (for the time being). Tomorrow, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Francisco and St. Louis can all help us out with wins. Yikes. You'd better stay on the stick, Indy.
17. Watch for LeBron. Why? I have no idea, but for some reason his future plans are all the rage of the sports talk world. An appearance at the game Sunday could reassure frightened Cavs fans that his heart really is in Cleveland. In other words, there's no way in hell he's going to be anywhere near that stadium on Sunday.
18. Watch for an ass beating. The Colts aren't a flawless team yet, but they are a team that knows it must bring it's A game to win. As long as the weather cooperates, the Colts should roll in Cleveland 35-17 in a game that won't be as close as the final score.