Here’s what to watch for as the Colts take on the Browns Sunday
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Beyond ‘must-win’ game: The Colts are off to a fourth consecutive 0-2 start and facing the chronically clueless Browns. Darius Butler considered the situation and didn’t flinch.
“I know September’s early, but for me, I feel like it’s a must-win for us,’’ the veteran defensive back said.
We disagree, not with Butler’s comment but with the level of urgency. Must-win doesn’t begin to relay the urgency of the moment. Maybe You’d better win or else better conveys what’s at stake.
The Colts haven’t started 0-3 since that dreadful 2011 experience, and that losing streak grew to 13 before Dan Orlovsky helped the franchise sidestep total embarrassment. They’ve opened 0-3 or worse seven times since 1984, and never recovered to reach the postseason. In fact, the Colts went on to lose at least 13 games in five of those seven seasons.
A look at the grander scale drives home the fact the Colts once again are at an early-season crossroads. Since the current 12-team playoff format was put in place in 1990, only three teams have opened 0-3 and advanced to the postseason: the 1998 Bills, ’95 Lions and’92 Chargers.
But let’s not dwell on whether the Colts can re-ignite their playoff aspirations by handing the Browns. At stake is whether they can reenergize their fan base and remain relevant. Falling at home to the Browns would be a major blow on both fronts, especially with the next game being Oct. 1 at Seattle. That’s 0-4.
And here’s where we remind you the slap in the face administered by oddsmakers, who installed Cleveland a slight road favorite for the first time since December 2012. The Browns have lost 20 of their last 21 games and are working on a 14-game road losing streak.
Learning the language: Jacoby Brissett gave the Colts a chance against the Cardinals, until his interception on the first play of overtime snatched away that chance. But we’re cutting him a break. He had three practices with the first unit before replacing ineffective Scott Tolzien.
The expectations moving forward and until Andrew Luck returns is for Brissett to become more familiar with coordinator Rod Chudzinski’s playbook and the players around him.
“There are nuances to the plays,’’ Chudzinski said. “There are the players that you’re trying to learn. Last week in practice – and I won’t tell you who – but later in the week he was like, ‘What is number such-and-such’s name again?’ And it was one of the guys that’s one of our starters.
“There are a lot of things going on. I expect as we go this is going to be a process and those will get better and better.’’
Chudzinski compared Brissett’s attempt at getting up to speed with a new offense to learning a new language and being operational with it in a short period of time.
“We all speak English,’’ he said. “If we taught you Spanish for three days and then put you in a pressure situation and asked you to speak Spanish, it’s a whole different language. Everything is different. The training is different.
“Part of the process is me learning what he does best and what he can do the best.’’
Another week on the practice field should translate into Brissett enjoying better timing with his receivers. That was an issue in the loss to the Cardinals.
Speaking of those receivers, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken need to pick up their games. Against Arizona, they were targeted 23 times but managed just 9 catches and 98 yards.
Defensive test: The Colts defense took a serious step forward in the loss to the Cardinals. In the end, though, it was unable to protect a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
“When we can’t finish at the end of the game with a 10-point lead, then that falls on us,’’ coordinator Ted Monachino said. “Irked, yes. Discouraged, absolutely not.’’
The defense must reload, and prepare for a markedly different challenge. Chuck Pagano referred to the Browns and rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer as running a “Daffy Duck’’ offense. And there’s nothing funny about it.
“They do a lot with personnel, formation shifts, motions, gadgets, spread you out . . . the old Steve Spurrier formation, read-zone with the quarterback,’’ he said. “He’s got a run-option pass. He can hand it. He can pull it. Got to be very, very disciplined this week.’’
Pagano was quick to explain the Daffy Duck description was one he used when he was DB coach at the University of Miami and the Hurricanes faced Spurrier’s Florida Gators in the 2001 Sugar Bowl.
“He ran the same formation,’’ Pagano said.
Kizer, the rookie out of Notre Dame, is the wild card as he’s learning the ropes. He’s completing just 57.4 percent of his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions. He’s been sacked nine times in two starts despite missing roughly two quarters last week at Baltimore with a migraine. But Kizer also has rushed 10 times for 43 yards and a touchdown.
Be sound, or pay the price.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons as anybody does in the NFL,’’ said safety Matthias Farley, “so you’ve got to be on your Ps and Qs or you’ll get exposed.’’
And the winner is: Colts 20, Browns 13. This in part is because things figure to get mighty uncomfortable at the Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center if Indy falls to 0-3. One thing owner Jim Irsay detests is having his horseshoe embarrassed, and losing to the Browns at home certainly would fall into that category. The last nine meetings in the series have been decided by 8 points or fewer. So will this one.