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Browns/Colts: 4 Keys To Victory Week 7

Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts Matchups to Watch:

1 – Figuring Deshaun Watson does not play against the Colts— PJ Walker vs. Garner Minshew and Figuring Watson starts- Deshaun Watson vs. Garner Minshew

Andy –

This match-up is a draw; both are backups and can not lift the team to victory but can aid in a loss with turnovers and mistakes.

The key for backup QB PJ Walker in this game is he has an all-world receiver in Amari Cooper.  Getting him involved early and often is a must, as Cooper helps to keep the chains moving. Walker must also not turn the ball over. Hopefully, the Browns keep his attempts in the 20s to limit errors.

Garner Minshew threw the ball 55 times in his last game against the Jaguars, ending up with a loss.  He also threw three interceptions.  Minshew has Michael Pittman Jr., who is similar to Cooper and the most appealing receiver for the Colts

I give the slight edge to Minshew, but in this particular game, the advantage goes to Walker because of the strength of the Browns’ defense.

As of Friday, Deshaun Watson is starting to get more reps in practice, leading one to believe he might get the nod on Sunday.  If he plays, I would not be surprised to see some rust, but in an indoor environment, I can see Watson having a big day, wanting to prove to people that he is back 100%.  That would be a substantial advantage for the Browns if Watson starts.

Tony –

It remains day-to-day with Deshaun Watson, meaning we could be in line for another PJ Walker start in Indianapolis on Sunday. Walker was decent against the 49ers and was greatly aided by a masterpiece performance by Amari Cooper. Rookie standout Anthony Richardson is out for the year for the Colts, which lines up veteran Gardner Minshew to get the start.

This may not be the most thrilling matchup, but I’d give a slight advantage to the Colts due to Minshew’s extensive experience as a starter in this league. However, it’s not a significant advantage that will solely dictate the game. Minshew excels in the short to intermediate passing game and involves both backs with check-downs and screens. Receivers Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce, and Josh Downs are all talented players, but the Browns should be able to run their man defenses with little issue.

Walker needs to improve his ability to read defenses after the snap instead of making predetermined throws based on the pre-snap look. There were a couple of instances where receivers were wide open, but he missed them because he favored a different pre-snap read. By protecting the ball and making timely throws when necessary, Walker can lead the Browns to another win.

Deshaun Watson If He Plays

As the practice week progresses, there’s a growing chance that Deshaun Watson could return to action on Sunday. While he still needs to reach Sunday without experiencing any soreness, taking most first-team reps on Friday is a good sign. If he does play, the Browns are in a good position to ease him back into the lineup and protect him from potential harm.

The Browns would immediately gain an advantage at the quarterback position, even if they don’t fully open their playbook to keep Watson healthy. Watson’s return can enable a more reliant passing game, hopefully maintaining the momentum from his last game against the Titans before the bye. Thanks to the defense, they don’t have the pressure to score every drive and can try and work field position at times.

2 – Browns run defense vs. Colts run offense

Tony –

The Browns’ run defense has been stellar this season, and they are fresh off maybe their most impressive performance yet. The 49ers are a notoriously successful run defense, and the Browns held McCaffery to under four yards per attempt when he averages five on the year. The Niners did some damage on jet sweeps to the receivers for easy yards but really shut down any traditional run plays.

The Colts’ run offense hasn’t been anything dominant this year, but the increasing workload of star Jonathan Taylor looks to improve that. They currently rank 26th in both rushing EPA/play and rushing success rate. While Minshew isn’t a scrub by any means, the Browns can afford to show the middle of the field closed consistently to get another hat in the run game. Zack Moss has put up great numbers this year, and he and Taylor form a very solid one-two punch in the backfield.

Nevertheless, this isn’t a rushing attack with a quarterback at the forefront, and the passing game weaknesses should allow the Browns to key in on stopping the run. After last week’s performance where the Browns consistently changed the line of scrimmage, I like the matchup against the Colts’ run game.

Andy – 

I will lead off with the Browns’ run defense, which is well-improved from past seasons.  In prior games, this would be considered a lousy matchup having to go up against Jonathan Taylor, but that is not the case in 2023.

This is bizarre to me regarding the Colts because, as Tony mentioned above, the Colts do not rank well when running the ball.  Taylor gives the Colts an edge in the running back position, and if the Colts use him correctly, it can cause problems for the Browns.  That said, Cleveland should be okay here.

The Browns are featuring a two-back approach with Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt, but don’t be surprised if Pierre Strong and Marquise Goodwin get opportunities, especially Goodwin with his blazing speed. 

Regarding just backs, the Colts have the advantage with Taylor. However, with the Browns’ defense and figuring Head Coach Kevin Stefanski will call more run plays, I see the running game being more of a draw in this game and or a slight advantage for Cleveland.

3 – Browns OL vs. Colts DL

Andy –

This match-up is where I can see the difference being in the game.  Typically, after a team plays the 49ers, there’s a bit of a hiccup with the physicality of San Francisco.  Cleveland’s offensive line had a good day against the very talented 49ers, and following up with a good performance against another talented defensive line in Indy would be a huge step forward.  This is also the first road game in over a month for the Browns, which is also a challenge for this group.  Joel Bitonio should be back on Sunday, which is enormous, and Jedrick Wills Jr. played better last week, and when you add Dawand Jones’ rise, the line does have some momentum. 

The Colts feature an excellent line even without the talents of Grover Stewart, and they are a rare D-line that features strength inside and on the edge.

I am concerned about this match-up as I can see a drop-off after the San Francisco game, and this is the one unit where Indianapolis has a lot of talent.  If the Browns win this game, this match-up going their way will be a big reason why.

Tony –

Colts’ defensive lineman Grover Stewart will miss Sunday’s game against the Browns for violating the NFL’s gambling policy. Their unit up front is still pretty strong, with DeForest Buckner, Kwity Paye, and Samson Ebukam. Fresh off the 49ers game, the Browns’ offensive line did a very solid job against a great front. While the occasional defensive line stunts still caused some miscommunications for easy pressures, there weren’t a whole lot of reps where the Niners were just winning up front.

Dawand Jones played great against All-Pro Nick Bosa, and the rest of the line held their own against a unit that dominates games. The Colts’ front isn’t made up of pushovers, but they aren’t on the same level as the 49ers. Joel Bitonio is expected back from his knee injury, and hopefully, the left side of the line can eliminate mental mistakes that blow plays up.

Jedrick Wills had a solid game this past Sunday, along with the entirety of the Browns’ offensive line. The Colts present a seemingly easier test upfront than the 49ers, but they still have plenty of talent to be disruptive if not taken seriously enough. Winning up front on both sides of the ball is always the first step to winning a game, and the Browns should be able to create some push on the offensive line.

4 – Browns DL vs. Colts OL

Tony –

Like every other week, the biggest advantage the Browns seem to have is their defensive line versus opposing offensive lines. The upset win over the 49ers had to start with domination from the defensive line, and that is exactly what happened. The Colts’ offensive line as a whole is a slight step up from the 49ers, with center Ryan Kelly getting off to the best start of his career.

Left guard Quentin Nelson is a big-name offensive lineman, but his play has been somewhat average over the last three seasons. Their young left tackle Bernhard Raimann has been solid to start his career, but the right side of the line has serious areas to exploit. Right guard Will Fries has consistently struggled, and rookie fourth-rounder Blake Freeland is going through his ups and downs already.

While they’re known for being a dominant unit, the Colts’ offensive line isn’t as strong as it’s been in the past. Like most teams in the NFL, they are no match for the talent and scheme of this Browns’ front, and they will need to set the tone for the game there. While we know Myles Garrett is going to do his thing, the continued dominance of Ogbo Okoronkwo, Za’Darius Smith, and Davlin Tomlinson can help the Browns dictate the entire game.

Andy –

It’s time for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz to flex his muscles and get creative to exploit what looks to be an advantage for the Browns.  The Colts’ offensive line appears to be average at best, and as mentioned above, the right side of the line is the weak link.  Look for the Browns to use different formations to help confuse Indy.  DT Dalvin Tomlinson can also be a force while there’s a focus on the edge with Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith.  This is the match-up where the Browns should win and create an advantage.

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Browns/Colts: 4 Keys To Victory Week 7


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