The Indianapolis Colts head up north the face the Cleveland Browns this Sunday. Both teams are in the playoff hunt, but heading in different directions.
The Colts sit at 8-4 and are a virtual lock to win the AFC South. The Browns are one of the many teams in the AFC at 7-5 and fighting for a Wild Card spot. The Browns, however, do not have any tie breakers and are at the bottom of the 7-5 teams.
They have struggled over the past month, culminating in a quarterback controversy between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. Earlier today, we learned that Hoyer will start, putting that debate to rest for at least this week.
Its the second week in a row that the Colts will face a team with a QB controversy.
The Browns on Offense
Cleveland isn’t exactly a model of efficiency on offense this season. They’re 12th in passing yards and 14th on the ground in traditional yards. Football Outsiders has them with the 19th ranked overall offense, and are 12th in passing and 27th on the ground.
The Browns are averaging 21 points per game this season, but have only scored more than 30 points once this season. Cleveland is one of the worst teams in the NFL on third down, converting on just 31.8-percent of its attempts.
Hoyer has been objectively awful over the past month. He’s completing under 55-percent of his passes and has just three touchdowns compared to eight interceptions. The Browns have averaged 22 points per game during this stretch, but didn’t score more than 10 in the two losses.
The passing attack is getting a boost with Josh Gordon back on the field. He’s played in just two games and has 15 receptions for 195 yards. The lone issue being that he’s been targeted 29 times.
The Browns ability to run the ball was hampered when center Alex Mack was placed on IR earlier this season. Without the benefit of play action, Hoyer’s numbers have dropped.
PFF has rated the receiving corps well, but their best receiver by DVOA, Miles Austin, was placed on IR this week with a kidney injury. Taylor Gabriel and Andrew Hawkins are the team’s highest rated receiver by PFF but they rank 36th and 56th in DVOA.
What it Means for the Colts on Defense
Expect the Browns to attack the Colts on the ground first. They’ll want to establish the running game in order to set up the play action. The Colts, who have struggled to defend the run, will want to get the Browns into obvious passing downs and force Hoyer into a likely mistake.
Cleveland actually ranks seventh in pass protection but Hoyer’s feel for the pocket is questionable. When pressured, Hoyer is awful and completes just 39-percent of his passes. More often than not, pressure will result in a sack.
Hopefully Vontae Davis will be cleared to play after suffering a concussion last week, without him the coverage suffer substantially.
The Browns on Defense
Cleveland ranks 18th overall in yardage on defense. They are surrendering just 20.4 points per game. The Browns rank in the top 10 in traditional pass defense stats, largely because opponents have been running all over them with reckless abandon. The Brown are 29th in rush defense, giving up 132.5 yards per game.
That said, the Browns secondary is quite good and they lead the NFL with 17 interceptions. DVOA has the Browns with the sixth best pass defense in the NFL. But as we said before, they are 28th per DVOA against the run.
Opponents primary receivers struggle against the Browns, as do slot receiver, but the second option usually does quite well. They are average when defending tight ends, but usually lockdown running backs.
What This Means for the Colts on Offense
The Colts will want to exploit the Browns’ weaknesses and that means hitting them hard on the ground. Chuck Pagano said that Trent Richardson is the team’s starter and hopefully playing his former team will add some extra fire under the mediocre running back.
When Richardson fails, and the Colts offense comes to a grinding halt, watch Dan Herron come in and give them a spark. The passing attack might not be as potent this week, but the Browns haven’t faced an offense this prolific all season.
While the Browns are good against top receivers, that didn’t stop Antonio Brown from lighting them up twice. T.Y. Hilton is basically the same player and will likely do the same. Also expect to see more of Donte Moncrief after his monster game last week.
It also wouldn’t be surprising if Reggie Wayne had a big game as he is overdue for one lately and the Browns struggle against secondary options.