Friday, September 16, 2011

Will it really be an upset?

When the National Football League schedule was released last spring and fans started placing Ws and Ls beside the games on the Browns’ schedule, the second game on that schedule rated an automatic L.

That’s because it was Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. In Indianapolis. But that was also before Manning underwent neck surgery and the recovery process did not go smoothly. And now that the veteran quarterback has had a second procedure that could sideline him the entire season, Sunday’s game against the Colts has taken on a whole new meaning. That L might not wind up in the Browns’’ column after all.

There are those who believe Manning is the Indianapolis offense. Period. Without him, they are not the same team. His ability to control a game is the main reason the Colts have lived among the elite in the NFL.

Indianapolis fans, until last Sunday, had not known what life was like without Manning. What they discovered horrified them. They found out that journeyman Kerry Collins, summoned out of retirement, was no Peyton Manning. Not even close.

The 35-7 thrashing the Colts absorbed in Houston last Sunday was a rude slap in the face and forecast what could turn out to be a very long season. Sort of like the kind of seasons the Browns have cobbled together the last dozen years.

If there is any relief for the Colts, it’s that the Browns are their next opponent. Surely, Colts fans placed a big, fat W next to that game when the schedule came out. Even without Manning.

Collins is not exactly a slug under center and the Colts’ defense, its performance against the Texans notwithstanding, is not that bad. Considering how poorly the Browns’ offensive line protected Colt McCoy last week, Indy defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney should have no problem locating the Cleveland quarterback.

That said, if the Browns can’t beat the Colts this week, it really could be a long season. The Colts are ripe to be upset.

Wait a minute. What’s that you say? It wouldn’t be an upset? The Browns are favored by two and a half points? Are you kidding me?

Is that how much of an impact Manning’s loss is to the Colts? That tells me odds makers believe the Colts are now the front-runners in the Andrew Luck derby. Can’t remember the last time the Browns were favored to win on the road.

Considering how they gave away last Sunday’s season opener to Cincinnati, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the Browns come out against the Colts and play the way most people expected them to play against the Bengals.

They key is how well McCoy performs on offense. That will depend, in large part, to how well the wide receivers play. The level of McCoy’s success will be measured by how often the wideouts get open.

Against the Bengals, we didn’t see nearly enough of the quick-strike capabilities of the west coast offense. There were too few three-step drops and pops. McCoy rarely hit a receiver in stride and that’s what the west coast offense is all about. There was no rhythm and the quarterback’s performance suffered as a result.

Pat Shurmur insists he has not abandoned the running game, although last week’s pass-run ratio (28 runs, 40 passes) indicates otherwise. It’s just one game and the coach should be given an opportunity to back up his words.

I look for the Browns to try and slow the Colts’ pass rush with some infantry action. Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty should be able to take advantage of the absence of Indy middle linebacker Gary Brackett, out with a shoulder problem.

That should open up some throwing lanes for McCoy to work with, especially if his receivers run disciplined routes. Look for Mo Massaquoi, who played well last week despite missing the entire exhibition season, to be a major factor, along with tight ends Evan Moore and Ben Watson.

On defense, the Browns should have no problem with Collins, who is still trying to learn the offense. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Dick Jauron dial up more blitzes than he did against the Bengals. The defensive coordinator has a lot to make up for after last week’s quick-snap gaffe.

The Browns have lost their last five meetings with the Colts, including four in Cleveland, by a total of 20 points, all with Manning at quarterback. That losing streak is coming to an end Sunday.

McCoy will not have a big day, but it will be good enough to get the job done. And the Cleveland defense will make Collins wish he had stayed retired. Make it:

Browns 23, Colts 6

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