A Capsule Look at this Week's Colts Opponent, the Cleveland Browns
Synopsis: The Colts, after four victories in as many November games, will close the month on Sunday in familiar circumstances.
They're playing a conference opponent.
And they're playing needing a victory to maintain their playoff positioning.
And if their opponent this week doesn't have the lofty record or reputation to outside observers as their last two road opponents – Pittsburgh and San Diego – Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy and President Bill Polian each said this week the Cleveland Browns are still dangerous.
And at times this season, they have performed as well as any team in the NFL.
The Browns, after a 10-6 season in which they missed the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, have lost three of their past four games to nearly slip from playoff contention. But Polian said there are reasons for the Browns recent struggles:
2) Uncertainty at the quarterback position.
The second issue, Polian said, is one that will improve quickly with the maturation of second-year quarterback Brady Quinn.
"The more Brady Quinn plays," Polian said, "the better he's going to be. I don't have any doubt about that."
Quinn, a first-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft from Notre Dame, replaced 2007 Pro Bowl selection Derek Anderson as the Browns' starter early this month. In three games as a starter, Quinn has completed 45 of 89 passes for 518 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. The Browns lost two of the three games, beating the Buffalo Bills, 29-27, and losing to Denver and Houston.
Quinn, who sustained a finger injury on his throwing hand in the victory over Buffalo last week, completed 8 of 18 passes for 94 yards in a 16-6 loss to Houston Sunday, and was replaced by Anderson after his second interception.
Browns Head Coach Romeo Crennel said Monday Quinn will remain the starter.
With Quinn injured, and with cold, windy weather possible in Cleveland on the last weekend of November, Polian said he expects the Browns to feature veteran Jamal Lewis, who has rushed for 716 yards and four touchdowns on 195 carries.
Lewis has yet to have a 100-yard game this season, but he has started 11 of 11 games and has averaged 3.7 yards per carry.
"I think they're going to try to run the ball," Polian said. "That's their M.O. to begin with. Brady is very comfortable in that kind of situation. I don't know what the weather will be like. It always seems that it's not good when we go to Cleveland, but that's their identity. They do well when they run the ball and play good, conservative, solid, physical defense. I think that's what they'll try to play."
The Browns, after an 0-3 start, have split their last eight games, a stretch that not only includes a victory over 6-5 Buffalo and a 23-17 victory at 4-7 Jacksonville, but a 35-14 victory over the New York Giants, the defending Super Bowl champions. The Cleveland game is the Giants' lone loss this season.
"They're capable of playing very, very well," Polian said.
The Colts last played the Browns in 2005, when they beat Cleveland in the RCA Dome, 13-6, in Crennel's second game as the head coach. The Browns feature a 3-4 defensive scheme similar to the one used by New England, Pittsburgh and San Diego, teams the Colts have beaten during a four-game November winning streak that has moved them into the No. 5 seed in the AFC.
"They're capable of running the football," Polian said. "They, too, have a big front three and front seven. They're another 3-4 team, which in the end is probably a blessing in disguise because we've played it so much. They're a veteran defense. We have our hands full."
2008 Record: 4-7, 3rd in AFC North.
Head Coach: Romeo Crennel, fourth season as Browns Head Coach and NFL Head Coach (24-35).
Last game: The Browns never led in a 16-6 home loss to the Houston Texans, a team that hadn't won on the road in more than a year. Cleveland committed five turnovers and forced just two, and Browns Head Coach Romeo Crennel replaced starting quarterback Brady Quinn with Derek Anderson after Quinn's second interception. The game was the Browns' third consecutive home loss.
2008 NFL Rankings: Offense – Overall, 27th (282.7 yards per game); Rushing, 22nd (105.9 ypg); Passing, 27th (176.8 ypg); Defense – Overall, 27th (369.6 yards per game); Rushing, 27th (145.9 ypg); Passing, 20th (223.7 ypg).
2008 Leading Passer: Derek Anderson (126-257 completions, 1,505 yards, 49.0 pct., 9 TD, 8 INT, 66.0 passer rating); Brady Quinn (45-89 completions, 518 yards, 50.6 pct., 2 TD, 2 INT, 66.6 passer rating).
2008 Leading Rusher(s): Jamal Lewis (195 carries, 716 yards, 4 TD); Jerome Harrison (27 carries, 238 yards, 1 TD).
2008 Leading Receiver(s): Braylon Edwards (40 receptions, 661 yards, 3 TD); Kellen Winslow (40 receptions, 413 yards, 3 TD).
2008 Leading Sacker(s): Shaun Rogers (4.5).
2008 Turnover Breakdown: Plus-5 (20 forced, 15 committed).
First-round draft choice: The Browns did not have a first-round selection, and did not have a selection in the 2008 NFL Draft until the fourth round, having traded the selections to acquire quarterback Brady Quinn, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and defensive end Corey Williams.
The Browns' first selection in the 2008 draft was Beau Bell, a linebacker from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. He has played in four games as a reserve, making two tackles.
Key free agents acquired: Rex Hadnot (Miami), OG; Shantee Orr (Jacksonville), LB; Donte Stallworth (New England), WR.
Key free agents lost: Matt Stewart (Arizona), LB; Chaun Thompson (Houston), LB.
2008 Review: The Browns, after missing out on the playoffs last season when the Tennessee Titans beat Indianapolis in the final regular-season game, started the season with postseason expectations, but lost their first three games against a difficult early-season schedule.
Following a 28-10 loss at defending NFC East champion Dallas, then lost 10-6 to defending AFC North champion Pittsburgh before a 28-10 loss at Baltimore.
They followed that with three victories in their next four games, a streak that moved them to 3-4 and into the AFC playoff picture. It was a streak that included an eight-point victory at Cincinnati and a 21-point home victory over the New York Giants, as well as a victory at Jacksonville, a playoff team last season.
The lone loss in that stretch came at Washington, currently tied with Dallas for second in the NFC East at 7-4.
But Cleveland then lost three of its next four games, losing 10-point second-half leads at home to Baltimore and Denver before rallying to beat Buffalo by two points on the road.
They then lost to Houston at home this past week to slip three games under .500 with five remaining.
Last time in Playoffs: 2002.
Last time in Super Bowl: Never.
Super Bowl Championships: None.
2007 Pro Bowl Selections: Derek Anderson, QB; Joshua Cribbs, returner; Braylon Edwards, WR; Ryan Pontbriand, long snapper; Joe Thomas, OT; Kellen Winslow, TE.
Quotable I: "Brady is the quarterback. We like the things he has shown us with his composure and leadership. We like all that and that's why he'll continue to be the starter. We need to help him more going down the stretch here."
--- Browns Head Coach Romeo Crennel
Quotable II: "The players have to be accountable for everything. It doesn't have anything to do with the coach. At the end of the day, the players have to make plays. All a coach can do is get you prepared for a game.''
--- Browns Defensive End Shaun Smith