INDIANAPOLIS – When the Browns and Colts take the field on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, fans will be getting a look at a large portion of the future each team is building.
A combined 24 rookies are expected to take the field on Sunday, with each team starting rookie quarterbacks and running backs.
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians does see some similarities between the Colts and Browns, although Cleveland does not come in as wounded as Indianapolis does this weekend.
"It's a very young team but I see all the guys out there. That's the big difference," Arians said of the injuries the Colts are battling.
"Our offense versus their offense, they're very similar. Young back, great back, two great backs. A bunch of young wide receivers, young quarterback, but Pro Bowl left tackle, Pro Bowl center, they're solid up front. They've been doing this for a little bit longer than we have."
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden has passed for 1,519 yards through the team's first six games, the second-most for a rookie after six games in NFL history.
Weeden played minor league baseball for five years out of high school so at the age of 29, he is not your typical rookie. But that has not stopped him from the ups-and-downs of the NFL.
"He's had pockets of good play and then he's made some mistakes," Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmur said. "I feel like he's grinding through this rookie year. He's making improvements in every game and every practice, and I anticipate that he will continually improve throughout the season."
The past two weeks Weeden has seemed to find a reliable target in rookie receiver Josh Gordon. Taken in the supplemental draft this past spring, Gordon has caught five passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns the last two weeks.
While Weeden has shown flashes in the passing game, the Browns offense has relied for a chunk of its production from running back Trent Richardson.
Cleveland chose Richardson with the third pick in April's draft, and the 230-pound Alabama product has exceeded his own expectations.
Richardson leads AFC rookies with 340 yards on the ground to go along with his team-leading 22 receptions.
"I kind of expected to lead the team in rushing. As far as receiving, I didn't expect that," Richardson said. "I expected to be a big part of the game, not as far as the passing game. I didn't expect to be leading the team. It just means that they count on me a lot, and I mean a lot to the program. My work load is going to be heavy, so I've got to make sure that I'm on my stuff at all times."
Cleveland's most versatile offensive player comes in the form of wide receiver and return man Joshua Cribbs. Since 2011, Cribbs has nine kick returns (six kickoff, three punt) of at least 40 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball for the Browns, veteran coordinator Dick Jauron directs the unit.
The Browns defense has been very opportunistic in 2012. It ties for fourth in the NFL with 14 forced turnovers.
Former first-round pick Joe Haden is looking for his third straight game with an interception.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has taken notice of a pass defense that intercepted Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton three times last week.
"I think tough, well-coached. You don't see them busting assignments," Luck said in describing the Browns defense. "They are always in the right place. They do a great job of getting their hands on balls in the air and catching them, so very opportunistic. It will be tough sledding."
Luck will be trying to bounce back from a performance he was not pleased with against the Jets.
He completed 22-of-44 passes for 280 yards, but had two interceptions, and the club did not reach the end zone in a 35-9 setback.
The Colts rookie quarterback knows life in the NFL is lived on a week-to-week basis, and the opportunity to redeem himself has him itching to get back on the field.
"That's the great thing about sports, competition, you get a game the next week," Luck said. "Whether it's a win or loss the week before, you get to go back out there and you have to prove yourself again. So winning, that's our goal."
Browns 27, Colts 19 – September 18, 2011
Thanks to a pair of rushing touchdowns by Browns running back Peyton Hillis, Head Coach Pat Shurmur got his first NFL victory. The Colts got off to an early lead behind a 39-yard field goal by kicker Adam Vinatieri on the game's opening possession. Behind production from running back Delone Carter and wide receiver Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis would add another field goal early in the second quarter. Vinatieri connected on a 27-yard field goal to give the Colts a 6-0 lead on the stanza's second play. Cleveland responded with quarterback Colt McCoy throwing a 16-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-12 to tight end Evan Moore. Vinatieri would add his third field goal of the opening half on the following possession, a 52-yarder. The Browns ability to convert their scoring drives into touchdowns would be critical on the afternoon, and Hillis scored from one-yard out to close out the first half with Cleveland leading, 14-9. The Colts defense started off the second half by forcing a turnover as linebacker Philip Wheeler caused Hillis to fumble and safety Antoine Bethea recovered the loose ball. Indianapolis would take advantage, but once again had to settle for a Vinatieri field goal, this one from 36 yards out. Browns kicker Phil Dawson added a field goal early in the fourth quarter, giving the Browns a 17-12 lead. The Colts offense was unable to sustain any drives following the Dawson field goal and Cleveland would seal the game thanks to Hillis and a special teams return. With just more than five minutes left in the game, Joshua Cribbs returned a punt 43 yards to the Colts' 28-yard line. Three plays later, Hillis ran it in from 24 yards out to stretch the lead to 24-12. Colts quarterback Kerry Collins would fumble on the next Indianapolis possession and Dawson added his second field goal to push the Browns lead to 27-12. Collins threw a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Clark with 24 seconds remaining, but the Colts were unable to recover the onside kick and the Browns won their first game between the teams in six meetings.
Browns running back Trent Richardson versus the Colts defense: The Browns were able to overcome the absence of Richardson for a majority of their win over the Bengals last weekend. The injury to Richardson's ribs has him day-to-day, but that does not undervalue his presence in the Browns offense. Richardson was the top running back taken in April's NFL Draft and leads the Browns in rushing and receiving through six games. The Colts' front seven has injuries of its own, and the unit is looking to bounce back from the performance against the Jets last weekend. New York ran for 252 yards in topping the Colts.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck versus the Browns secondary: It is Luck's first of back-to-back home games he will go up against rookie quarterbacks (Miami's Ryan Tannehill visits on November 4). Luck will be facing an opportunistic defense on Sunday as the Browns are tied for third in the NFL with 10 interceptions. Limiting turnovers was a vital focus for Luck this week, and he has shown success in that during the Colts' three home games. The Browns defense forced Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton into four turnovers last week, with three of those coming via interceptions.
The Colts have won five of their past six meetings with the Browns.
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano was a secondary coach with the Browns from 2001-2004.
Colts Interim Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians was the Browns offensive coordinator from 2001-2003.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is fifth in the NFL with 297.6 yards passing per game.
Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne leads the NFL with 118.6 receiving yards per game.
Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney has seven sacks in five career games vs. Browns, including three against Cleveland in 2005.
Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden has 1,519 yards passing, which is the second-most in NFL history for a rookie after six games.
Browns running back Trent Richardson leads all AFC rookies with 340 yards rushing.
The Browns lead the AFC with 10 interceptions.
No Browns offensive lineman has missed an NFL start. Left tackle Joe Thomas (86 straight), left guard Jason Pinkston (22 straight), center Alex Mack (54 straight), right guard Shawn Lauvao (22 games) and rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (six straight).
Browns cornerback Joe Haden is looking for his third straight game with an interception.
Browns wide receiver Joshua Cribbs leads the AFC with a 31.3-yard kickoff return average and is second in the NFL with a 15.4-yard average on punt returns.
Browns kicker Phil Dawson has made 18 straight kicks dating back to last season, which is the longest streak in the NFL.
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on the challenge this young team is facing week-to-week):
"The challenge is the difference in the faces, learning. Guys have to move to different jobs. If we put our 11 guys that we started with out there, it would not be much of a challenge. It's a pretty good football team. Right now, all we're thinking about is getting to 3-3. If we get to 3-3, we'll be with half the teams in this league going into the stretch. It's not about being young. Most of these guys have played a college football season. They're not young any more. The guys who just showed up in the last two weeks, they're young. We'll play with them, and I'm sure they will give us great effort and everything they have in this ballgame."
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on the strengths of your rookie tight ends and how a multiple tight end offense has helped you throughout your career):
"I've always believed that if you have a fullback in the game, you're more one-dimensional, especially if he's not a special teams ace. You can get more tight ends involved. You can do more things, especially if they have the ability to get in the backfield, play on the line of scrimmage and play out wide, which we have with these guys. Their skill set makes you more unpredictable. You get a defense, they don't know (what you're going to do). They're not going to call their defense by your personnel group. They're going to call their defense by down and distance, rather than, 'Oh they've got this fullback in the game, we're going to give them our best run call. They've got their two tight ends, we're going to give them this best call. They've got three wides, we're going to give them this best call.' When you have those guys that you can just keep using in different formations, you're just getting down and distance calls. They don't really know what you're going to be in whether it be the I, trips, two tight end sets. The beauty of it is disguise."
Colts Offensive Coordinator/Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians(on with a rookie quarterback, are you resigned to the fact that you're going to have some ups and downs):
"I think so, but you can't ever expect them, and you can't ever allow it. You have to demand that they play great, and play like a (veteran). Ours is capable of it. He has done it. Once you do it, you set a standard. You don't go back down. When you go back down, you have to find the reason why, 'What was it, preparation? What was it, not understanding the game plan?' Come back, settle it down and go forward. We've set a pretty high standard already. We're not going to use youth, especially at that position, as an excuse."
Colts running back Vick Ballard(on what Bruce Arians has been preaching this week):
"The number one thing that B.A. wants to do is to start fast. Whenever we start fast, it gives us momentum into the second half. That has been the emphasis this week."
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis(on players needing to step up with injuries on the defense)
"Whoever's out there has to do their job. Everybody is here because they are special in some way. If you are on the field, you have to do your job, whether it's pass rushing, defending passes, or throwing passes. You just have to get the job done."
Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmur(on what your general impressions are of Andrew Luck):
"I see the guy that we all were hoping we could have drafted. I think he's throwing the ball extremely well. He's getting a feel for his skill players and he's doing a really smart thing, he's throwing the ball to Reggie Wayne a lot, which confirms why he went to Stanford. He's obviously got the skill and ability to be an outstanding player in this league. All those things are showing up. He's leading his team to victories which is how you are eventually vaulted."
Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmur(on if it's part of the process with a rookie quarterback that you are going to have some ups and downs):
"Yeah, I think so. Even though they are very distinguished college players, there's things that you see in the NFL for the very first time. As you go through it, every once in a while, you're going to make a mistake. The key to the drill then is to admit that you made it and correct it, and then move on. I think I've seen that type of behavior from Brandon and I'm sure that's the case with Andrew."
Browns Head Coach Pat Shurmur (on how valuable Trent Richardson is to your offense):
"He's very valuable. I think he's a player that again established himself in the college ranks and he's found a way to have some production here in the first games. I do think he'll continue to improve and when you have a guy you can hand it to who has a feel for getting the end zone, of course it helps your offense."
Browns running back Trent Richardson(on an update about your health):
"Health-wise, it's day-to-day. Hopefully I'm out here and I'll be playing on Sunday. I just hope some things come along. I'm going to be pretty good man, I'm not worried about it. It's just day-to-day right now. Coach has got a mind for me, he's just waiting to see how I feel at the end of the week and then we'll see if I can go on Sunday."
Browns running back Trent Richardson(on Brandon Weeden):
"Brandon, he's getting better and better every game. With Brandon being a professional before, he knows how to handle his time and he knows how to speak to the huddle and he had some great leaders around him when he was doing his thing. So Brandon is becoming more consistent and he's become more of a believer in himself and his arm and he knows that we're behind him 100 percent. That's a big thing being a quarterback because quarterback is a hard position to play, and if you don't think your team has confidence in you, that's big. So he knows that we're behind him 100 percent so that's sometimes better for him to be more comfortable out of the pocket."* *