COLTS-BROWNS PREVIEW

Since 2002, 62 of the 108 playoff teams began the year at either 1-1 or 0-2. Coming off opening losses in Week 1, the Colts and Browns both aim to reach 1-1 and both hope that statistic applies to them in 2011.

INDIANAPOLIS – As the Indianapolis Colts return to Lucas Oil Stadium for their home opener against the Cleveland Browns, they bring with them a similar feeling they felt in 2010.

After Arian Foster ran for 231 yards in a 34-24 Houston Texans win over Indianapolis in 2010, it was back to the grind for the Colts.

The Colts came home and answered the bell by jumping out to a 24-0 halftime lead against the New York Giants en route to a 34-14 victory.

Defensively, the Colts defense forced three Giants turnovers, sacked quarterback Eli Manning four times and only allowed seven points for the first 58 minutes of the game.

What a difference a week made.

Flash-forward to 2011 and the Colts are again 0-1 after losing to the Texans, 34-7, at Reliant Stadium.  With the Browns also absorbing a week one loss, two hungry teams enter Lucas Oil Stadium looking to put that initial notch in the win column.

For quarterback Kerry Collins, Sunday will mark the first time he will not have to hear the raucous Colts faithful now that he's on the home sideline.

"I'm looking forward to being here at home," Collins said.  "I know they've got great fans here, and I have personal experience that this is a tough place to play for visiting teams.  I hope they're as loud and as boisterous as they always are, because it really is a big home-field advantage here."

Home openers have been kind to the Colts as they have won seven of their past eight and have also won the five last matchups between the Browns.  However, those five matchups have been nothing easy for the Colts as each game has been decided by one possession and many times in the waning seconds.  

Just like the Texans last week, the Browns are in their first season of running a new defense but unlike Houston, Cleveland switched from the 3-4 to the 4-3.

"I think if you have players that fit those schemes, then they're both very good defenses," first- year Browns head coach Pat Shurmur said.  "You see success stories around the league, regardless of if you're playing a 3-4 or a 4-3.  So we went out and got some new players on defense that fit the four-man front.  We drafted two guys early, of course, Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard, and we had guys on the roster that could fill in the other positions.  So you have to get the players that fit the scheme, and we're in the process of doing that.  I think we had a lot of pieces here, and then we went out and got a couple more."

Along with additions of Taylor and Sheard, the Browns welcome back D'Qwell Jackson to the middle of their linebacking corps.  Jackson led the Browns with 11 tackles in a week one loss to the Bengals after missing all of the 2010 season with a torn pectoral.

The Browns made an emphasis of addressing the defensive backfield in the 2010 draft and accomplished that with cornerback Joe Haden (first round) and safety T.J. Ward (fourth round).  Ward led all rookies with 105 tackles in 2010 along with a team-high 18 tackles on special teams.  Opposite Haden at the right cornerback spot is Sheldon Brown who has appeared in 145 consecutive regular season games.

On the offensive side of the ball, a power running game is what the Browns lean on.

Offensive tackle Joe Thomas (65 games) and center Alex Mack (33 games) have not missed a single snap in their young careers.  Those two help pave the way for running back Peyton Hillis.

In his first season with the Browns, Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns.  A former seventh-round draft pick in 2008, Hillis also caught 61 balls out of the backfield last year.

"He's just a humble, blue-collar, hard worker, and he's kind of like a lineman, as far as his mentality," Thomas said.  "He's a lot of fun to block for, because he's a guy that is going to get his shoulder downhill, he's going to run people over and he's going to want to celebrate with his teammates.  So he has been a pleasure to block for over the last couple of years.  Hopefully we get him rolling on Sunday."

In the 27-17 week one loss to the Bengals, the Browns dug themselves a 13-0 hole before scoring 17 in a row to take a brief fourth-quarter lead.  The early deficit forced Shurmur and his staff to abandon its normal power running game style.

"We lost the game and we were losing at the end of the game, which is why you have a bunch more passes than you typically would have," Shurmur said.  "We played such a poor first quarter that we lost snaps there.  So you'd like to think that would change if we do a better job."

Handing the ball off to Hillis will be second-year quarterback Colt McCoy.  After starting eight games in 2010, McCoy was named the starter in the off-season and his leadership resonates with his left tackle.

"He's one of those natural born leaders," Thomas said.  "Even in his second year, he's a guy that gets in the huddle, he commands attention, everybody's watching him and he's a guy that is going to go and lead.  He knows every position and he's going to tell you exactly how he wants it done.  He's a guy that pays attention to detail and I think he's a guy that anyone would want as their quarterback."

Another element that McCoy brings to the game differently than most quarterbacks is his ability to run, and it will be up to the Colts defense to take that into consideration when game-planning against the Browns.

"(We are) definitely going to have to watch for that, because he is able to run the ball," Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers said.  "He's more mobile than people think, and he has a sense of just making a play when he needs to make a play.  I think Colt's a very good quarterback, and you can tell he's still learning the game as he plays.  The more experience he gets, it seems like the better he is.  We are definitely going to have our hands full with the running game, and with Colt being able to get outside the pocket and move around a little bit."
One final element the Colts will be focusing on is Browns kick returner Joshua Cribbs.  Despite the kickoff being moved up five yards in 2011, week one saw an NFL record eight returns (five punt and three kickoff) taken back for a touchdown.  Colts head coach Jim Caldwell said his guys had better be ready because they have another great return man coming at them.

"All you have to do is take a look at the schedule and everybody is going to have somebody back there that is deadly and can take it to the house," Caldwell said.  "Last week was Jacoby Jones, and this week, obviously, we've got another very daring and talented guy back there (Joshua Cribbs) that's a gun-slinger. So every week it's the same thing, but one of the things that you can't do is play those guys on your heels.  You can't sit and wait on them, because you have to go and get them.  You let the chips fall where they may, but you've got to be aggressive and you can't change what you're doing.  The only thing you do is that you better consider every option now.  In terms of whether or not you want to kick it to him, not kick it to him in certain situations and you'd better go over all of those things.  Guys like that make you do it."

The Colts have preached all week that the NFL season is a marathon not a sprint and mile two of that marathon takes place on Sunday.  In 2009 and 2010, seven of the 12 teams that made the playoffs started off the year 1-1 and come Sunday, observers will find out whether the Browns or Colts are in the position to follow suit.

LAST MEETING

Colts 10, Browns 6 – November 30, 2008
In a defensive struggle, it was a pair of Pro Bowl defensive ends who stole the show.

A Dwight Freeney sack forced a fumble, which Robert Mathis returned 37 yards with 9:37 remaining for the only touchdown on the day.  Mathis also chipped in a pair of his own sacks and the win marked the first time since 2003 the Colts won a game without scoring an offensive touchdown.

The last gasp for the Browns came with backup quarterback Ken Dorsey having to fill in for Derek Anderson on the game's final drive.  Colts defensive back Antoine Bethea intercepted Dorsey's fourth-and-20 pass with 45 seconds remaining.

The victory was one of nine in a row to end the regular season for the Colts and also finished off a perfect 5-0 month of November for Indianapolis.  During that five-game winning streak the Colts won each game by six points or fewer.

INTERESTING MATCHUPS

Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney against Browns left tackle Joe Thomas: A pair of Pro Bowlers will line up across each other Sunday afternoon.  An ironman four years into his career, Thomas has not missed an offensive snap in 65 games.  The number three pick in the 2007 draft, Thomas has made the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons.  Freeney had a good day in their only other previous meeting in 2008 by beating Thomas and forcing a fumble that led to the Colts only touchdown in a 10-6 victory.

Browns running back Peyton Hillis against the Colts rush defense: A fullback in college, Hillis now joins his college backfield mates, Felix Jones and Darren McFadden, as starting running backs in the NFL.  Last season, Hillis rushed for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging 4.4 yards a carry.  The Colts defense is expecting a heavy dosage of the power back especially with middle linebacker Gary Brackett likely out with a shoulder injury.  A threat out of the backfield, Hillis also caught 61 passes in 2010 and will be somebody second-year quarterback Colt McCoy will lean on heavily in a hostile environment.

Quick Facts

-In the last three meetings between the Colts and Browns, there has only been one offensive touchdown combined between the two teams.  The 2003 game was a Colts 9-6 win with all 15 points coming via field goals.  The lone touchdown came from former Colts running back Edgerrin James as his two-yard touchdown run proved to be the difference in 13-6 victory in 2005.

-Colts have won seven of their past eight home openers with their only loss coming in 2008 against the Chicago Bears.

-A trio of Colts has a connection to Cleveland and surrounding areas.  Anthony Gonzalez was born in Cleveland and attended St. Ignatius High School.  Delone Carter is a native of Akron, Ohio.  Pierre Garcon played his college football at Mount Union College, which is in Alliance, Ohio.

-Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas has started all 65 career games and has never missed an offensive snap.

-Browns center Alex Mack has started all 33 career games and has never missed an offensive snap.

-Browns return man Joshua Cribbs has 10 punt and kick return touchdowns which places him fifth on the NFL's all-time list.

-Browns cornerback Joe Haden was the first true freshman to start at cornerback on opening day in University of Florida history.

-Browns wide receiver Brian Robiskie went to Ohio State University and was a ball boy with the Browns from 2002-2004.  His father, Terry, starred at LSU.

-The Browns hold the all-time series lead with a 15-14 record although the Colts have won the last five.

NOTABLE QUOTES
Colts head coach Jim Caldwell (on the challenges of Cleveland's defense):
"Schematically, you're talking about the differences between a 3-4 team and a 4-3.  They still have, obviously like every other team in this league, they have firepower.  They all have good players.  (Jabaal) Sheard is still going to give you a very good pass rush on the outside with some length and power.  Phil Taylor on the inside is a very, very capable guy.  He's big, strong, and can rush the passer as well.  So they give you issues there, and then they have a pretty good perimeter.  The secondary is a good, solid group, and they'll walk up on you and play man-to-man and dare you to throw it.  They're going to pressure you in terms of their scheme and how they work.  They're a very, very difficult group to handle.  (D'Qwell) Jackson in the middle is probably the leader of the group at middle linebacker.  He can run, is active and also (is) an effective pass-rusher himself."

Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on preparing for returners any differently in particular Browns return man Joshua Cribbs):
"We don't prepare any differently, because we face one every single week.  All you have to do is take a look at the schedule and everybody is going to have somebody back there that is deadly and can take it to the house.  Last week was Jacoby Jones, and this week, obviously, we've got another very daring and talented guy back there (Joshua Cribbs) that's a gun-slinger.  So every week it's the same thing, but one of the things that you can't do is play those guys on your heels.  You can't sit and wait on them, because you have to go and get them.  You let the chips fall where they may, but you've got to be aggressive and you can't change what you're doing. The only thing you do is that you'd better consider every option now.  In terms of whether or not you want to kick it to him, not kick it to him in certain situations and you better go over all of those things.  Guys like that make you do it."

Colts quarterback Kerry Collins (on playing in Lucas Oil Stadium):
"I'm looking forward to being here at home.  I know they've got great fans here, and I have personal experience that this is a tough place to play for visiting teams.  I hope they're as loud and as boisterous as they always are, because it really is a big home-field advantage here."

Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers (on Browns running back Peyton Hillis):
"I was able to face Peyton a few times in college when it was the three-headed monster with him, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones all in one backfield.  I've seen Peyton hurdle a couple of guys personally, but he's a bruiser though.  I've got the utmost respect for him.  He's a great guy and he plays the game the way it's supposed to be played.  (He's) a hard-nosed runner and on the cover of Madden, so he's doing pretty well for himself, despite having Felix and Darren McFadden in the backfield at college.  But he's a tremendous back, and we're going to have our hands full.  It's going to really take everybody getting to the ball together to get him down, because he's that type of back."

Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers (on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy's ability to run the football):
"(We are) definitely going to have to watch for that, because he is able to run the ball.  He's more mobile than people think, and he has a sense of just making a play when he needs to make a play.  I think Colt's a very good quarterback, and you can tell he's still learning the game as he plays.  The more experience he gets, it seems like the better he is.  We are definitely going to have our hands full with the running game, and with Colt being able to get outside the pocket and move around a little bit."

Browns head coach Pat Shurmur (on being a first-year head coach and putting in a new offense and a new defense during the lockout):
"I feel like we got it up and running as quickly as we could.  We were prepared when they said, 'OK, we are open for business.  Get to work.'  We feel good about, at least the starting point, and now we're at the time of year when it's about playing good football and fighting to win games. With the stuff that we have in place, I feel like if we execute well and if we coach better, then we'll have a chance."

Browns head coach Pat Shurmur (on converting from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4):
"I think if you have players that fit those schemes, then they're both very good defenses.  You see success stories around the league, regardless of if you're playing a 3-4 or a 4-3.  So we went out and got some new players on defense that fit the four-man front.  We drafted two guys early, of course, Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard, and we had guys on the roster that could fill in the other positions.  So you have to get the players that fit the scheme, and we're in the process of doing that.  I think we had a lot of pieces here, and then we went out and got a couple more."

Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas (on quarterback Colt McCoy and the leadership he brings to the Browns offense):
"He's one of those natural born leaders.  Even in his second year, he's a guy that gets in the huddle, he commands attention, everybody's watching him, and he's a guy that is going to go and lead.  He knows every position, and he's going to tell you exactly how he wants it done.  He's a guy that pays attention to detail, and I think he's a guy that anyone would want as their quarterback."

Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas (on blocking for running back Peyton Hillis):
"He's a great guy.  He's just a humble, blue-collar, hard worker, and he's kind of like a lineman, as far as his mentality.  He's a lot of fun to block for, because he's a guy that is going to get his shoulder downhill, he's going to run people over and he's going to want to celebrate with his teammates.  So he has been a pleasure to block for over the last couple of years.  Hopefully we get him rolling on Sunday, and he can be fun to block for again this Sunday."

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