INDIANAPOLIS – Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Colts, 1-1, host the Browns, 2-0, for the second straight year as both clubs reach the important third weekend of preseason action.
The Colts are coming off a 20-12 victory last Sunday at the New York Giants, while Cleveland beat Detroit, 24-6, on Thursday, August 15 at home.
The Colts will be closing out the home portion of the preseason schedule in meeting the Browns. Indianapolis dropped a 44-20 decision to Buffalo on August 11.
Cleveland opened its preseason action with a 27-19 victory over St. Louis on August 8. The Colts finish preseason on Thursday, August 29 at Cincinnati, while Cleveland plays that night in Chicago.
Cleveland visited Indianapolis last October 21, with the Colts winning, 17-13.
The Colts surrendered but 55 rushing yards to Cleveland, while Andrew Luck had a three-yard rushing touchdown 7:37 into a game the Colts never trailed.
Ahead 7-6, Luck scored on a five-yard rush midway through the second quarter to cap a 14-play, 76-yard drive. Indianapolis led at intermission, 14-6.
After Cleveland narrowed the margin to 14-13, the Colts went on a 17-play drive that featured third- and fourth-down conversions, and Adam Vinatieri's 38-yard field goal provided the final points as the 17-13 score held up over the game's final 18 minutes.
The Indianapolis defense limited Cleveland to 98 net yards, five first downs and no points after the initial score of the second half. Four straight Browns drives ended in punts, and Indianapolis held at its 39 on a fourth-down Cleveland gamble with 1:57 to go.
Luck and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden were rookie starters in that game, and both went on to have solid seasons.
Luck set NFL rookie marks with 627 attempts, 4,374 yards and six 300-yard games, while helping the Colts earn seven of their 11 wins with fourth-quarter or overtime game-winning drives.
Weeden completed 297-of-517 passes for 3,385 yards and 14 touchdowns. Cleveland finished 5-11.
The Colts and Browns have met 27 times in regular-season play and four times in the post-season. Despite being close geographic rivals, the teams have met but seven times in preseason play.
The preseason series originated in 1953, but the last time the clubs met in preseason was in 1994. Cleveland's only visit to Lucas Oil Stadium was last year's series renewal.
The Colts are looking to continue in a positive direction as the regular season opens on September 8 here with Oakland.
With a host of new players and a coaching staff that includes new coordinators in Pep Hamilton (offense) and Tom McMahon (special teams), Indianapolis is setting its identity.
Returning defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is a former undrafted free agent who found a way to fashion a 12-year playing career.
Manusky was fingered by Pagano earlier this year when newcomers were on hand for their first organized work as Colts. He told draftees and free agents to use Manusky as an example that hard work and spunk can trigger a career.
Manusky now is in his 13th season as an NFL coach, and he is seeking players who can do for the Colts what he did as a player with Washington, Minnesota and Kansas City.
"I think the biggest thing that I always tell them is, 'In this league there are difference-makers, guys that will come into the league and be difference-makers. Are you one of those guys? Are you a solid football player, a good football player?' I think there are categories in the National Football League," said Manusky, "and then, 'What are you after that?
"Are you a backup player or a special teams player that I was when I played. And then, you're not very good.' Four categories, basically that's what you're put into.
"From our players we want to see difference-makers. Usually they're the guys that are the fastest, the quickest and have knowledge of football and what plays are going to be coming to them. That's what we're looking for."
The Colts defense will be infused this year with a number of veteran free agents. Pagano and Manusky could see as many as five – nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, linebacker Erik Walden, cornerback Greg Toler and safety LaRon Landry – starting on opening day.
This is the second year of the 3-4 defense installed by the duo, and Pagano hopes to reap dividends he saw in Baltimore from 2008-11 when the Ravens had one of the NFL's saltiest units.
Fans attending tonight's game will see the starting offense get its heaviest workload of the preseason.
Hamilton joined the Colts this year from Stanford, and he is seeking to have an offense with balanced production.
"We are a run-first team, we are a power running team and that's well-documented," said Hamilton. "I think we talked about that quite a bit since we kicked off training camp but at the same time, the bottom line is we have to find ways to outscore our opponent.
"We feel like it takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback if we can run the football and force defenses to pack the box. That's going to open up opportunities to create big plays in the passing game so it's a two-fold effect. The flow of the game in a lot of ways dictates what we are able to do."
Running back Vick Ballard was the club's leading rusher in 2012, and he is poised for contributions in his second season.
Veteran Donald Brown also is vying in the pecking order in the backfield and is a solid performer in a fifth season with the club.
Ahmad Bradshaw, a free agent addition from the New York Giants who spent a portion of training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list following off-season foot surgery, will not participate in the contest.
Bradshaw is a two-time 1,000-yard rusher whose last carry in Lucas Oil Stadium was a six-yard scoring run to lift the Giants to a Super Bowl XLVI title. Bradshaw will be ready when the Colts open the season at home against Oakland.
The starting line for the regular season is approaching. The bar is set high for both teams.
For the Colts, it will be the quest for another playoff appearance.
"Everyone is accountable in our entire building and Jim (Irsay) expects excellence, and so do we," said Ryan Grigson. "That's why we have all those banners in our facility. Whether it's the preseason or not, our third's against their two's, or the two's against their one's, we all look at it that we just have to improve."
"We always place high expectations on ourselves," said Pagano. "Our guys hold each other to a high standard. We always expect to go out and play. We always expect to go out and win. We're always chasing perfection. (It) doesn't matter what it is, preseason, regular season, post-season. That's our goal is to go out and play to win each and every ballgame."