INDIANAPOLIS – From week one to week two, there were improvements by the Colts defense.
The Colts surrendered 167 rushing yards in the opener at Houston, with the Texans owning a 4.1 rushing average. Indianapolis knew it would be facing another stiff challenge in the Cleveland ground game.
The Colts, playing without starting linebacker Gary Brackett and reserve linebacker Ernie Sims entering the game, lost defensive tackle Fili Moala to an ankle injury in the opening half. The Colts kept the ground game in check most of the day, allowing Cleveland 106 yards on 34 attempts, a 3.1 average.
Indianapolis made its share of the plays before Cleveland tallied 13 points in the fourth quarter to earn a 27-19 win in Lucas Oil Stadium in front of more than 65,000 spectators.
Results are measured in victories and while the defense kept the Browns offense in check, Colts defenders know improvement is good, but more is needed.
Player after player indicated that after the contest.
"We just came out and tried to make sure (Browns running back) Peyton Hillis didn't beat us," said defensive end Robert Mathis. "We tried to wrap him up the best we could. They came in with a balanced attack that they ran pretty good. They came out with a 'W.' "
Indianapolis held Cleveland on four-of-seven third-down conversion attempts in the first half. Cleveland, however, trailed in the second quarter, 6-0, and converted four consecutive third downs to earn a 14-9 advantage at halftime. Indianapolis limited Cleveland to 17 yards on five first-quarter rushes and to 36 yards on 13 attempts in the opening half.
After surrendering a sack to Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney on its second possession of the game, Cleveland used a shorter passing attack mixed with motion and play-action to attack. Quarterback Colt McCoy hit 22-of-32 passes for 211 yards and one touchdown. He was 13-of-17 for 142 yards in the opening half. He teamed with tight end Evan Moore on a 16-yard scoring pass for his club's first score, then found wide receiver Joshua Cribbs on a 25-yard play to set up the go-ahead score, a one-yard burst by Hillis, with 15 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
"They did a great job of dialing up some plays, some very unexpected plays," said Freeney, whose early 14-yard sack was the lone one for Indianapolis on the afternoon.
"We get that a lot. I'm not sure you want to drop back a lot and let us take aim," said Mathis of the short-yardage passing game opponents employ against the Colts frequently. "They did a good job of mixing it up. (Our) hat's are off to them. We play together, we stay together. We just have to pick each other up. It's back to the drawing board for next week. We're not the team we're portraying ourselves as right now. We just have to stay together and get back to work."
Safety Antoine Bethea recovered a fumble on the first Cleveland possession in the second half. The takeaway resulted in kicker Adam Vinatieri's fourth field goal of the game, cutting the margin to 14-12 midway through the period. Bethea then defended a third-down pass on the next possession, giving Indianapolis possession again.
Bethea and the defense kept battling in the fourth quarter. The club made a defensive stand early in the period when Cleveland had a first-and-goal at the Colts' four-yard line. Two possessions later, running back Peyton Hillis broke a 24-yard scoring run with four minutes remaining to give Cleveland a 24-12 lead. It was the lone Browns rush exceeding 10 yards on the afternoon. Cleveland added another field goal following a turnover in Indianapolis territory.
"We just need to critique ourselves, not to take anything away from our opponent," said Bethea, who had eight tackles in addition to his fumble recovery and pass defended. "We have to work on things ourselves, work on things we can do to minimize some of the plays the other team is making. That's all we can do. We will correct ourselves, and we will be all right.
"I think we did a pretty decent job but at the end of the day, it's our job to keep the other team out of the end zone. They put 27 on us. There are still things we can work on. We left some play out there. We gave up some big plays, and, obviously, we don't want to do that. As a defense, we have some things to work on and improve."
Linebacker Pat Angerer started for Brackett in the middle. He had eight tackles against Cleveland after having 13 in the opener at Houston. He also forced a fumble against Cleveland. The second-year linebacker saw his club make strides in the second game. He noted the strides, but also cited eight third-down conversions allowed.
"We wanted to get the 'W', but we made a lot of improvements from last week," said Angerer. "We'll keep fighting and keep improving. That's all you can do. It was a couple of plays here and there. You want to get off the field on third downs. At times we didn't, but at times we played well. You have to get off the field on third downs. That will make or break you. We kept fighting. I can't say enough about the guys in the huddle. We'll get better. I will promise you that."
Angerer is the type of player who never is content with a performance. He maintains a critical eye on his play and represents the standard of victory that matters to his organization. He knows there is football ahead, and he expects the challenge to be met.
"There were a couple of plays here and there that changed the pace of the game," said Angerer. "For the most part, I think we improved from last week. We will continue to get better and improve. You're disappointed, but you're not discouraged. We have a good group of guys here, they will keep fighting and keep working."
Bethea also maintained perspective for where the team is after two season-opening outings.
"The situation is what it is, we're 0-2," said Bethea. "We need to critique ourselves and keep working. Hopefully next week we'll get in the win column."