INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich recently sat down with Colts.com's Matt Taylor to give his final thoughts on Sunday's 2020 Week 5 matchup against the Cleveland Browns. What did Reich have to say about the challenge going up against the NFL's top rushing attack, neutralizing Myles Garrett off the edge and limiting the mistakes against an opportunistic defense?
Here's that entire conversation, which you can also listen to above:
Taking a quick look back to last week, what impressed you the most about your team's ability to grind out a road win over a talented Bears team?
Reich: "Just how we played winning football. It wasn't the perfect game, but we made the plays we needed to. On offense, we ran the ball well enough at times to make some first downs and burn some clock when we needed to, especially in the third quarter; made some huge third down conversions — Philip (Rivers) had a couple really big third down conversions. That was good. Obviously special teams really was a bright spot, again. And then defensively we were good start to finish. So every game takes on its own flavor, and we were really happy to go up there and get that win up at Soldier Field this week, and now we've gotta carry that forward and start all over and go get this one against the Browns."
You really ran the ball well during that seven-minute drive late in the fourth quarter, but I know you want to see that translate to the entire game. Where are you with the running game so far through four games?
Reich: "Yeah, I think we've done a lot of positive things. You know, I'm a coach, so it's never good enough, and we could be undefeated and averaging six yards a carry and I'd be saying, 'Hey, we need to get better. We just need to get better.' Because there is always room for improvement. So, yeah, we're a little bit below where we want to be in some statistical categories, but there's really only one stat that matters, and that's are we winning ballgames? And so I'm confident that as the year progresses that we're going to continue to make strides in the run game. You know, this week will be a good challenge. This defensive front is very stout against the run, so this will be a good test for us to try to get back on track."
Your top back in the running game, Jonathan Taylor, the rookie out of Wisconsin, what's been your assessment of his play here with the first quarter of the season in the books?
Reich: "You know, (I) love Jonathan. Just feel like he's doing a great job and running with more and more confidence every week and conviction and seeing it, understanding the blocking schemes, doing a great job in protection. He's a pro — he's obviously a young rookie player, but he's got a lot of maturity to him, handles himself like a pro, physically has all the gifts, and he's doing a great job for us and I think he'll continue to get better."
It's going to be good-on-good when the Browns have the ball Sunday; they have the top-ranked rushing attack in the NFL, averaging more than 200 yards a game, and the Colts have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. How much is your defense looking forward to this challenge on Sunday to prove it's legit?
Reich: "I think they're really looking forward to it. We've got a lot of respect for Cleveland. The numbers that they've put up running the football are obviously legit numbers, and so it'll be a great challenge for us. And I think when you get good-on-good, that's what this league is all about. I mean, it's exciting. I can't wait; I can't wait to get up there and see our defense against their rushing attack. And they'll make some plays — this is the NFL; there's good players on both sides. So what's really important for us, though, is when we have a breakdown — and hopefully there's not many — is you've gotta be able to bounce back the next play. So we know they're a high-powered, explosive offense; we've got a great defense, so I can't wait for the matchup on Sunday."
Talking about the Browns' running game, what components make it so effective, and then how do you slow it down without your top linebacker in Darius Leonard?
Reich: "They're really good at the zone scheme. Bill Callahan's a great offensive line coach; he's done a good job of running the football wherever he's been, coaches it up real well. But they're not just a zone team; they run a lot of gap-scheme stuff that they're good at, as well. So they make it hard on you, because they have a variety of schemes that they're good at. So we have to play disciplined, aggressive football. And we have plans, we have keys — how do you identify your keys that really trigger the assignment and what we need to get done on defense? So it's a question of how fast and how well we execute on our keys in order to stop their run game."
If Cleveland does start to put up some points on offense like they have of late, how tough is it to fight the urge as the playcaller to want to get in a shootout with them?
Reich: "Well, you're taking it one play at a time on offense. And you are feeling the flow of the game, and if it ends up being where there's more points scored than some of the games that we've had recently, you can't force those points. The way you score points is executing, whether it's a run or a pass. So (if) they score a touchdown or two, it doesn't mean, 'Hey, we're gonna get in a shootout' as far as throwing the football. If we've gotta get in a shootout to win the game, then that's what we'll do as far as scoring points, but when we say shootout, that doesn't necessarily mean throwing it every play. We've still got to maintain a mix. They've got very good pass rushers. This is not a team that you want to have to try to throw 40-plus passes against — it's just not the way you want to handle it. You want to mix it up."
Cleveland's defense is really good at taking the ball away; in fact, the Browns rank first in the NFL in takeaways and also points off turnovers. What makes that bunch so opportunistic?
Reich: "Myles Garrett, No. 1, he's a sack-fumble king. He just has a knack for getting it out. So we've gotta do a good job there. They're very opportunistic. When you get a team that takes the ball away, you know they work on it, they practice it and then you've got talented players, and they have all those things. So I think we do a good job on offense of protecting it by the way we carry it when we're running it, or when we catch and run, and Philip is going to have to be really sharp in the pocket, have two hands on the ball at all times and do everything we can to avoid that strip-sack fumble."
You talked about Myles Garrett; he is the co-leader in the NFL in sacks and has three straight games with a strip sack. How big of a challenge is it going to be against him, especially without Anthony Castonzo at left tackle?
Reich: "It's a big challenge. He's a great player. But we're a very good protection-oriented team, and it's not just one guy. Yeah, A.C.'s out, but No. 1 we have a lot of confidence in Le'Raven (Clark); No. 2 is we say this all the time in our offense, our protection plan involves everybody. Yes, you've got to win your one-on-one battles, but we're gonna chip help and use the backs and tight ends, we're gonna mix up the calls, we're gonna run it, we'll run play action — there's a lot of different things you can do to try to neutralize a great pass rusher. He still might get one or two — he's a great player — but the thing is you've got to be able to overcome if they do make a play, and thankfully we've got the guys on offense who mentally and physically have the ability to do that."
Finally, what are the keys to the game in your eyes to come away with a fourth straight win on Sunday?
Reich: "Yeah, I mean, we've got to stop their running attack. That's No. 1. They lead the NFL, so we've gotta stop them running the football. And then offensively, like you just alluded to, we've got to be smart with the football. We can't turn it over. We want to win the turnover battle. And that's going to go a long way. And then offensively, we need to score touchdowns in the red zone; when we're down in the red zone — and hopefully we're down there a bunch — we need to convert down there and limit the field goals and score touchdowns when we get down in there."