INDIANAPOLIS — After facing two conventional pocket passers – Jared Goff and Carson Palmer – in the first two games of the season, the Indianapolis Colts will have to deal with more of a mobile quarterback this Sunday in Cleveland Browns rookie DeShone Kizer.
Kizer, the Browns' second-round draft pick (52nd overall) out of Notre Dame, is a big (6-foot-4, 233 pounds) but mobile player with a strong arm. He's, of course, young – he won't turn 22 until 2018 and Sunday's matchup represents only his third NFL regular season game – but his physical gifts present challenges to the Colts defense, nonetheless.
"He's a dual-threat, so they're doing a lot of things with him," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano told reporters earlier this week. "(On) passing downs when he drops back, if nothing is there he's a threat to extend and make plays down the field. He's got arm talent and he can run for the first down. He's an athletic guy who has got good speed and good size."
Results have been mixed so far for Kizer and the Browns (0-2).
The rookie signal caller impressed in his NFL debut, a game in which the Browns played the Pittsburgh Steelers tough in a 21-18 loss. Kizer threw an interception, but also scored on a rushing touchdown early and tossed a three-yard touchdown pass to Corey Coleman that, following a successful two-point conversion, brought the Browns to within three points with 3:36 left in the fourth quarter.
Kizer's second start wasn't as successful: 15-for-31 (48.4 percent) passing for 182 yards and three interceptions, plus a lost fumble in the Browns' 24-10 loss to the Ravens. To make matters worse, Kizer left the game for a portion of the contest with a migraine.
It was a tough outing, but rookie quarterbacks are typically expected to have days like these — growing-pain performances — in their first year.
"That was one of my worst performances ever in any sport I've ever played," Kizer said on Monday, via ClevelandBrowns.com. "I'm definitely going to try and make that the biggest learning experience I possibly can and grow as much as I can from it."
Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson believes his rookie quarterback will, in fact, grow from the experience, and his support for the 21 year old has not wavered.
"He's our starting quarterback," Jackson told Indianapolis media members via conference call on Wednesday. "We're not wavering on that at all. We expect him to go and improve this week and play well."
Colts safety Matthias Farley knows what Kizer is capable of when he plays well. The two were teammates at Notre Dame for two seasons (2014-15), including Kizer's breakout sophomore year – 2,880 passing yards, 62.9 completion percentage, 21 touchdowns, 10 picks and 525 rushing yards for 10 scores.
"DeShone is very, very talented," Farley said on Thursday. "He has a big arm. He's athletic and can run. I played with him in college so I know him pretty well. They've got a lot of weapons as anybody does in the NFL, so you've got to be on your Ps and Qs or you'll get exposed."
No matter who's playing at quarterback, the Colts defense comes into Week 3 with some positive momentum.
The coaching staff has emphasized the "no moral victories" sentiment this week, but the defense's improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 has to be encouraging. The Colts held Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and the rest of the Arizona Cardinals to 16 points (13 points in regulation) one week after allowing 46 points to the Los Angeles Rams. The front seven pressured Palmer throughout the contest, recording four sacks, and a secondary that included three rookie starters (Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston) held its own tallying seven pass breakups, while Hooker also notched his first career interception. And, perhaps most impressively, after two weeks the Colts run defense ranks second in the league against the run (2.52 yards per carry allowed).
The unit will try to build on this success as it faces a new type of challenge on Sunday.
Cleveland Quick Hits:Road Woes:
The Browns have lost 20 of their last 21 games and haven't won a road game since Oct. 11, 2015 (33-30 OT win at Baltimore).Long Ball:
Kizer can do damage with his legs, but the youngster can also stretch the field. The Browns are tied for third in the league with 11 passing plays of 20-plus yards (to eight different receivers) this season.Youth Movement:
As mentioned earlier, Cleveland is starting a rookie quarterback, and he wasn't even one of the team's top three draft choices this spring. The Browns became the fourth team since 2000 to select three players in the first round of the draft (No. 1 DE-Myles Garrett, No. 25 S-Jabrill Peppers and No. 29 TE-David Njoku). As of the 53-man cut down date (Sept. 3), the Browns had the youngest team in the NFL with an average age of 24.2 years. The Colts weren't far behind at 25.6 years (fifth).
Joe Thomas, NFL Ironman:
The Browns have a lot of young, new faces in their lineup, but one face has not change over the past decade. Left tackle Joe Thomas surpassed 10,000 consecutive snaps played and extended the streak to 10,062 in last week's loss to the Ravens. It's the longest active streak in the league and is believed to be the longest in NFL history. The 10-time Pro Bowler has started the past 162 games.