1. Shane Steichen found answers for the Colts' offense.
A few things to set the stage before diving into Steichen's gameplanning and playcalling on Sunday:
|Stat||Browns defense, Weeks 1-6||Colts offense vs. Browns, Week 7|
|Total yards/game||200.4 (1st in NFL)||456|
|Yards per play||3.8 (1st in NFL)||6.8|
|First downs allowed/game||9 (1st in NFL)||20|
|Scoring drive percentage||18.8% (1st in NFL)||37.5%|
|Points allowed/game||15.4 (5th in NFL)||38|
One notable way Steichen attacked Jim Schwartz's Browns defense, which was on a historic pace entering Week 7: Pre-snap motion.
Per Pro Football Focus, the Colts put at least one player in motion on 37 of their 67 plays. Six of the Colts' eight explosive plays (three runs and three passes) came on plays with motion; the Colts averaged 4.7 yards per cary with motion and 3.1 yards per carry without motion against a stout Browns front. Quarterback Gardner Minshew completed eight of 10 passes for 103 yards with motion, too.
"I think it helped us in a big way," tight end Mo Alie-Cox said. "Just seeing — we were trying to get man/zone indicators to see what they were in."
The Browns entered Week 7 playing man defense at a top-10 rate. By using motion with players like wide receiver Josh Downs, who laughed he "definitely" ran more pre-snap motion that he ever has, Steichen forced Cleveland's defense to either travel a defender with the player in motion (man) or pass him off (zone).
It also forced the Browns' defense to communicate and manipulated the number of defenders in the box, either by sending a nickel corner out or dropping a safety down to adjust to the player in motion.
"Any time you motion, the defense has to communicate on the other side of the football," Steichen said. "It was just something we used that week just to get the communication over there on the defense to try to help the offensive line create some holes up front."
This isn't necessarily new to the Colts' offense this year, which averaged about 30 plays with pre-snap motion per game entering Week 7. What feels notable is how little the Philadelphia Eagles, with Steichen as offensive coordinator, used motion in 2022 – about 21 plays per game, the third-lowest rate in the NFL. Steichen's offensive philosophy isn't rigid; he's instead tailoring it to best suit his players.
"We want to do a hell of a job of trying to put our guys in position to make plays," Steichen said at his introductory press conference in February.
On Sunday, against one of the best defenses in the NFL, Steichen and his coaching staff found ways to do that.
"We know this is probably the best defense we'll see all year," Alie-Cox said. "Last week we didn't do a good job running the ball against the looks (the Jacksonville Jaguars) were giving us. We knew this week we had to come in and make adjustments and find ways to use the strength of our offense."
2. Turnovers, again, were the Colts' downfall.
Minshew lost three fumbles and threw an interception, and the Browns turned those turnovers into 17 points: One offensive touchdown, one defensive touchdown and a field goal. The last fumble came with only a few seconds left in the game.
In a game in which the Colts held Cleveland's offense to 4.4 yards per play, those turnovers proved costly – just like in the Colts' Week 6 loss to the Jaguars, in which Jacksonville scored 17 points off turnovers and won by that margin, 37-20.
"We put the defense in a bunch of bad spots in the first and second half with those turnovers," Alie-Cox said. "We know as an offense, we're undefeated this year when we have zero turnovers. So our goal every week is to just try to take care of the ball."
The Colts didn't turn the ball over in wins over the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans; both losses to the Jaguars and Sunday's loss to the Browns were defined by losing the turnover battle 3-2, 4-1 and 4-2, respectively. The Colts and Los Angeles Rams each had one turnover in the Rams' overtime win in Week 4.
A particularly tough turnover on Sunday was Minshew's second fumble, which was knocked out by Browns defensive end Myles Garrett and recovered in the end zone by linebacker Tony Fields II for a touchdown late in the second quarter. Steichen called a play on which wide receiver Alec Pierce ran an out-and-up double move on the outside, and while Pierce flashed open, Garrett was too quick off the line and got to Minshew before he could throw the ball.
"I got aggressive," Steichen said. "Instead of just throwing something quick, tried to do a double move back there. Like I said after the game, that was on me."
3. Kenny Moore II continued to build on a strong season.
Moore had his second consecutive game with three tackles for a loss, bringing his season total to seven – a new career high set before the halfway point of 2023. He now has 46 tackles, putting him on pace for 112, which would be one shy of Logan Ryan's cornerback record of 113, per Pro Football Reference. And Moore recorded a sack and a half against the Browns, too.
Both of Moore's tackles totals and tackles for a loss total are tops among cornerbacks in 2023. He's allowing 9.1 yards per reception, tied for seventh-lowest among cornerbacks. And he continues to be a tone-setting player within Gus Bradley's defense, both on and off the field.
"I just tell Kenny, he just inspires me," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "He plays so hard, he puts so much work in, he's such a great leader not only for the back end but for our whole team. Whenever you see a guy like that winning, making the plays we know he can make that he knows he can make, it just fuels everybody. You just want to join the party."
4. JuJu Brents has a quad injury.
Steichen didn't have an update on Brents' status on Monday, but keep an eye out for updates as the Colts begin midweek practices on Wednesday. The Colts have been down a starting cornerback since Dallis Flowers sustained a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 4; the team last Friday claimed cornerback Ameer Speed off waivers from the New England Patriots.
With Brents out, Darrell Baker Jr. stepped in and was flagged for illegal contact and pass interference on consecutive plays with under a minute left – penalties that wiped out a game-sealing EJ Speed strip-sack, then brought the Browns to first-and-goal from the one-yard line. Running back Kareem Hunt punched in the game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal with 19 seconds left.
"They were tough calls," Steichen said. "I'm not going to get into a lot of the officials on that situation. As a team, we've got to do better to not put ourselves in those situations at the end of games – not leave it up to those things at the end. Tough calls, they made them and that's what it was. We've got to move on and learn from them."
5. Josh Downs had a career game – again.
In games Minshew has either started or played the majority of snaps, Downs – who had five catches for a career high 125 yards with a touchdown against the Browns – is averaging:
- 7.4 targets
- 5.6 receptions
- 67.4 yards
He also now has touchdowns in consecutive games.
We've seen a strong Minshew-to-Downs connection since the early days of training camp, and it's translated into regular season production. Downs also is expanding his responsibilities: He lined up wide on 36 percent of his snaps against the Browns, setting a new season high.