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How the Browns offense can take advantage of the Colts defense

The Colts start two rookie cornerbacks and their defensive anchor is out

Offensive tackle Dawand Jones (79) during a NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns on October 15, 2023 at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns won 19-17.
Offensive tackle Dawand Jones (79) during a NFL football game between the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns on October 15, 2023 at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns won 19-17.

With the big win last week over the 49ers, the Browns' morale has been high. The energy throughout this week was optimistic about what's to come.

The Browns defense has been consistently strong throughout the season and has only allowed points on 12-of-64 drives. However, the Browns offense is still a work in progress.

Looking at their Sunday matchup against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Browns offense will be on the road for only the second time this year. The last time they were on the road was in Pittsburgh in Week 2 and they had a late fourth-quarter fumble, which the Steelers defense recovered for a touchdown.

However, the Colts defense presents different challenges than Pittsburgh's. The Colts defense has given up 1,473 yards to opposing offenses this season, the sixth worst in the NFL. Their defense also allows a completion rate of 67.9 percent, which is the 10th worst in the league.

"There will be opportunities for us to take advantage of their defense for sure," LT Dawand Jones said. "Even though they lost key players, their defensive line is still good, and their defense finds ways to get off the field."

The Colts defense gives up a lot of yards but finds a way to shut down opposing teams once they get into the red zone. Through six games, the Colts defense has allowed an opposing team to score a touchdown 57.9 percent while in the red zone.

"It's definitely a distinctive defense with DC Gus Bradley," OC Alex Van Pelt said. "It's unique in the fact that it's a lot of zone, a lot of weak rotation with the safety, some unique looks where they keep the safety a little bit higher in their single high. They cheat their safety to the field. It's a 60/40 look. It's a distinctive defense and they play it really well. It's not a lot of complexity to it, but they understand where they are in each coverage, call each run fit, and they play it really well."

The Colts have depended on DT DeForest Buckner and DT Grover Stewart for the last four seasons. The duo has played almost every game since 2020, but now the team will have to manage without Stewart, who is suspended for six games due to a violation of the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

This is a blow to the Colts defense, which is now losing a veteran and will have to replace him with Taven Bryan, who is currently listed as the starter at nose tackle. Bryan has been productive in the first six games, recording 12 tackles – including three tackles for a loss – and two sacks.

While the defensive line has to retool, the Colts defensive backs are still figuring things out. They start two rookie cornerbacks, Juju Brents and Jaylon Jones. The defensive backs have allowed an average of 243.7 passing yards per game and have given up seven passing touchdowns so far this season.

They play more of a Cover 3 look than man-to-man, which can benefit young corners. The Browns experienced receivers will look to take advantage of their youth in the secondary.

"They have two rookie corners, so as long as we play our game and worry about executing, we should be fine," WR Amari Cooper said. "Every week, I feel like I will beat my matchup. This week isn't any different."

WR Donovan Peoples-Jones is also excited about the matchup and will look to make himself an open target no matter who is at quarterback.

"We have to go in and execute at a very high level," Peoples-Jones said. "I just got to get where I need to be in the zones, being on time and creating space. They are definitely young on the outside, so hopefully, we do our thing."

The Browns offense should focus on maintaining patience and avoiding unnecessary risks. They have yet to play a game without turning the ball over and giving their opponents easy points. Sunday's matchup is an opportunity for the team to have a clean game. The Colts have eight takeaways this season, eight forced fumbles, of which four were recovered, and four interceptions.

"This is a ball-searching team," OC Alex Van Pelt said of the Colts defense. "They're really good at it. There's a ton of attack on the ball. It's on the film. So, we've definitely showed our guys those plays and made them aware. Coach (Kevin) Stefanski challenged our defensive scout team to get a ball out this week, so they're trying hard to get it out and we're trying hard to protect it."