Game Overview ::
By hilow >>
- Deshaun Watson (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday after missing the previous three weeks, including two games and the team’s bye week (Week 5).
- Kareem Hunt (thigh) did not practice Wednesday after forcing his way into 12 carries and three targets in Week 6.
- All-World guard Joel Bitonio returned to a limited practice Wednesday.
- Finally, tight end Harrison Bryant(hip) did not practice for the Browns Wednesday.
- Wide receiver Alec Pierce (shoulder) did not practice Wednesday for the Colts.
- Tight end Kylen Granson was held out Wednesday with a concussion – not a good sign for the first practice of the second week post-concussion.
- The Cleveland defense should assert control over this game environment throughout, likely leading to a run-balanced approach on offense and a muted overall game environment.
How cleveland Will Try To Win ::
The Browns are coming off a game where they held the 49ers to under 30 points for just the third time since Week 13 of the 2022 season, the week Brock Purdy took over as the starting quarterback. In fact, the 17 points scored by the 49ers in Week 6 were the second-fewest during that span, more than just the seven they scored in the Conference Championship game last year against the Eagles. Oh yeah, and they handed San Francisco their first loss of the season… with PJ Walker at quarterback. It is fair to say the identity of this team begins with its defense, a unit holding opponents to just 15.4 points per game (fifth), 3.5 yards per carry (fourth), 4.1 net yards per pass attempt (second), and just 200.4 yards per game (first, by a metric mile). Quarterback Deshaun Watson missed his second consecutive game in Week 6, which, when combined with the team’s bye week, marked the third consecutive week he was out with a shoulder injury. Fifth-round rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson started the first game in his absence, a 28-3 loss to the Ravens where he turned the ball over three times, took four sacks, and had an additional fumble that was recovered by the team. Practice squad quarterback PJ Walker started the second missed game by Watson, last week’s 19-17 win over the then-undefeated 49ers. He was immediately returned to the practice squad after the win but has two more call-ups remaining, meaning he very well could start again this week even though he is not currently on the active roster. Overall, the Browns play with modest pace (23rd-ranked 29.2 seconds per play) and low pass rates (23rd-ranked pass rate over expectation (PROE) and 14th-ranked 34.4 pass attempts per game; 35 pass attempts per game in Watson’s two absences).
The Colts present a relatively neutral matchup both on the ground and through the air, meaning the Browns should not be discouraged from running the offense they otherwise would like to here, which includes a run-balanced attack. Cleveland has run their offense primarily from 11-personnel this season, which has held the lead back to between 50 percent and 65 percent of the offensive snaps in most weeks. Since Nick Chubb’s season-ending knee injury in Week 2, that lead back has been Jerome Ford. Ford has averaged 15.67 running back opportunities per game during that time, including 11 targets over three games. Week 6 also marked the first game without Chubb where the backfield operated in a one-two tandem as opposed to the three-headed timeshare it had been the previous two games, which left Pierre Strong with just one offensive snap. That should keep Ford in the 50-65 percent snap rate range with a better-than-zero chance at 18-20 running back opportunities. The Colts have held opponents to 1.22 yards before contact, and the Browns have underperformed in most run-blocking metrics to this point in the season (1.09 yards before contact but solid 4.5 yards per carry), but the likely return of guard Joel Bitonio should not be underestimated for how it would influence this team’s ability to effectively run the ball. Keep an eye on Kareem Hunt’s status throughout the week, as it could provide additional opportunities for Ford should he ultimately be held out.
As mentioned above, the Browns have run their offense primarily through 11-personnel with about league-average 12-personnel rates. That has left Amari Cooper, Elijah Moore, and Donovan Peoples-Jones with 80-90 percent snap rates in a standard week and tight end David Njoku not far behind in the 70-85 percent snap rate range. Gus Bradley’s prevent defense has blitzed at the lowest rate in the league and has played Cover-3 at the highest rate in the league this season, typically coming from a nickel base. In typical Cover-3 fashion, the Colts cede a high completion rate (67.91 percent) on a moderate defensive aDOT (7.8), which should tilt the majority of the pass volume towards Cooper, Moore, Njoku, and the running backs. Considering Peoples-Jones has just one reception on five targets over the previous two games with Watson, it’s safe to say we can safely avoid him in our player pools this week. Either way, expect the Browns to be forced to march the field while stringing together drives, primarily focused around the running backs and short-to-intermediate area passing to the flat against Bradley’s Cover-3-heavy defense.