Coming into their Week Two match-up, the Cleveland Browns and the Indianapolis Colts share a sense of urgency that is unheard of at this point in the season. With their Super Bowl window quickly closing and without Peyton Manning, the Colts are in full-on panic mode after their beatdown at the hands of the Houston Texans last week.
On the other side of the ball, Pat Shurmur and the rest of the Browns need a win after their demoralizing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, who in the preseason were widely viewed as one of the bottom-feeders of the league. After their game on Sunday, one team will leave with new-found optimism. The other will be forced to go back to the drawing board.
0-2 is never a good feeling. Since 1990, only about 13% of teams that have started 0-2 went on to make the playoffs. This statistic has to be much more troubling for the Colts than it is for the Browns, who weren’t realistically expected to contend for a playoff spot this season. However, nobody likes to be told that they are out of the game, and every team in the league competes with the playoffs and the Super Bowl in mind. The stakes are high for each side, and 0-2 will leave some players questioning whether they’ll ever win a game.
Fortunately, the Browns seem to have more going for them right now than the Colts. Colt McCoy should be the best quarterback on the field, and he’ll be throwing on a defense that allowed 34 points, although the Colts did intercept Matt Schaub twice. Additionally, they allowed 164 yards on the ground, which means the Browns will be pounding Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty all game.
On defense, the Browns should attempt to exploit the right side of the Colts’ offensive line, which right now seems as patchwork as the Browns’. Joseph Addai and Delone Carter combined for only 64 yards rushing, so the defensive line will work to suppress a Colts rushing attack that’s sure to receive more emphasis while Kerry Collins continues to familiarize himself with the playbook.
This is a crossroads game, plain and simple. Either the Browns will become the team that couldn’t beat the Colts without Manning, or the Colts will become the team that gave the Browns their first win of the season. No team in the league would desire either distinction. Expect emotions to run high as two teams fight to prove they’re still relevant.