(TSX / STATS) — The Cleveland Browns are trying to win a game on the road for the first time in nearly two years.
The Indianapolis Colts are trying to staunch the losing until star quarterback Andrew Luck returns from January shoulder surgery.
Both teams are 0-2 heading into their game Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, but are seemingly headed in opposite directions. The Browns acquitted themselves well in the opener in a 21-18 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and then regressed last week, turning the ball over five times in a 24-10 loss to the Ravens. The Colts, 46-9 losers to the Rams in their opener, took Arizona to overtime last week before losing 16-13 on a field goal by ageless Phil Dawson.
Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano will go with Jacoby Brissett as his quarterback for the second straight week. Brissett made his first start for the Colts against the Cardinals after Scott Tolzien struggled in the opener. Although Brissett did not statistically have a great game — 20 of 37 for 216 yards and an interception — he played well enough to give Indianapolis a chance to win.
Brissett has been with the Colts less than a month after being acquired from the Patriots on Sept. 2.
“It’s no easy task, but we will make no excuses,” Pagano said Wednesday when asked how difficult it has been getting Brissett up to speed. “He’s learning a little bit more of the playbook with each day that he’s here. He’s done an excellent job since he’s been in the building.
“He did a nice job last week other than one play (the interception) we would all love to have back, but he’s doing well and our coaches have done a good job with him.”
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer will be making his third straight start for Cleveland. He threw three interceptions and lost the ball on a strip-sack in the loss to the Ravens.
The Browns and Colts have more than young, inexperienced quarterbacks and identical records in common. Both teams will rely on defense Sunday so the quarterbacks don’t have to be heroes. In that regard, Indianapolis comes in with some momentum after holding Arizona to one touchdown and three field goals.
“I feel like we have a lot of young, fast, physical guys that are trying to compete for each other,” Colts rookie safety Malik Hooker said. “I feel like we’re good, but we still have a long way to go. Obviously, starting the season out 0-2 is not what we wanted, but that’s in the past. The only thing we can do now is fix our mistakes and try to get better each week.”
Cleveland will likely have to play a third straight game without rookie defensive end Myles Garrett. The first overall pick in the 2017 draft sprained his ankle Sept. 6. He was out of a walking boot on Wednesday but did not practice.
Slowing the Colts running game means keeping the clamps on Frank Gore. Gore has only 88 yards on 24 carries, but the Browns know he is capable of busting a 100-yard game on any Sunday.
“He’s a downhill runner,” Cleveland middle linebacker Joe Schobert said. “He gets behind his pads and he’s not afraid to try to run you over. They run some outside runs, but as soon as he gets a vertical crease, he turns it up and tries to hit it hard downhill.”
The Browns, likewise, have a capable running back in Isaiah Crowell but have yet to get him going. Part of their problem is they got too far behind too quickly in the first two games to make the run offense a viable threat.
That isn’t what fans expected when Cleveland signed center J.C. Tretter and right guard Kevin Zeitler in free agency. Left guard Joel Bitonio said the Browns are putting special emphasis on running the ball this week.
“That’s when you impose your will on defenses,” Bitonio said. “You can pass block all day and you can do a good job pass blocking, but when you are running the ball and getting four, five, six yards a carry and breaking 12, 14, 16-yard runs, that is when you really feel good about yourself and you know you are kind of doing what you want on offense.”
Both teams are dealing with injuries. Aside from Garrett, linebacker Jamie Collins (concussion) and wide receiver Sammie Coates (hamstring) did not practice for Cleveland on Wednesday.
Colts starting center Ryan Kelly (foot), wide receiver Chester Rogers (hamstring), rookie linebacker Anthony Walker (hamstring), tight end Brandon Williams (calf) and cornerback Quincy Wilson, along with Luck, did not practice with the Colts.