The last time the Browns faced the Indianapolis Colts without quarterback Peyton Manning, they won. That was in 1994, four years before Manning entered the NFL and became the face of the franchise.
The Browns will finally get another crack at the Colts sans Manning on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Manning’s streak of 227 consecutive starts, including the postseason, ended this past weekend after he had another surgery on his neck a few days earlier.
Kerry Collins, who’s in his 17th NFL season, joined the Colts on Aug. 25 to fill in for Manning, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection. But the Colts (0-1) are still adjusting to life without Manning, as evidenced by their 34-7 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 1.
Meanwhile, the Browns (0-1) are trying to rebound from their 27-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. It won’t be easy, even with Manning out of the picture.
The Browns have lost their past five games against the Colts, including the most recent meeting between the two teams in 2008. The Colts are looking for their eighth victory in their past nine home openers. They haven’t started a season with a record of 0-2 since 1998, when Manning was a rookie.
Mike Chappell, who covers the Colts for the Indianapolis Star, discussed the Colts’ attempt to move on without Manning and their upcoming game against the Browns in the following question-and-answer session:
Q: How have your expectations for the Colts changed after learning Manning is out indefinitely?
A: Anyone’s expectations had to be readjusted after the second shoe dropped and Manning underwent a third neck procedure in less than 19 months last Thursday. He might return at some point, perhaps mid- to late-December. More likely, he’s out for the season. No quarterback has been given so much latitude at the line of scrimmage than Manning. No team has been more dependent on a quarterback, on one player, than the Colts. Whenever Manning is under center, the Colts have a chance to win. They’re a playoff contender, even a Super Bowl contender. Without him, they are .500 at best, and that’s if everything falls their way.
Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the team?
A: The problem is the strengths are predicated on Manning being in the lineup. The Colts have a deep talent pool at the skill positions with receivers Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez, when he’s healthy, along with tight end Dallas Clark and running back Joseph Addai. In time, Kerry Collins might be able to utilize the options around him. But he’s not there yet. Compounding Collins’ transition to the starting lineup is an offensive line that features new starters at four positions. It did not have a good day at Houston, allowing three sacks and way too much pressure. Also, the defense is built to play with a lead. That allows defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to get after the quarterback. When the Colts are forced to play from behind, the pass rush loses its bite. That also exposes the biggest weakness, which is work against the run. It simply is too inconsistent.
Q: Which players are poised to have breakout seasons?
A: That’s a tough one. I would have said Garcon, but I no longer expect that with Manning out of the lineup. He and Collins haven’t had the time to work on their timing. Second-year defensive end Jerry Hughes, a 2010 first-round draft pick, needs to step up, but he was inactive in the opener. He’s been a disappointment.
Q: What should the Browns worry about most when they face the Colts?
A: Probably the Colts playing in front of a raucous crowd and looking to atone for their poor play at Houston. This is a veteran team, and it has a ton of pride. I don’t expect this team to make the playoffs this season without Manning, but I expect it to be more competitive than it was against the Texans.
Q: In which area or areas might the Colts be at a disadvantage against the Browns?
A: If the Browns are able to control the line of scrimmage and run the ball, they’ll give the Colts fits. The Colts are hot and cold against the run, and if Cleveland can establish that phase of the game behind Peyton Hillis, it can pull off a big road win. If the Browns fall behind, it would give Freeney and Mathis a chance to make game-changing plays.
Read Mike Chappell’s coverage of the Colts at indystar.com.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at browns.ohio.com.