The Browns and Indianapolis Colts could start a support group for young NFL teams traveling an arduous road in hopes of reclaiming respectability.
As the Browns undergo a change in leadership at the very top — Jimmy Haslam was unanimously approved as the team’s new owner Tuesday — the Colts are trying to endure a far more serious type of adversity.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano is being treated for acute promyelocytic leukemia. A former Browns assistant who guided the secondary from 2001-04, Pagano requested that Bruce Arians, who served as the Browns’ offensive coordinator from 2001-03, serve as interim coach in his absence this season.
After the Colts revealed Pagano’s condition to the public at the beginning of this month, the team rallied behind an inspirational email from him and the organization’s ChuckStrong campaign to stun the Green Bay Packers 30-27 in Week 5. It truly was an inspirational story.
The momentum, however, didn’t carry over to Sunday.
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, misfired on several throws and finished with two interceptions, the Colts were outgained on the ground 252 yards to 41 and were plagued by letdowns on special teams. As a result, the Colts crumbled 35-9 to the host New York Jets.
Meanwhile, the Browns finally snapped their 11-game losing streak with a 34-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns (1-5) will try to start a streak of another kind when they face the Colts (2-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Mike Chappell covers the Colts for the Indianapolis Star. He discussed the team in the following question-and-answer session:
Q: What effect has Pagano’s situation had on the team since it became public?
A: “Obviously, there was an initial period of shock. The players found out about Chuck’s situation at their Monday, Oct. 1, team meeting. The week leading up to the Green Bay game involved divided focus — worrying about their coach and preparing for the Packers. It was clear during the upset of Green Bay the players were highly motivated to present their ailing coach a game ball. Mission accomplished. Moving forward, the team has taken a business-as-usual approach. Players, coaches and Pagano’s support staff have kept in contact with him, but the players and coaches have been able to go about their preparation without a hitch.”
Q: How would you characterize Luck’s season through Week 6?
A: “The simple answer is he’s playing like a highly touted rookie. He has had moments of brilliance, and moments when he’s made bad decisions and thrown bad passes. I’m guessing every rookie quarterback this year is dealing with a similar learning curve. The good news for the franchise is that Luck hasn’t dwelled on the low moments. He’s tried to learn from them and improve each week. The main problem is the team is having to rely too much on Luck. The running game has been spotty at best, which is forcing Luck to attempt an average of 44 passes per game. That’s too many, especially given the erratic play of his offensive line.”
Q: The Colts have had problems running and stopping the run. What are the main reasons for the troubles in those categories?
A: “It starts up front on both sides, and injuries have been a contributing factor. The projected starting offensive line has yet to be together. Left guard Joe Reitz has yet to play because of a knee injury. Center Samson Satele and right tackle Winston Justice have missed time. Now starting running back Donald Brown is out after undergoing knee surgery. This wouldn’t be a top running game with everyone in the lineup, but it could be passable. Now it’s hit and miss, and mostly miss. The run defense has just been bad. The line hasn’t asserted itself and support from the ends and linebackers has been spotty. The Jets ran for 252 yards, tied for the eighth-highest total allowed by the Colts since 1984. Injuries contributed as linebackers Robert Mathis (knee) and Pat Angerer (foot), end Fili Moala (knee) and backup nose tackle Martin Tevaseu (ankle) missed the Jets game. Missed tackles also were a huge problem against the Jets.”
Q: What should the Browns worry about when they face the Colts?
A: “The Colts will try to establish the run behind Vick Ballard and [Copley High School graduate] Delone Carter, but their success will ride on Luck’s ability to spread the ball around. This team will go as far as he and the offense take it. Luck already has developed a good rapport with veteran receiver Reggie Wayne and is making good use of rookie tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Again, the Colts aren’t likely to win this year because of their defense. It’s all on the offense.”
Q: Can you break down what the Colts must do well to defeat the Browns?
A: “Limit the run and force rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden to make plays. That was the goal last week against the Jets, and they failed to make quarterback Mark Sanchez do anything. Weeden has played well at times this season, but he’s still a rookie and prone to mistakes. The pass rush needs to get in his face, limit his ability to make reads and force him to throw before he’s ready. If Cleveland is able to establish the run, it could be another long day.”
Read Mike Chappell’s coverage of the Colts at indystar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mchappell51. Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.