The Browns need to enter smash-mouth mode this weekend because running the ball is the key to conquering the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts’ defense is built to pressure quarterbacks and force them to take sacks and commit turnovers. However, it’s not designed to limit running backs.
The West Coast offense of Browns coach Pat Shurmur is supposed to rely on a quick-strike passing game. But Shurmur insists running the ball is an important part of his philosophy.
It’s time to prove it.
Last week, the Houston Texans had 41 carries for 167 yards and two touchdowns in their 34-7 thrashing of the Colts. The Texans’ dominance in the running game wasn’t surprising, either.
For the past three seasons, the Colts have been vulnerable against ground attacks. Their defense ranked 25th in 2010 (127 yards per game) and 24th in 2009 (126.5 yards per game) and 2008 (122.9 yards per game) against the run.
Now Gary Brackett, the Colts’ starting middle linebacker and defensive captain, is out with a left shoulder injury. Strongside linebacker Pat Angerer is expected to replace Brackett by sliding to the middle of the defense.
Considering all of the factors, Browns running back Peyton Hillis should rush for more than 100 yards, a feat he hasn’t accomplished since Dec. 12.
In his past four games (including the final three from last season), Hillis has run for 59, 35, 13 and 57 yards. In other words, the Madden cover boy is overdue for a big game, and his best opportunity will present itself Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Browns had 26 carries for 83 yards (3.2 average) in their season-opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Hillis had 17 carries for 57 yards (3.4 average) and backup running back Montario Hardesty had five carries for 18 yards (3.6 average). Both must receive a larger workload in Week 2.
The Browns (0-1) will continue to operate with a makeshift offensive line against the Colts (0-1). Tony Pashos, the projected starter at right tackle, is out with a left ankle injury. Coach Shurmur said Artis Hicks is expected to start in Pashos’ spot, but Oniel Cousins will rotate with Hicks during the game. Meanwhile, rookie Jason Pinkston will continue to start at left guard in place of Eric Steinbach, who’s out for the season after undergoing back surgery.
The Browns should pick one right tackle and stick with him until Pashos returns. Hicks has the edge over Cousins as a pass blocker and should get the nod.
The team’s situation at right tackle, though, shouldn’t prevent it from pounding the Colts with the run. There are no excuses for an alternative approach.
“I believe we can run the ball anytime, all the time,” Browns offensive line coach George Warhop said. “And I don’t care who’s in there. That’s just my mentality and my philosophy. So I think as we get going as an offense, I think we’ll be able to run the ball and run it efficiently.”
If Warhop is right, the Browns won’t fall into the Colts’ patented trap. The Colts always hope to capture an early lead, so they can force their opponents to pass. When that happens, Pro Bowl defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis receive more opportunities to rush the passer and often take control of the game as a result.
But with quarterback Peyton Manning sidelined after undergoing his third neck surgery in less than 19 months, getting an early lead shouldn’t be as easy as it usually is for the Colts. And if Hillis and Hardesty are effective, Freeney and Mathis can be neutralized.
Using a rushing attack to dictate the tempo of the game will only make life easier for Browns quarterback Colt McCoy. In Week 1, McCoy was not in sync with his targets for most of the game, including crunch time.
“Me specifically, yeah, I can be a lot more efficient,” McCoy said. “I think collectively as a group we can be more efficient. The thing we’ve harped on in meetings is you can’t play behind the chains on first and second down and expect to convert third-and-long.”
Especially against the Colts.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at browns.ohio.com.