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Colts vs. Browns preview

12/4/2014

When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday. Where: FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland TV: CBS.

Quarterback talk dominated the early week for the Cleveland Browns. But as that quieted, the reality that they had Isaiah Crowell, Jordan Cameron and Miles Austin on the team's injury report set in.

That means Brian Hoyer could be without a top running back, receiver and tight end Sunday (he'll definitely be without Austin), making a tough matchup that much tougher.

Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts prepared in relative calm, with the full knowledge that if the Colts win and Houston loses they would clinch the AFC South.

Browns reporter Pat McManamon and Colts reporter Mike Wells break down Sunday's game.

McManamon: The Browns' quarterback spot has been discussed ad nauseam all week. Let's look at it from the Colts' view to see if the Browns gain anything with their decision. Is Indianapolis' defense more vulnerable to a dropback passer or a mobile guy who will run?

Wells: Having Hoyer start definitely helps the Colts because Johnny Manziel's mobility and ability to make things happen with his feet would cause problems for the defense. There would have been a lot of unknown in facing Manziel because of his limited playing time. The Colts lost three games this season to some of the best pocket passers in Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. Hoyer is a dropback passer, but he's nowhere near the same class as the three quarterbacks I just mentioned.

I think the Colts are catching Hoyer at a vulnerable time. Yes, he's 7-5 this season as the starter, but he's also thrown six interceptions in the past three games and you have to wonder how much he'll be looking over his shoulder if the offense gets off to a slow start and the crowd gets restless and starts asking for Manziel.

When you look at Mike Pettine's decision to stick with Hoyer, do you think it'll backfire on the Browns because Manziel replaced him in Buffalo and the fans seem eager for him to be the starter?

McManamon: Not if he plays well and the Browns compete. I think Hoyer has cachet in Cleveland, though it's been really difficult to hold off the Manziel mania. Hoyer simply has to play well, protect the ball and score points. Because to win this game the Browns will have to outscore the Colts' potent offense. An early interception or early struggles will lead to grumbling and antsiness from the crowd, but this is the same crowd that was chanting "Brian Hoy-er" in the home win over Pittsburgh and road win over Cincinnati, and that had "Hoyer country" signs all over town. Winning and a good game will be the fallback for everything.

How do you expect Hoyer to fare against the Colts' defense? What is the major issue he must address?

Wells: So much of how the Colts play defensively will be predicated on the availability of cornerback Vontae Davis. Davis' status is in question after he suffered a concussion against Washington last weekend. The Colts are at their best when Davis and fellow cornerback Greg Toler are on the field together because it allows them to blitz more since their cornerbacks are more than capable of holding their own one-on-one on the outside. The best chance for the Browns to win will be if they're able to establish a running game because the Colts are 29th in the league in yards per carry at 4.5. That will definitely open the passing game and take pressure off of Hoyer.

You covered Trent Richardson there in Cleveland. What was the indication, or was there any indication, that he would struggle in the NFL? The goal for the Colts was to team him with Andrew Luck for years to come. It obviously has not been a smooth transition to Indianapolis for Richardson.

McManamon: The year I remember for Richardson was his rookie season, when he played for a lousy team and with broken ribs yet still had 950 yards and 11 touchdowns. Under Pat Shurmur, Richardson was a productive player -- and in a road loss to the Bengals he produced eye-opening, explosive plays. Where that went in Year 2 is a major mystery. Joe Banner gave up on Richardson, trading him for the No. 1 pick that turned into Manziel. Richardson seemed to lose his vision, his burst and his ability to make people miss. Truthfully, in his first season there was little indication that his career would ever turn south the way it has. Everyone not named Banner in Cleveland was caught off guard by the trade.

There are so many ex-Browns in Indianapolis, but the one I'm most interested in is Rob Chudzinski, who was near shell-shock when he was given one year in Cleveland. How is his frame of mind, what have been his contributions and where do you see him helping Andrew Luck?

Wells: Chudzinski obviously has an offensive background, but the Colts aren't limiting him to that side of the ball. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and quarterback coach Clyde Christensen work with Luck the most. Coach Chuck Pagano values Chudzinski's opinion in all areas -- offense, defense and special teams. Pagano will definitely listen to Chudzinski during preparation for this weekend's game. "Great resource, it's a great resource," Pagano said. Hamilton is bound to get a head coaching job at some point -- college or NFL -- so if that happens Chudzinski is an easy logical choice to slide into that role.

We could sit here and talk Manziel and Richardson all day, but how is Josh Gordon's return going? The Colts could be without cornerback Davis (concussion), who is playing at a Pro Bowl level, this weekend. Is their offense built to where Hoyer will constantly feed Gordon if he gets it going early?

McManamon: Gordon has been a disappointment, which is weird to say given he has 15 catches and 195 yards in two games. In the second game, Gordon seemed almost disconnected from the offense. He gave up on a pass, went the wrong way on another and was directly responsible for the first interception Hoyer threw. It's to the point that folks are wondering if Hoyer is focusing too much on Gordon because he seems so disconnected. But with Austin out for the season with a kidney laceration, the Browns absolutely need Gordon to contribute. He has special skills, big-play ability and the talent to change a game. I fully expected Gordon to come back energized and motivated, not to atone for the 10-game suspension but to say to the world that he still has it and that what he does means something to him. Instead, he's been ... odd. He has so much talent, though, that even when he's odd or disconnected he has the ability to change a game.