NFL Preview - Cleveland (1-5) at Indianapolis (2-3)|
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The last time that Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden squared
off, they put together an offensive showcase that highlighted just why the two
would soon become starting NFL quarterbacks.
The offense may be harder to come by as professionals this Sunday when Luck
tries to get his hosting Indianapolis Colts to the .500 mark against a Weeden-
led Cleveland Browns team fresh off its first victory of 2012.
Luck threw for nearly 10,000 yards and posted 82 touchdown passes in 38 starts
at Stanford, capping his college career with a a Fiesta Bowl appearance
against Weeden and Oklahoma State on Jan. 12.
The 23-year-old Luck, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, threw for 347 yards
and a pair of scores with one interception in that game, but came out on the
losing end of a 41-38 overtime decision to Weeden, who posted 399 passing
yards while finding college teammate and current Jacksonville Jaguars wide
receiver Justin Blackmon for three touchdowns.
Still, Luck went first overall in the 2012 draft to the Colts, while the
Browns selected the 29-year-old Weeden 22nd overall.
Both rookies have been starters for their clubs since Week 1, with Luck
becoming the first freshman quarterback in NFL history to pass for over 1,200
yards and win at least twice in his first four games.
That second victory came in an emotional 30-27 rally over the Green Bay
Packers on Oct. 7, Indianapolis' first game since learning that head coach
Chuck Pagano had been diagnosed with leukemia and would be away from the club
to get treatment.
The Colts couldn't keep hold of that momentum, getting blown out 35-9 on the
road against the New York Jets last Sunday to fall to 2-3 on the season.
Luck failed to complete a touchdown pass for the first time this season and
was picked off twice while throwing for 280 yards, while Adam Vinatieri
accounted for all of the Colts' offense with three field goals.
Indianapolis will look to once again reverse field this weekend.
"It's just like the win after Green Bay, the loss after New York, you have the
24-hour rule. You have another team coming up so you can't dwell on it. You
fix it, you look at the tape, identify what happened right and wrong and go on
to the next day. We've done that," said Colts interim head coach/offensive
coordinator Bruce Arians.
Weeden has not had the same success as his friend Luck, though he does lead
all NFL rookies with 1,519 passing yards on the season. That is 31 more than
Luck and the two have each hurled seven touchdown passes on the year.
Weeden, who threw for 9,260 yards with 75 touchdowns in his four years at
Oklahoma State and was a second-round pick by the New York Yankees in the 2002
MLB draft, had a pair of 300-yard passing games in his first five starts, all
He finally picked up his first NFL victory last Sunday, throwing for 231 yards
with two touchdowns in a 34-24 triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cleveland snapped an 11-game slide dating back to last season and helped
Weeden out with a two-headed run attack.
Rookie Trent Richardson ran for 37 yards on 14 carries before exiting with a
right rib cartilage injury that has him day-to-day, and Montario Hardesty took
over and posted 56 yards on 15 carries while posting his first NFL touchdown.
"It was huge," Weeden said of Hardesty's contributions. "I told him he's one
of the players of the game. Just filling in for Trent (Richardson), Trent
takes a large load of what we do, but for Montario to come off the bench with
basically very few reps and to play the way he did and put us in the
situations he did, I thought he played great."
Cleveland's defense was also solid, forcing four turnovers including a pick-
six by Sheldon Brown.
The Browns snapped a five-game slide against the Colts with a 27-19 victory at
Indianapolis on Sept. 18 of last season. Cleveland's first victory in this
series since 1994 improved the franchise to 10-5 all-time on the road in this
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Friends Luck and Weeden will aim for early bragging rights this weekend.
Luck has certainly had his ups and downs so far, getting picked off seven
times to his seven touchdown passes while also getting sacked 13 times, eight
of those coming in his last two outings.
"You have to be consistent in this league if you want to be successful. You
can't take a play off, miss a wide-open guy in the end zone or have a decent
drive, have a 3rd-and-1 and miss an open guy," said Luck of his learning
"I think he has all the physical attributes," Browns head coach Pat Shurmur
noted of Luck. "He performed at a high level throughout his high school and
college career. He wasn't a one-year wonder. He's probably a model of
consistency in his personal life, so all the things you're looking for. I'm
sure that's what establishes him."
Luck has benefited from having a veteran target in Reggie Wayne, who has
caught 41 passes so far -- 20 more than Indy's second-leading receiver Donnie
Avery -- for 593 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
The running game has come along much slower and leading rusher Donald Brown is
out again this week due to a knee injury. Rookie Vick Ballard got his first
NFL start in Brown's place last weekend and ran for 25 yards on eight carries.
Luck will have to be aware of a Browns secondary that has already picked off
10 passes, one more than the unit had all of last season. In addition to
Brown's interception versus the Bengals, cornerback Joe Haden and safety Usama
Young also grabbed picks.
Haden was returning from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy
on performance enhancing substances -- reportedly for testing positive for the
prescription drug Adderall -- and picked up his second interception of the
season on a tipped ball.
"I thought Joe did a heck of a job," said Shurmur. "It's not easy, even though
he stayed in shape and he tried to stay into it mentally. I went into this
thinking there might be some rough spots, that he hasn't played in a while and
I thought for the most part he battled. He did a real nice job."
Weeden has also done a nice job while building chemistry with rookie wideout
Josh Gordon, who has five catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns in his
last two games. The duo hooked up for a 71-yard score last weekend, the
second-longest touchdown pass by a Browns rookie quarterback in club history.
"I think it has an effect," Shurmur said of long pass plays. "When you can
complete deep balls, 62 and 71 yards, it has an effect on the defense for
The Browns will try to take advantage of a Colts defensive unit that continues
to be hobbled by injuries. Starters Fili Moala, Robert Mathis and Pat Angerer
all missed the Jets game due to injury and Cory Redding had to leave that loss
in the first half due to knee issue.
That led to the Jets rushing for 252 yards against the Colts, with New York
running back Shonn Greene logging a career-high 161 yards with three
Arians is hoping to get some bodies back this weekend, but isn't giving his
defense a free pass either.
"Injuries cannot be used as an excuse. ... But we had to fit properly and
tackle. We did not fit the right gaps. We were out of our gaps too often and
we missed way too many tackles, especially in the backfield."
This interesting matchup will likely fly under the radar due to the struggles
of both teams, but those who do check it out shouldn't expect a repeat of the
Fiesta Bowl shootout.
The Colts will be glad to be back home after getting pounded by the hosting
Jets a week ago, but the Browns will not be a walk in the park for rebuilding
"We are in no position to look ahead by any means. It's going to be a tough
test with the Browns, great defense, very sound, tough guys," noted Luck.
In fact, given that Cleveland has two running backs it can go to and a much
healthier defense, it may just be the Browns that leave town with their first
winning streak in over a year.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Browns 16, Colts 13
10/18 12:20:30 ET