COMMENTARY | The Indianapolis Colts had a wake-up call ready for the streaking Cleveland Browns on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium. Cleveland's hot start and two-game preseason winning streak was snapped by the hosts in convincing fashion.
Before you throw in the towel on a positive season for the Browns, keep in mind that it's only the preseason. And the Browns really didn't play as poorly as the scoreboard indicate (27-6).
Also keep in mind that Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo weren't involved defensively, although Ray Horton was able to apply plenty of pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck with the players he deployed. Luck just beat the blitz more often than not. Either with his arm or his legs, the quarterback was continually able to evade pressure and extend drives.
So what did we learn from it all? Well, Paul Kruger, Tashuan Gipson and Trent Richardson really stood out in a positive way. We'll start with recapping their performances and explaining what they mean.
1. Paul Kruger Was an Excellent Pickup
Without Sheard and Mingo on the field, Kruger stepped up in a big way. The Browns' big offseason signing consistently pushed blockers into Luck's pocket, forcing the quarterback to improvise. Officially, he recorded one sack and another hit on Luck, but he was a factor on every snap.
When his counterparts are back in the lineup, Kruger should be even more potent coming from his left outside linebacker position. Sheard will undoubtedly command respect on the right side, making it hard for offensive coordinators to scheme against the powerful duo.
2. Trent Richardson Is Vital Piece of Offense
Richardson side-stepped, juked and went right through defenders to compile 32 all-purpose yards on the first four plays from scrimmage. He finished with seven rushes for 31 yards and one grab for 10 yards. All other Browns rushers combined for just 23 yards on eight carries.
This might not surprise anyone, but the Browns are a much better football team when Richardson is on the field. His brief appearance was fitting as the team can't afford to lose him for any time to begin the season.
Much has been made about Norv Turner's impact on quarterback Brandon Weeden and the Browns' vertical passing game. However, his ability to integrate Richardson in a positive way--either as a rusher or pass-catcher--is the biggest key for their offense in 2013.
3. Pass Rush Will Help Young Defensive Backs
I'm not crowning Luck as the next Peyton Manning in Indy, but he has sure looked the part to this point in his career. He has a unique knack for sensing backside pressure, evading it and making a play. Not every quarterback the Browns see this season will be as poised in the face of pressure as the Colts' second-year man. And not every quarterback they face will have the luxury of missing out on seeing Sheard, Mingo and Desmond Bryant, either.
While still young, Cleveland's secondary showed some resilience. In years past, its defensive backfield might have completely folded--not this year. With the added bonus of a potent pass rush, those same DBs will continue to be put in "feast or famine" situations as they were against the Colts. With more experience in this system, the unit will have plenty of opportunities to grow and eventually become playmakers when the ball is in the air.
Veteran Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne was also repeatedly matched up against rookie Leon McFadden. That's not a likely scenario once the games mean something in less than two weeks.
4. Cleveland Can Compete
Sometimes teams just come out flat. There's no cure for it; a team is never going to show up to every game firing on all cylinders. Despite reverting to some of the mistakes of seasons past--penalties, dropped passes and missed tackles--the Browns didn't play all that poorly overall. They were realistically still in the game at halftime when they trailed just 10-0.
The Colts are also a really good football team. So while another strong performance would have been nice to see against a team of Indianapolis' caliber, the Browns don't have any reason to panic as a result of the tough road loss. They can learn a lot of from the defeat in the process, too. It also gives coach Rob Chudzinski and his staff a chance to make adjustments and identify details that need adjusted in their game plan.
5. Tashaun Gipson: Starting Safety
The days of watching Eric Hagg or Usama Young get beat deep are over. After being named the starting free safety earlier in the week, second-year DB Tashaun Gipson produced another solid performance. He wasn't spectacular as a rookie last season, but he is showing visible progress and comfort in his role.
Gipson snagged a juggling interception on a tipped pass in the Browns' red zone to keep the Colts from adding more to the scoreboard late in the first half. He also made four tackles, kept everything in front of him and didn't get beat over the top.
Mike Hoag (@MikeHoagJr) covers the Cleveland Browns for multiple outlets, hosts the Dawg Pound Central podcast (@DawgPndCentral) on the Pro Football Central radio network and operates his own blog: What's Eating Dan Gilbert?
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