The Cleveland Browns faced a potential trap game against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7. The Browns came off a huge upset win over the San Fransico 49ers and faced a competitive Colts team on the road.
The Browns successfully avoided the trap, winning a thrilling 39-38 track meet with Indianapolis.
It was anything but a pretty win. Cleveland’s vaunted defense struggled to find answers against Gardner Minshew II, Jonathan Taylor and the Colts offense. Starting QB Deshuan Watson exited with another injury, and one could argue that the Browns benefited greatly from a questionable pass-interference call on their final drive.
Kareem Hunt provided the last of 77 combined points when he plunged across the goal line on 4th down with mere seconds remaining. Cleveland moved to 4-2 on the season and remains in the AFC North hunt with the hard-fought victory.
Here are the biggest takeaways.
-The Browns are going to be cautious with Deshaun Watson-
Watson had exited the game during the first half after taking a hard shot and landed on the back of his head and on his injured shoulder. He was evaluated for a concussion, and while clearing protocol, he didn’t return.
“Deshaun took that big hit on the shoulder,” Stefanski said, per Chris Easterling of the Akron Beacon Journal. “He cleared concussion protocol, but I just did not want to put him back out there. I wanted to protect our franchise quarterback. That was my decision.”
It’s clear the Browns have learned their lesson when it comes to quarterbacks. Baker Mayfield suffered a significant shoulder injury in 2021, tried to play through it for most of the season, and the offense suffered. Cleveland wasn’t willing to go to a similar route with Watson.
-The Defense Finds a Different Way to Carry the Team-
The Browns defense came into Week 7 with plenty of hype. It had allowed the fewest yards (1,002) through five games on any NFL team since 1971.
Minshew and the Colts carved up the Cleveland defense like no other team has this season. Indianapolis racked up 456 yards, 38 points, and a 46.7 percent third down conversion rate.
Myles Garrett led the charge with two sacks, two forced fumbles, and the most outstanding blocked field goals people are likely to see this season. Tony Fields II recovered one of Garett’s strip-sacks in the end zone for a touchdown.
Cleveland finished with four takeaways which equals their total from the first five games.
With Watson injured and the passing game again struggling, the Browns needed their defense to make big plays.
-Defensive Issues Have to Be fixed-
Several of Indianapolis’ biggest plays seemed to come against blown coverages. The problem was compounded by an inconsistent tackling effort- which was on full display during Micheal Pittman Jr.’s go-ahead 75-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter.
These were issues we saw under former defensive coordinator Joe Woods last season, not what’s become accustomed to seeing under Schwartz.
“The biggest thing is we all have to get on the same page,” Ward said last September.
Cleveland defensive backs have mostly been on the same page this season, but that wasn’t the case for all four quarters of Sunday’s win. This is a problem Cleveland cannot ignore.
Pittsburg Steelers were at 4-2 and the Baltimore Ravens at 5-2, the Browns are locked in a brutal divisional race. If Cleveland wants to win its first division title since returning to the league in 1999, it can’t give up easy yards missed assignments and poor tackling.