The Browns defeated struggling Indianapolis 27-19 on Sunday. It wasn't a stylish win, but it was impressive. It wasn't without mistakes, but the opposition made more miscues. It was an eight-point win, but that was a fitting margin of victory, for while the Browns weren't were far superior, they were clearly better.
In short, it was a win Cleveland hasn't been accustomed to experiencing lately, and it merits a closer look.
The PFW Spin
The Browns' biggest edge on Sunday was on special teams, and they exploited it. RS Joshua Cribbs broke a 52-yard kickoff return and a 43-yard punt return, both of which set up touchdowns. The Browns' return game played a material role in the outcome of this one-score game. The Colts' coverage units really have struggled early this season and were not an asset Sunday.
The Browns were also superior on offense and defense Sunday, which was not assured, as Indianapolis has playmakers on both sides of the ball. The Browns' passing game was better than the running game, but both served their purposes. QB Colt McCoy completed 22-of-32 throws and led Cleveland to a pair of second-quarter TD drives to put the Browns on the lead for good after trailing early, 6-0. Eight different receivers had catches as McCoy once again spread the ball around. He was sacked once, a positive against a defense with a good pass rush. RB Peyton Hillis lost a fumble and racked up just 3.5 yards per carry, but he broke away for a 24-yard TD run that put Cleveland up 12 in the fourth quarter.
The Browns' defense gets high marks for allowing only one touchdown (with 24 seconds left in the game) and for holding Indianapolis to four field goals in the first three quarters. An interception by S Usama Young and a sack, forced fumble and fumble recovery by rookie DE Jabaal Sheard led to two short fourth-quarter field goals by Cleveland. The Browns' defense dug in early, limiting Indianapolis to two field goals before the Cleveland offense responded, then shut down Indianapolis for much of the second half. This was a performance that Dick Jauron's group can build upon.
Also, give credit to head coach Pat Shurmur. Cleveland, which committed 11 penalties in Week One, was flagged three times Sunday. The Browns had solid a game plan in all three phases and did not look rattled in their first road game of the season. After a shaky opening loss to Cincinnati, the Browns made some noticeable strides one week later.