NFL: Cleveland Browns basking in their new buzz
Akron, Ohio • The confluence of the Browns' first victory of the season, Jimmy Haslam being unanimously approved as the team's owner and the appointment of Joe Banner as its CEO created a palpable buzz that lingered in the locker room the past several days.
Haslam and Banner addressed the team Wednesday morning, and excitement among the players has been noticeable since. The Browns (1-5) hope to capitalize on their new aura when they face the Indianapolis Colts (2-3) Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"It's a whole new energy," cornerback Joe Haden said. "Haslam came in to talk to us. I just love his demeanor. He carries himself so well. Just to have him coming here and coming off a win and wanting that feeling again, it's looking all up for us."
The Browns are shockingly vibrant and confident for a team that started this season 0-5 and had an 11-game losing streak until they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 34-24 on Oct. 14, two days before NFL owners formally accepted Haslam into their fraternity. The restorative power of victory has been on full display, and the Browns can't afford to waste it.
"Once you get that taste in your mouth, you don't want to go back to losing," rookie running back Trent Richardson said. "That's one thing that we try to put in each other's head around here that, hey, we got this taste now and we want to keep biting off this piece of chicken or whatever it is. We need to keep on getting this fruit because once you get that good taste in your mouth, you don't want another taste."
Last season, Pat Shurmur earned his first victory as an NFL head coach when the Browns defeated the Colts 27-17 on the road in Week 2. The Browns defeated the Miami Dolphins the following week to start 2-1 before crumbling to 4-12.
Now the Browns (1-5) have a chance to establish their first winning streak since September 2011. There are a few ingredients they'll need to use to defeat the Colts (2-3).
• The Browns must capitalize on the Colts' struggles against the run. Richardson is expected to wear a flak jacket and play despite suffering a rib cartilage injury against the Bengals, but his workload might be reduced. In that case, the Browns could use more solid production from backup Montario Hardesty, who had 15 carries for 56 yards and a touchdown last week. The Colts allowed 252 rushing yards in their most recent game, a 35-9 loss to the New York Jets.
"The Jets did have a big game on them last week, but we've got to make sure we do just the same or even better than what they did," Richardson said. "Looking at their run defense, I don't say they're weak or nothing at all. They're an NFL team. You have to expect the best out of them each time you're out there on the field."
• The Browns must pressure Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, force him to make ill-advised decisions and capitalize by recording takeaways. Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's draft, has passed for more than 300 yards three times this season, but he also has thrown seven interceptions and lost two fumbles.
"He's athletic, smart, can get the ball anywhere on the field," strong safety T.J. Ward said. "He leads the offense with confidence. But I feel we can get to him and we can make him throw some bad balls and get some interceptions and tipped balls and things like that."
• The Browns must protect rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden from one of the best pass rushers of all time, Dwight Freeney. The Colts switched this year from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 system, so Freeney has converted from an end in a four-man front to an outside linebacker. He has dealt with an injured ankle this season and has only one sack in three games, but he can't be underestimated. He has 103Â½ sacks and 43 forced fumbles in this career. Left tackle Joe Thomas will be relied on to block him, which means Thomas and left guard John Greco must be on the same page. Greco will start in place of Jason Pinkston, who's hospitalized with a blood clot in his lung.
"He's probably the most dominant pass rusher in the last 10 years," Thomas said of Freeney. "Since he's been in the league, I can't think of another guy who's been able to produce the amount of sacks that he has. He still can get to the quarterback, even in his 11th year and even in a different scheme."
• The Browns must limit wide receiver Reggie Wayne. Luck has been leaning on Wayne, whose 41 catches and 593 receiving yards are the most in his career through the first five games of a season. Wayne moves around and often plays in the slot, meaning nickel corner Buster Skrine should expect to cover him a lot.
"You zone some, you man him up, pressure some, try to affect the timing of the route in a number of different ways," defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. "But clearly nobody has stopped him in his career. â¦ We've just got to challenge him and do the best we can against him and try to change up."
The Browns didn't play a perfect game against the Bengals, but they stepped up in all three phases when it mattered most. They believe they can turn this season around, but such a lofty goal isn't likely to be achieved unless they win today.
"We had great energy this week, but that won't mean anything if we don't build on it," Hardesty said. "Everybody's morale was up a little more, but we need to build that and start something good."