CLEVELAND - How will the Jimmy Haslam III era begin? The Browns hope it's the same way Randy Lerner went out, with a win.
The Browns travel to Indianapolis this week to face the 2-3 Colts.
The game is a battle between first-round draft picks. The Colts and the number one overall pick Andrew Luck have played surprisingly well.
Luck has thrown for the second most passing yards in NFL history through the first five games (1,488), just 200 more then Brandon Weeden, who sits behind him in third (1,288).
The orange helmets are coming off their best fourth-quarter performance of the year, rallying to beat the Bengals last week for the first win of the year. The Browns return to Indy for the second-straight year where they beat the Colts last season, 27-19. That was head coach Pat Shurmur's first win as a head coach.
The Browns are 10-5 all-time against the Colts on the road. This week's game marks the third time in four games the Browns have hit the road.
The Browns need to stay balanced on offense, so expect a heavy dose of Trent Richardson, who will be wearing a flak jacket to protect his bruised ribs. Richardson's stats are deceiving as he has only carried the ball on average of about 16 times a game.
The Browns need to get the Colts speedy defense to respect the run to open up more shots down field for Weeden and his new favorite deep-threat target, Josh Gordon. Shurmur likes how Gordon is coming along.
"He has size, number one. I think he can run, which is the threat that most defenses, they're most worried about you getting behind them. He's displayed, at times, the ability to catch the football even when he's got somebody close in coverage. The big challenge for all rookie receivers is defeating bump and run, so instead of worrying about covering you down the field they try to jam you up at the line so he needs to continue to work on that."
The news gets even better on offense as Weeden will have all of his weapons healthy for the first time this season. Mohamed Massaquoi and Travis Benjamin both return to the lineup.
"It's nice to have some familiar faces. All of the guys, they are all back and that feels good. For them, I just wanted them to get back on the field because I know it's not fun being in that training room. They want to be out here playing. It's good to have those guys back," Weeden said.
Defensively, things have changed for the Colts, moving from the familiar 4-3 style to the 3-4, but Freeney and Mathis can still dominate a game and Shurmur is well aware of that.
"They've got them in a role where they stand up a little more than they're used to in their old 4-3 scheme. They play a lot of four-man fronts especially when they get to nickel situations where it's very obvious those two guys can still pass rush," Shurmur said.
"They have a good defense and the (New York) Jets had a lot of success. We've got to make sure we do not the exact same thing as them, but we have to do something much better than what the Jets did to win this game. We're still a work in progress and they are working for everything too. They are out there just like we are and they are making sure that they are doing everything they can to stop us. For us, we have to make sure we get a lot of penetration when we run through each gap we can get. We have to get what they give us," Weeden said.
These two teams are evenly matched and there is no doubt the rookie quarterback who makes the least mistakes will help his team win this game. The locker room in Berea this week was a happy bunch feeling Sunday's win could be the beginning of a string of wins that could bring this team back.
The Colts offense is a lot like the Browns, especially with three rookie wide receivers to go along with veteran Reggie Wayne. The Colts also have two rookie tight ends in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
Both of these teams are very young at a lot of the key positions. I like this matchup; I think it sets up very well for the Browns, who could win this game and come back home on a two-game winning streak to meet the Chargers.
I'm not going to tell you to stand in line for playoff tickets, but I will tell you, things are changing in Berea, not only off the field but on, and that is a very good sign for this Browns team going forward.