INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts put it all together, and the Cleveland Browns couldn't get anything right.
Andrew Luck threw two touchdown passes and was in complete command of the offense and Indianapolis' starting defense stymied Cleveland's offense. Even the Colts' often maligned special teams had some big plays in a 27-6 victory over the Browns on Saturday night.
Here are five things we learned from the teams' preseason game:
1. DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: Indianapolis spent a lot of money in free agency to upgrade the defense, and it's starting to pay big dividends. Indy has now gone two consecutive games without giving up a touchdown, and the Browns couldn't even get into the red zone. The Colts' starters dominated – yielding only four first downs and allowing Cleveland to run only three plays in Indy territory, one being a punt, before departing in the third quarter. Yes, it's only the preseason but after an opening-game debacle in which some of the Colts' starters didn't even play and most left in the first quarter, the Colts are finally showing signs this defense could be as good as coach Chuck Pagano has advertised.
2. BROWN OUT: Brandon Weeden and the Browns had put together two impressive performances against the Rams and Lions. Then everything went wrong. The Browns' quarterbacks were harassed all night. Cleveland's running backs struggled after Trent Richardson left. The receivers dropped passes and penalties stalled drives. After scoring 51 points in the first two games, the Browns struggled mightily in the one preseason game that might be most telling measuring stick. Coach Rob Chudzinski said the game showed Cleveland needs to be more consistent, but it also must be far more productive on both sides of the ball.
3. ARE YOU FELING LUCKY?: The critics contended Indianapolis was lucky to pick the right season for a collapse, lucky to win so many close games a year ago, and lucky again last week when a deflected pass went for a touchdown against the Giants. Perhaps so. But quarterback Andrew Luck showed Saturday that there's more to Indy's comeback story than just good bounces and good fortune. He was in complete command of the offense against the Browns, going 16 of 25 for 164 yards with two TDs and one interception. He ran four times for 20 yards and led the Colts to three scores on three of the seven drives he played. It probably would have been four of seven, had Stanley Havili not bobbled a pass which wound up as an interception at the Cleveland 2-yard line.
4. HELP WANTED: Richardson could be headed toward a big second season for the Browns. He still needs help. With Montario Hardesty (thumb, knee) and Dion Lewis (broken leg) both out, the Browns were looking for somebody, anybody to become a solid complementary back. They're still looking. While Richardson ran seven times for a respectable 31 yards, Jamaine Cook, Brandon Jackson, Chris Ogbonnaya and Weeden combined for nine carries and 28 yards, a paltry 3.1 yards per carry. While Richardson is built to shoulder the load, the Browns need to find more helpers before the season opener.
5. SUGAR RAYFORD: Caesar Rayford has certainly turned heads this preseason. The 6-foot-7 linebacker has spent the last few years playing in the Arena Football and Canadian Football Leagues, but this preseason, the 27-year-old rookie has wowed Colts coaches. He had three more tackles Saturday, and his two sacks allowed him to keep the team lead with five. Rayford has had at least one sack in each preseason game and has shown no indication he's about to slow down. There's little doubt he'll be on the roster after the first cut down, and the way he's playing, he might earn one of the coveted spots on the 53-man roster, too.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org