By Adam Dobrowolski
Cold, Hard Football Facts Browns beat man

It wasn’t expected to be pretty, but the Cleveland Browns earned an important way. With a 27-19 victory over the Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts, the Browns avoided an extremely embarrassing 0-2 start. Loss to the Bengals (at home) and to the Colts (without Manning) quite simply could not happen if the Browns had any expectation to improve on its 5-11 record from 2010.
But hey, a win’s a win. Now here’s five things we learned during that win:
1. After a slow start, the Browns made Kerry Collins look like a 38-yard old quarterback.
Cleveland nearly fell into a deep hole, allowing the Colts to score on three of five first-half drives, one of which included a kneel down. Indianapolis moved the ball thanks to some decent early play by Collins, who completed nine of his first 12 attempts for 88 yards.
After that, Collins threw incompletions of his next two passes to give Indianapolis a 9-7 lead late in the second quarter. In the second half, Collins completed only 10 of 24 passes for 103 yards. Include the last two passes of the first half, and the 38-year old finished with a pathetic 3.96 yards per attempt after his 9-of-12 start.
This speaks to limited offense discussed during this game’s preview.
2. Cleveland deserves a “Bendability Award” this week.
Whether by design or not, the Browns did exactly what they needed to do defensively to defeat the Colts. With some quarterback not named Peyton Manning under center for Indianapolis, the Browns needed to limit big play against the Colts offense. They did just that, allowing no play bigger than a 20-yard Collins pass to Reggie Wayne.
More importantly, despite a decent day moving the ball for Indianapolis (285 total net yards, including 109 rushing yards), Cleveland didn’t allow a touchdown until the game’s final minute.
Overall, the Browns allowed 15 Yards per Point Allowed, according to the Bendability Index. However, before the final drive, the Browns allowed 16.83 Yards per Point Allowed while holding the Colts to four field goals. If Cleveland allows just one of those field goal drives to result in a touchdown, this game could have a totally different outcome.
3. Peyton Hillis might not be efficient, but he gets the job done.
Seeing Hillis rush for 94 yards on 27 carries shouldn’t be surprising. After all, Hillis broke out last year with 1177 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, but did so with an above-average 4.4 yards per carry.
Hillis may never be a statistically dominant running back. He just doesn’t own the breakaway speed to turn 20-yard day to a 100-yard day in one play. However, he pushes the pile and scores touchdowns. He’s the perfect back that will open up the field for a quick back. Cleveland needs to find that guy, and the running game will be dangerous.
Today, with his four receptions for 23 yards included, Hillis total five first downs and two touchdowns on 31 touches. He’s no Jim Brown, but he’s certainly no William Green.
4. If Cleveland wants to contend for a playoff spot, they must play better early in the game.
Last week, the Browns trailed 13-0 through 18:30 of the game. This week, they trailed 6-0 through 16:45 of the game. Quite frankly, that won’t help the Browns to beat the few quality opponents they’ll play in 2011. If the Browns struggle against the Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Ravens the way they have early on in these first two weeks, and those games will already be over.
Cleveland got lucky, consider the Bengals started rookie Andy Dalton and the Colts are running a shell of their true offense under Kerry Collins. Better offenses turn those field goals to touchdowns. The 13-0 deficit becomes a 17-0 or 21-0 deficit. The 6-0 deficit becomes a 10-0 or 14-0 deficit. And while Colt McCoy is playing relatively well so far this season for a second-year quarterback, the Browns offense as a whole lacks the dynamic ability to make a big comeback.
If they don’t do a better job in the first quarter, they will continue to struggle against the weak opponents in the league. That won’t end well when the Browns face the AFC North top dogs.
5. Two games through, and the 2011 draft class is showing some promise.
Already, four rookies from the 2011 draft class are making an impact for the Browns. Cleveland drafted three players in the first two rounds this April, and all three are handling some business. First-round pick Phil Taylor recorded 11 tackles (seven solo) in the first two weeks as a defensive lineman. Second-round pick Jabaal Sheard recorded eight tackles (seven solo) with one sack and one forced fumble. Fellow second-rounder Greg Little already caught five passes for 50 yards in two weeks. Finally, fourth-rounder Owen Marecic is starting at fullback.
If these guys can build off a promising first two games to their rookie campaigns, the Browns might be in pretty good hands over the next few years.