(AP) – The Indianapolis Colts defense missed linebacker Darius Leonard on Sunday.
They missed left tackle Anthony Castonzo even more.
And without those two key cogs, neither the offense nor the defense was in sync during the 32-23 loss at Cleveland. While they clearly need both, they also must figure out how to run effectively at less than full strength.
“I thought we were competitive, but they were highly efficient in the first half on offense,” coach Frank Reich said Sunday. “We really felt like we were going to play well in the second half and turn the thing around, and then we spotted them some points. Those are things we have to overcome.”
Losing Leonard certainly hurt.
Cleveland’s offensive numbers weren’t spectacular. Baker Mayfield threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns, was picked off twice and appeared to get hurt late in the game. The Browns finished with 385 yards despite not punting until early in the fourth quarter. And while they hung 32 points on the league’s top scoring defense, nine came courtesy of the Browns defense.
A week earlier, with Leonard missing the second half at Chicago because of a groin injury, the Colts still played well. This time, the Browns (4-1) didn’t force a punt until the fourth quarter.
Sometimes, Cleveland simply made better plays such as Jarvis Landry’s 18-yard reception, pinning the ball against the helmet of Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke, or the 26-yard catch Odell Beckham Jr. made on his biceps. Other times, like D’Ernest Johnson’s decisive 28-yard run on third-and-9 with 2:27 left, the Colts simply failed.
“A lot of plays, we felt like we were right there,” linebacker Anthony Walker said. “Great catches by those guys. Again, this is the NFL. They are going to make plays. They get paid just like we do.”
The bigger problem came on the offensive line, which didn’t start the same five for the first time in 21 games.
Le’Raven Clark replaced the injured Castonzo (ribs) and although Philip Rivers was only sacked once, he was under duress more Sunday than any game this season and it showed.
Twice, Rivers tried to force the ball into coverage and was picked off. Another time with Myles Garrett bearing down on him, Rivers threw the ball away from the end zone and was called for intentional grounding.
They struggled in the red zone, too — all areas in which Castonzo’s presence could have helped.
Getting both back could change everything, starting next weekend when Cincinnati (1-3-1) visits Lucas Oil Stadium.