The Baltimore running game, which seemed to slow down a little during the second half of the season, should nevertheless be effective enough against the Cleveland defense to insure ball control for the Colts. One of Baltimore's favorite short-yardage plays sends Moore or Tony Lorick or Jerry Hill driving into the line behind the blocking of massive Jim Parker, a 275-pound guard with tremendous strength. Opposing him across the line will be young, relatively inexperienced Jim Kanicki, a 270-pound defensive tackle in his second season. Kanicki has improved enormously during this season, but it is unreasonable to assume that he will be able to defeat an All-League guard like Parker. It is likely that most of the Baltimore ground attack will be aimed straight at the Cleveland defensive line, with a minimum of trickery. Cleveland plays a reading defense and is seldom fooled by influence blocking or sucker plays, in which a guard pulls in a direction opposite to the actual flow of the play, hoping that the tackle in front of him will move with him, leaving a hole for the ballcarrier. Pittsburgh, in one of the three games Cleveland lost this season, kept driving straight into the Cleveland line, and that night John Henry Johnson gained 200 yards on 30 carries.
But the success of the Colt running game may well depend on how well the blockers handle Vince Costello, the middle linebacker who calls the Cleveland defenses. Costello has wide range on pass coverage, and he has quick reaction to running plays, although he is not as punishing a tackler as the Colts' Bill Pellington. Since Costello is not exceptionally big he can sometimes be handled by a one-on-one block, and Dick Szymanski, the Colt center, is accomplished at the art of cutting down a middle linebacker.
The Colt pass-protection blocking has been good this year. Against the Browns, a team which seldom resorts to the blitz, this blocking should hold up as well as usual. The Cleveland defensive ends, Paul Wiggin and Bill Glass, will give the Colts a good deal of pressure. Both are strong, overpowering men—as big as the Colt tackles who will be blocking them—with long experience. Bob Vogel, who will face Glass, weighs five pounds less than his opponent, and George Preas, who must block Wiggin, weighs five pounds more. Vogel is only in his second season and may have difficulty containing the sophisticated Glass.
When the Browns go on offense their problems increase rather than diminish. By the end of the season Baltimore had one of the best defenses in the league, and it is more daring than Cleveland's. While the Browns blitz only about 10% of the time, the Colts send their linebackers in a third of the time, and occasionally go all out and send the safety man in, too. Even without the blitz, Baltimore puts damaging pressure on a passer; Gino Marchetti, despite his 38 years and 13 seasons of professional football, is still the best pass rusher in the game. He is as quick and as strong as a predatory cat, reads plays instantly and reacts instantly to both runs and passes. The man blocking on him will be the youngest of the Cleveland offensive linemen, John Brown. Brown is quick and strong, but he will not be able to protect Ryan from Marchetti all afternoon.
When the Colts use Billy Ray Smith and Fred Miller at tackle and Ordell Braase at the other end, they have four exceptionally capable pass rushers going in. Guy Reese, who plays the same tackle as Smith, is strong against the run but not quick enough for a big pass rush.
The Colts are more vulnerable to the run than they are to the pass, and Ryan should have more success sending Ernie Green and Jimmy Brown into the Colt line than he will have in passing. All but one of the Baltimore defensive backs are strong on man-to-man coverage; the club uses man-to-man and zone, about 50-50. The brutal pressure the Colts put on passers is an important factor. They have thrown opposing quarterbacks for losses more often than any other club in the league. The Browns, on the other hand, because of their conservative defense, have reached and thrown enemy passers less often than anyone else.
The success of the Cleveland attack, then, will depend first on how well the offensive line can hold off the Baltimore defense, giving Ryan time to throw. If Ryan can establish the sound running attack he did against the Giants, it will inhibit the charge of the Colt line, since the defense must then read run and exercise caution in making the pass rush.
If this happens and Ryan has adequate time to throw, the Colts will be in trouble. Ryan will then be hitting Warfield and Gary Collins—two excellent receivers—for good gains. Warfield is the best rookie receiver to come up in the last decade. He is not big—6 feet even and 188 pounds—but he has extraordinary moves for a rookie, plus speed. He is almost impossible to cover man for man—witness the Giants' difficulties with him—and he has sure hands. Beyond all this, he has the rare knack of never letting his eyes leave the ball and catching well in a crowd. Finally, he compensates for his lack of height by tremendous spring, which lifts him higher than taller defensive backs.
Collins is a perfect complement to Warfield. He is big—6 feet 4, 208—and gives Ryan a wide target breaking across the middle, especially close to the goal line. He caught a touchdown pass against the Giants on this pattern. He is not as fast or as quick as Warfield, but he has enough speed to go deep and has just as good hands.
Unfortunately, all of the sting could be drawn from Cleveland's passing attack if the weather should be bitterly cold in Municipal Stadium. Two of the three games the Browns lost during 1964 were on subfreezing days—which raises a reasonable suspicion that Ryan, who played college football in warm weather at Rice University and began his pro career with the Los Angeles Rams in southern California, is not as effective a passer in cold weather as he is when the temperature is above freezing. Unitas, on the other hand, has never been much affected by cold.