CLEVELAND, JAN. 8 -- The Indianapolis Colts, experienced at calming barking fans in Cleveland Stadium, will try to beat the Browns again this afternoon and in the process, end a streak that has followed the franchise all the way from Baltimore.

The Colts have not won a playoff game since Dec. 26, 1971, when they beat the Browns here, 20-3. Fast forward to this season in Cleveland Stadium, when Indianapolis beat the Browns, 9-7, on three field goals from Pro Bowl kicker Dean Biasucci. The constant is defense.

The Colts haven't been dominating, and their coach, Ron Meyer, said they weren't in the same category as, say, the Dawgs of Cleveland. But Indianapolis allowed the fewest points in the league this season (238) and held three of its last four opponents to seven points or less. And for the first time in a decade, the Colts kept opponents from picking up fewer than 300 first downs in a season. It is precisely because of their dramatically improved defense that the Colts were able to hold off offense-minded Miami and Buffalo to win the AFC East.

Granted, some of those figures are strike-aided, but the regulars were playing last month when the Colts held the Browns to 87 yards rushing. And Bernie Kosar passed for just 178 yards, his lowest total of the season.

"To hold a team like Cleveland to seven points again," said Colts' Pro Bowl linebacker Duane Bickett, "well, you can hope that, but that probably won't happen. They're too potent a team. They're not going to be surprised by anything we're going to do, though I don't think we're going to try to trick them."

If the Colts stick to their script offensively, they'll give the ball to Eric Dickerson and Albert Bentley. A lot. They'll take an occasional shot downfield with quarterback Jack Trudeau, but try to stay in position for Biasucci, who hit 24 of 27 field goal attempts (.889) and all of his 24 extra-point attempts.

"This year, I'm not kicking from outside of 50 yards every other kick," Biasucci said. "My field goals have been more realistic. Last year, I had one from 60 (yards), two against the Jets from beyond 55."

If the Colts reach their average (142 yards a game) rushing, it means Dickerson and Bentley are pounding the ball behind three offensive line Pro Bowlers -- center Ray Donaldson, guard Ron Solt and tackle Chris Hinton.

Asked if his team would be more conservative, Meyer said, "That probably fits right into us, anyway. We're supposed to be very conservative. I've read quotes where we have the offense of the 1970s. It might be the offense of the 1950s, I don't know. But we like to feature the run."

But the Browns are formidable on defense. They were second in the league in points allowed and have all pro cornerbacks in Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon. Linebacker Clay Matthews also made the Pro Bowl and was tied for second on the team in tackles with fellow linebacker Eddie Johnson.

And they aren't bashful about their abilities. Minnifield and Dixon are the main instigators on defense, encouraging the barking in the bleachers (and the throwing of dog biscuits).

"Don't keep asking me about such and such receiver every week," Minnifield said. "I don't want to talk about them before a game. I don't want to know their names. All I want is for them to know who Frank Minnifield is after we're done playing."

The Browns know who Dickerson is. They know he gained more than 1,000 yards for the Colts after the midseason trade from the Los Angeles Rams, and they know he has the capability of being a one-man ball control unit. They also know he's put the ball on the ground with fumbles in playoff games against the Bears in 1985 and last year against the Redskins.

"I think he will be definitely conscious of {fumbling}," Johnson said, "because everyone has brought it to his awareness. But I don't think it'll take away from his game. Eric knows what he has to do."

Nonetheless, Johnson said the Browns would use gang-tackling and would be looking to strip the ball whenever possible.

"I don't think he's concerned about it," said Trudeau, who hit on nearly 56 percent of his passes this season for six touchdowns and six interceptions. "I don't think it's an issue. We'll find out tomorrow."

Browns Coach Marty Schottenheimer said Dickerson's biggest contribution to the Colts has nothing to do with his on-field performance.

"His presence on the field {brought} the realization on the part of the other players, and everyone in the organization, that Bob Irsay and Jimmy were prepared to make that kind of commitment," Schottenheimer said.

"{That} has brought that football team to the point that they're at right now."

If Cleveland's defensive scheme looks familiar, stay tuned for the Bears-Redskins game Sunday. Defensive coordinator Dave Adolph installed a variation of Chicago's "46" defense early in the season.

"We're probably playing it more than anyone else in the National Football League right now," Adolph told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We're trying to utilize the personnel as best we can. Marty does a fantastic job of it."

The Browns maintain that lack of execution offensively did them in the last time they played Indianapolis. None of them wanted to talk about a revenge factor, but they said they would play better in the playoff game.

"Last time, they caught us when we were kind of lackadaisical," wide receiver Webster Slaughter said. "It looked like we didn't have any energy."

"It's just tough waiting for the game to get here," Cleveland cornerback Ray Ellis said. "{It's} no different than going to work on every other day, except payday. When it's payday, you get a little more excited."