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Cleveland Browns vs. New Orleans Saints: Positional Breakdown & Notes

For the past two years, the Cleveland Browns have taken down the defending Super Bowl Champions (*note: they were 1-1 against the Steelers last year). This year, they'll try to upset the New Orleans Saints with what is arguably an improved roster. It's tough to get Drew Brees and company off their game in the Superdome though, and with defensive star Darren Sharper making his debut, it's not going to be an easy day for the orange and brown.

Here are some notes heading into the game, followed by my positional breakdown and prediction for the game:

  • If Joshua Cribbs is active this week, I'm really excited (probably unnecessarily) at the thought of Carlton Mitchell seeing the first regular season action of his career. Sure, he looked completely lost in the preseason, but it sure would be great if he went out there and used his speed and size to take advantage of the Saints' mixed-up secondary. I'll be disappointed if Yamon Figurs is activated before Mitchell is.
  • Maybe if I don't get hyped up for a possible debut of LB Jayme Mitchell, he'll actually play. So, here goes: I don't expect Mitchell to even be active this week.
  • What are the odds that after most Cleveland fans were impressed by how comfortable Colt McCoy looked against the Steelers last week, he comes out and stinks up the joint against the Saints? I think it'll be interesting to see how Browns fans respond, and entering the bye week, it definitely gives Eric Mangini more of a plausible reason for going back to one of the veterans.
  • With Tony Pashos out for the year and John St. Clair out this week, Floyd Womack will start at right tackle. I'm not too concerned about that, because Womack manned the position well at the end of last season. That means that rookie Shawn Lauvao or Billy Yates will get the start at right guard in place of Womack. I'm sure all of us hope Lauvao is the starter, as we've been waiting for him to play all season after he looked good in the preseason.
  • Please, Rob Ryan, I beg you: no all out blitzes this week, unless the Saints are in the red zone. I don't think I can stand seeing opposing quarterbacks loft the deep passes with such ease against our secondary. At least in the red zone, there is less room to work with and the defensive backs can try to keep things in front of them (Eric Wright just failed last week).
  • One surprise I hope to see this week: Joe Haden coming out with Sheldon Brown as the starting cornerbacks. Eric Wright has been awful, and you can't have him out there because Drew Brees won't care: he'll attack him right away, over and over again. The Saints usually send out a lot of receivers anyway though, so all three cornerback will probably be out there on any given down. With Abram Elam being virtually absent, I also wouldn't mind seeing Mike Adams getting more reps at safety.
  • It's not easy to get pressure on Drew Brees, and when you do he typically knows where to go with the football right away. I think it is best for the Browns to rely on a heavy bull rush from the likes of Shaun Rogers and Matt Roth on the same side, and then counting on Scott Fujita or Marcus Benard to chase after Brees if he decides to start rolling out as a result.

Position-by-Position Breakdown

Pos Adv  Reason
QB - I envy an accurate quarterback. When you're talking about accuracy, the opposite end of the "Derek Anderson" spectrum is Drew Brees, who completes over 70% of his passes and isn't afraid to be aggressive. He's thrown six interceptions this season, and five of them have come in 1st-and-10 situations.
Brees isn't afraid to throw the ball at any time, and if Cleveland is going to do well against him, our safeties will need to produce. Cleveland will send out Colt McCoy for his second start. McCoy was known for his accuracy from his college days, and his throws under pressure last week seemed on target. We might see a lot of completions this week.
RB - The Saints are no strangers to plugging random running backs into their backfield. Due to injuries, this season they've featured Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush, Ladell Betts, Christopher Ivory, and Julius Jones. The Saints are committed to Thomas as their starter, but he and Bush are still out with injuries.
The rookie Ivory will get the start, but I'm not ready to get too concerned with his high YPC average. He had one big game last week against Tampa Bay, but was "meh" in games against the Falcons and Cardinals. I think Peyton Hillis will get back to cracking the 100-yard barrier this week.
WR - Brees has faith in all of his receivers, including Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson, and Jeremy Shockey. You might not hear from all of them Sunday, but Brees will pick and choose his 'player of the day' based on what he sees in our defensive backfield.
The Browns will be without Mohamed Massaquoi, but it looks as though Joshua Cribbs will play. Tight ends Ben Watson and Evan Moore could be in for big days given their chemistry with McCoy last week and the Saints' vulnerability to the tight end position (
as Ryan Kelsey pointed out).
OL - The Browns are back to having some questions, good or bad, on the right side of the offensive line. It sounds like Floyd Womack will start at right tackle, with Shawn Lauvao or Billy Yates at right guard. One of the reasons Brees is so successful is because of how well New Orleans is at pass blocking, and they have the continuity factor going for them right now.
DL - Cleveland was already without Robaire Smith last week, but now he's officially gone for the season. Not having him in there could hurt the Browns, since he was very stable at his position. I still can't tell if Shaun Rogers is playing "starter" snaps; I need to look into that more in depth this week. The Saints' Will Smith has gotten off to a slow start this year, having only one sack versus 13 last season, although he has been hampered by a groin injury. I don't see enough dominance from either team to give an advantage here.
LB - Scott Fujita will face his former team this week -- is there any chance he knows a few secrets about Brees and the Saints' offensive line that he can pass along to our defenders? He probably does have some valuable information, but the rest of the defense still needs to execute. The Saints might have linebacker Scott Shanle back this week, who didn't play against Tampa Bay a week ago with a hamstring problem.
The linebackers are led by Jonathan Vilma, but at one outside linebacker position they use a rotation of two players. I don't see this as being a huge advantage for the Saints, but they combine together to help keep opposing teams from tearing them apart.
DB - This might seem like a no-brainer ranking for the Saints, but it only is because of how poorly the Browns have been at stopping the big play. There are actually a ton of questions right now with the Saints' secondary, which could either work in their favor or as a detriment to them. Starting cornerback Tracy Porter is out, and nickelback Randall Gay was placed on the injured reserve.
They have the playmaking Darren Sharper coming back this week for the first time this season, but is he ready to step into the starting lineup and be up to speed? Malcolm Jenkins had filled in well at safety for him, and could suddenly shift back to cornerback. It'll be interesting to see what the Saints do come gametime. It probably won't make a difference given our lack of game-changing wide receivers.
ST - It's been a terrible year for Saints kicker Garrett Hartley so far, as he seems to be having a confidence problem. He's already missed three short kicks, something that might force the Saints to go for it in fourth-and-manageable situations. Having Cribbs available to return kicks this week will be nice, and he could do well running in a dome. If he doesn't play, Yamon Figurs knows how to handle punts.

Rob Ryan seems to come up with his best defensive gameplans when you least expect it. I can't really predict what he'll do this week, but I think it'll be something that catches the Saints a little off guard early on. I still think New Orleans has big problems at the running back position without Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. With his second straight week of practice under his belt, I envision Colt McCoy continuing to impress as he upsets the defending Super Bowl champions. That's not a typo, but it's certainly a reach.

FINAL PREDICTION: Cleveland Browns 23, New Orleans Saints 20.