This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the New Orleans Saints in their home opener. To help preview this week's game, I reached out to JR from Canal Street Chronicles and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: "In Week 1, the running back distribution of snaps for New Orleans was as follows: Pierre Thomas (45%), Mark Ingram (27%), and Khiry Robinson (16%). Can you explain the situations in which each back is used? Is Thomas the main guy, or did he just get more reps because the Saints were in rally mode?"
JR: "Of all the Saints running backs, Pierre Thomas is the most versatile. New Orleans will use him on passing downs because he is great at pass-protecting and picking up blitzes. He's also one of the best screen play backs not only on the Saints, but in the entire NFL. Finally, Thomas also gets snaps in classic run plays. Ingram, although generally listed as the starter, is mostly used on running plays. Khiry Robinson usually comes in almost exclusively on running plays to spell Ingram and at times he has been used as the short-yardage guy, hence his lowest percentage of snaps."
Chris: "Brandin Cooks was a receiver who some Browns fans were interested in back in May. How has he looked in camp, and do you see him overtaking Marques Colston as the team's No. 1 receiver this year?"
JR: "From camp through the first game against the Falcons last week, Cooks has been everything the Saints and their fans hoped he would be. Against Atlanta he had 7 catches for 77 yards and an 18 yards run. He is a jack of all trades as he'll also return punts. Because of his versatility, Cooks' role with the Saints is going to be quite different from Colston's. That said, it wouldn't be surprising to see him and tight end Jimmy Graham be the top two receiving targets for Drew Brees by the end of the season."
Chris: "I thought for certain that this was the year that New Orleans' defense would be ready for prime time...and then they proceeded to give up 568 yards of offense to the Falcons to start the season. In a nutshell, what happened?"
JR: "Yeah! You, I and a lot of pundits who picked the Saints to go to the Super Bowl thought the same thing about the Saints defense. Then they proceeded to lay an ostrich egg in the Georgia Dome. In a nutshell, the Saints had absolutely no pass rush. Playing against a gifted quarterback like Matt Ryan, New Orleans' front four never made the Falcons quarterback uncomfortable in the pocket. With all the weapons he has in Atlanta, Ryan dissected them with the cold mercy of a mad surgeon."
Chris: "Are the Saints' road struggles legitimate concerns, or are they over-exaggerated (i.e. everyone struggles on the road)?"
JR: "As much as I would like to laugh at that notion, I believe that the Saints road woes are legitimate concerns; yet they're also a bit exaggerated. Okay let me explain this dexterous fence-straddling. Under the lethal combo of Sean Payton and Drew Brees (since 2006), the Saints have had one of the best road records in the NFL. In doing so however, they've mostly beaten mediocre-to-bad teams and struggled mightily against winning teams. A "good" road team, in my opinion, can also take out good teams on the road.
So I don't think New Orleans is as awful on the road as some have portrayed them to be, however, they have some real concerns every time they play outside the Mercedes Benz Super Dome. Here's a very interesting piece one of our writers at Canal Street Chronicles wrote about this very subject last year. "
Chris: "What is the Saints' weakest defensive unit?"
JR: "New Orleans' weakest unit is the cornerbacks and it's not even close. The linebacking corps isn't All-World, but it can hold its own. The safeties constitute (on paper) the strongest unit, with Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush. The Saints have one upper echelon cornerback in Keenan Lewis and...that's it. On Sunday, you will see Hoyer and the Browns offense constantly attack whoever is lined up opposite Lewis, whether it is fifth-year veteran Patrick Robinson or third-year pro Corey White. Both are huge liabilities in pass coverage and were repeatedly exploited by Matt Ryan and the Falcons wide receivers."
Thanks again to JR for taking the time to answer my questions.