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Browns' Week 2 Scouting Report: New Orleans Saints

With the Cleveland Browns facing the New Orleans Saints this week, we scout five key points on the Saints, including the Saints' defensive struggles, the difference in their offense at home vs. the road, how to cover TE Jimmy Graham, and more.

Scott Cunningham

Here are five key storylines the Cleveland Browns will be aware of as they take on their Week 2 opponent, the New Orleans Saints.

Bullet_medium#1 - Opposite Ends of the Spectrum: Make no mistakes about it -- the Saints are going to put points on the board. They averaged 25.9 points per game in 2013 and put 34 points on the board last week against the Atlanta Falcons. QB Drew Brees is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, and he still has a boatload of weapons in the passing game, including WR Marques Colston, WR Brandin Cooks, WR Kenny Stills, and TE Jimmy Graham.

Despite being an offensive juggernaut, though, the Saints lost to the Falcons in overtime last week as the defense yielded 37 points! For a defense that was supposed to be on-the-rise, this wasn't what anybody was expecting. The pass rush and the coverage at cornerback looks weaker than anticipated, and the strength at the safety position isn't enough to compensate for that. The Saints could be looking at shootout type of games every week.

Bullet_medium#2 - Accounting for the Road Woes: I asked JR from Canal Street Chronicles about the Saints' road woes, and he agreed that it is indeed a problem for New Orleans compared to other championship-caliber teams, but the problem comes more so in the fact that the Saints struggle on the road against the playoff-caliber teams; they can still handle the lower-caliber teams well enough to win.

Taking a deeper look at the team's road woes, though, remember that I said the Saints averaged 25.9 points per game in 2013. When you break that amount down into home vs. road games, the Saints averaged 34.0 points per game at home, but just 17.75 points per game on the road. That is a ridiculous disparity, enough so that it makes you believe that Cleveland has a legitimate chance to pull off an upset in their home opener.

Bullet_medium#3 - Missed Tackles Galore: We're going to find a lot about these two defenses this week in terms of whether Week 1 was an abomination or not. We saw the Browns miss a lot of tackles last week (11 on RB Le'Veon Bell alone, per PFF), but the Saints missed 23 tackles in total against the Falcons, per PFF. That number was later reduced to 16 missed tackles after PFF adjusts for simply taking bad angles via the All-22 film, but that is still a negative for the defense either way. One of the primary players who struggled was SS Kenny Vaccaro, who missed six tackles after missing just three all of last season! RB Terrance West forced 6 missed tackles in his debut, so it'll be interesting to see whether he and/or RB Isaiah Crowell can help continue the Saints' defensive scuffles.

Bullet_medium#4 - Formation Usage: Last week, the most common unit the Saints had in the game (not including offensive linemen) were QB Drew Brees, RB Pierre Thomas, WR Brandin Cooks, WR Marques Colston, WR Joe Morgan, and TE Jimmy Graham. That formation was used for 17 plays. On another 19 plays, they still went with a 1 RB - 3 WR - 1 TE combination, just with other pairings of players (i.e. RB Mark Ingram, WR Robert Meachem, or TE Benjamin Watson) being in as a substitute. Despite the struggles of CB Justin Gilbert last week, I expect him to be matched up on one of the Saints' three receivers, and for QB Drew Brees to go after him.

As far as Graham goes, this is an example of where SS Donte Whitner could come in handy. As Branson Wright of the Plain Dealer points out, Whitner has had success against Graham from his 49er days:

Last season as a member of the 49ers, Whitner and linebacker Patrick Willis rotated their coverage on Graham. He caught only six passes for 41 yards. In 2012, the duo combined to hold Graham to four catches for 33 yards. ... One of the many challenges in defending Graham is finding the right defender to guard him. Traditionally, a strong safety like Whitner is responsible for the tight end, but Graham is not your traditional tight end. Graham took 31 snaps as a tight end and 30 snaps as a wide receiver against the Falcons, according to an unofficial tally by

Bullet_medium#5 - Special Teams Overview: Welcome back to Cleveland, Shayne Graham. Graham was the Browns' kicker the entire 2013 preseason, but was among the team's final roster cuts. Cleveland instead signed Billy Cundiff as a free agent. Graham won a competition to be the Saints' kicker this year, and he was 2-of-2 in the opener, connecting from 31 and 50 yards. Graham isn't bad from around 45 yards or so, but beyond that distance, things get a bit shaky. Thomas Morstead handles kickoff and punt duties for the Saints. He is one of the best punters in the game, and he's consistent both indoors and outdoors.

RB Travaris Cadet is returning kickoffs again after doing it off-and-on since 2012. He's had some success with a career 26.8 return average, but he's never had a touchdown return. Electric rookie WR Brandin Cooks will be fielding punts for the Saints. He only had 2 attempts last week and signaled for a fair catch on each of them.