On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns are on the road for the first time as they take on the New Orleans Saints. To help preview a few topics from the Saints’ perspective, we reached out to Christopher Dunnells from Canal Street Chronicles and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Pokorny: “I’m sure the Saints allowing 48 points to the Bucs last week was just as surprising to you as it was the rest of the league. Was the Saints’ secondary the biggest culprit?”
Dunnells: “I think you would start the finger-pointing by looking at the defensive line. No matter how good the secondary is (although they admittedly struggled mightily as a unit in Week 1), opposing wide receivers are eventually going to get open when the quarterback has all day to throw. When there is absolutely no pass rush to speak of for the Saints, it’s hard to expect the secondary to maintain coverage that long. As the defensive line play improves, so should the rest of the Saints defense. Hopefully, for the Saints and their fans, Alex Okafor returns to form, Cam Jordan shows why he’s a Pro Bowl caliber DE, and Marcus Davenport continues to show improvement rushing the passer.”
Pokorny: “The Saints drafted DE Marcus Davenport with the 14th overall pick of this year’s draft, and New Orleans paid a premium to move up to get him. I see he only played 35% of the snaps in Week 1. How has he been this preseason and in his debut?”
Dunnells: “Marcus Davenport was never drafted to be a Week 1 starter, in spite of the high price the Saints paid to move up in the 1st Round of the 2018 NFL Draft to select him. Instead, Davenport is a raw project with all of the potential in the world. He was held out of the start of the preseason due to injury, but was able to show bursts of what made the Saints value him so highly in Week 1. He had a great sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick that was erroneously ruled a roughing the passer penalty and showed amazing speed (did you know he runs a 40 faster than many of the Saints offensive players, including Mark Ingram?) to pursue sweeping runs from the back side. As long as Saints fans can be patient with his growth and development, Davenport should be just fine.”
Pokorny: “According to PFF, ‘The Saints’ offensive line was one of the best in the NFL when it came to protecting Brees in 2017, but the unit struggled against Tampa Bay’s strengthened defensive line on Sunday afternoon.’ I only see one sack allowed by the Saints, and plenty of offense. Would you agree that the line struggled? Either way, which position on the line is the weakest?”
Dunnells: “I would disagree mightily that the Saints offensive line struggled in pass protection in Week 1. Just watching the game live, it seemed Drew Brees had plenty of time to make reads and get rid of the ball. Granted, he often was able to take advantage of the first read in his progression and got rid of the ball quickly, but he didn’t seem rushed, hurried, or hit often.
The offensive line as a unit, when healthy, is pretty strong across the board. The problem is with the “when healthy” part, though. In Week 1, Andrus Peat sat due to injury in favor of Josh LeRibeus, who filled in admirably in Peat’s absence. Still, Peat’s spot at left guard was definitely the weakest spot in the line. In Week 2, Peat looks to be ready to make his season debut, so the Saints should have an entire healthy group up front. When healthy, the weakest player might still be Peat, but that’s saying something when your former first round pick (who is a solid contributor in both pass protection and run blocking) is the ‘worst’ of the bunch.”
Pokorny: “Michael Thomas posted an incredible stat line to open the year -- 16 catches (on 17 targets) for 180 yards and 1 touchdown. Alvin Kamura can hurt teams in a lot of ways too. After those two weapons, is Ted Ginn the next best thing the team has to offer? If so, do fans find that ‘good enough?’”
Dunnells: “Eh. Maybe Ginn. Maybe Benjamin Watson at TE, who is definitely one of Drew’s most trusted options when a big reception is needed to move the chains. But when everyone is healthy and going right, I would say the #3 option in the passing attack is going to wind up being WR Cameron Meredith (formerly of the Chicago Bears) or WR Tre’Quan Smith (rookie out of UCF). Then there’s also RB Mark Ingram, who the Saints should have back by Week 5. Between Watson, Ginn, Meredith, Ingram, and Smith, on top of Thomas and Kamara, the Saints offense has plenty of weapons for Drew Brees - who doesn’t need many.”
Pokorny: “Tell us about one player who Browns fans might not know much about, but who appears to be playing (or trying to play) a key role for the Saints this year.”
Dunnells: “The aforementioned Tre’Quan Smith would be a good one, but let’s go with LB Alex Anzalone. He’s in his second season in the NFL, but only played in a few games in 2017 after getting placed on season-ending IR. He’s a little light in the pads at only 238 lbs and he has a tendency to make poor reads in coverage, but he’s incredibly fast for a linebacker and athletic enough to make plays on the ball when he’s cover opposing receivers. The Saints still aren’t 100% sure who makes up their starting linebacking corps, but Anzalone definitely fits into the puzzle somewhere. If he can take a step forward in 2018, the Saints should have another young and promising defender to build around.”
Thanks again to Chris for taking the time to answer my questions.