This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the New Orleans Saints in Week 2 of the NFL regular season. Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
- The Browns are actually 2-1 against Drew Brees, having won the last two matchups against him. Nonetheless, it is always a tough task to hold Brees and the Saints’ offense in check. Even in defeat last week, Brees completed 82.2% of his passes for 439 yards and 3 touchdowns. He gets rid of the ball quick and takes minimal sacks. Even at age 39, he remains one of the league’s best passers.
- It was not the best debut for Tyrod Taylor from a passing perspective, but I am perfectly fine with giving him a pass due to the weather conditions. This week is in a dome, though, against a defense that was just shredded by Ryan Fitzpatrick a week ago. Fitzpatrick also had 12 runs for 36 yards and a touchdown last week, and we know the type of mobility that Taylor has.
- Alvin Kamara is one of the most explosive running backs in the NFL. He came on strong as a rookie last year, averaging 6.1 YPC as the “backup” to Mark Ingram, but he also added 81 catches for 826 yards. This year, Ingram is suspended, so the Saints are going to ride Kamara even more so in the early parts of the season. He was limited to 8 carries last week, but the shootout nature of the game dictated that. He still had 2 rushing touchdowns to go along with 9 catches for 112 yards (and another touchdown).
- Here is a fun stat for you: Isaiah Crowell did not reach 20 carries in a single game all of last year. In his first game with Cleveland, Carlos Hyde was given 22 carries. Even though his average was just 2.8 yards per carry, I thought he was fine and should be in for more success against the Saints. Using Duke Johnson’s quickness as a receiving option has to be one of the team’s biggest priorities this week, especially with Josh Gordon being ruled out.
Wide Receiver / Tight End
- The Saints’ top two receivers are Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn, two former Ohio State products. Thomas already had two very good seasons under his belt with Drew Brees, but looked especially locked in last week when he caught 16-of-17 targets for 180 yards and 1 touchdown (although he did have a fumble). Ginn’s speed hasn’t diminished at 33 years of age. The past three years, between Carolina and New Orleans, he has consistently been a 750-yard, 5-touchdown type of receiver.
- 3rd round pick Tre’Quan Smith only played 12 snaps (without a catch) last week, so don’t expect him to be too involved. Cameron Meredith will be the team’s slot receiver if Sean Payton deems him healthy enough to play this week; otherwise, Austin Carr would fill that role. Benjamin Watson is New Orleans’ tight end, and he can still go at age 37. He was a Browns killer last year for Baltimore, catching 12 passes for 165 yards and 1 touchdown in 2 games against his former club.
- One of the exciting elements leading up to this week (and every week) is thinking about the team getting Josh Gordon involved in the action. All of a sudden on Saturday, after not having been on the injury report all week, the team downgraded him to “OUT” with a hamstring injury.
- That still leaves Jarvis Landry as the team’s primary option. He caught two 30-yard passes last week, something he never saw happen down in Miami. Too many of the passes were off target or underthrown for him last week, but he still caught them. Antonio Callaway should see a significant uptick in reps with Gordon out, and the turf would be the perfect place to utilize his speed. A player looking for redemption is David Njoku, who since a strong first preseason game has faded a bit again.
- The Saints’ starting offensive line includes LT Terron Armstead, LG Andrus Peat, C Max Unger, RG Larry Warford, and RT Ryan Ramczyk. The Saints pass protect Brees very well due to solid play from both of their tackles, especially Ramczyk. Peat was inactive for last week’s game due to injury, but will return for Week 2. Our Saints affiliate is very high on their line, saying, “When healthy, the weakest player might 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.”
- The offensive line has to be better this week; whereas the Saints are strong at the tackles, the Browns’ tackles (Desmond Harrison and Chris Hubbard) didn’t fare as well in Week 1. That is not a call for a change. I can fault the Browns for how they handled the sudden starting of Harrison, but that does not mean I’m going to root against the kid or something. He did OK for his first career start, but needs time to develop that consistency. I am intrigued by his mobility and tenacity.
- The Saints run a 4-3 defense. Their starting defensive line includes DE Cameron Jordan, DT Sheldon Rankins, DT Tyeler Davison, and DE Alex Okafor. Davison has been ruled out this week after playing a career-high 52 snaps last week. Taking his spot could be undrafted rookie Taylor Stallworth in his first pro game.
- Jordan has been one of the three elite edge rushers in the NFL over the past few years, along with Von Miller and Khalil Mack. Rankins has not registered many sacks in his young career, but has done well at generating interior pressure. Okafor plays the run very well opposite Jordan. The last player to watch up front is first-round pick Marcus Davenport. The Saints are limiting his reps, as he still needs time to develop his craft. But his speed was already well on display last week.
- The Browns are not in the best of positions right now on the defensive line. Last week, they depended on Myles Garrett playing 100% of the snaps. This week, Emmanuel Ogbah is out with an ankle injury, forcing Chris Smith into the starting lineup. After that, the team has a lot of uncertainties. Rookie Chad Thomas didn’t see action last week, and the four defensive linemen the Browns picked up after final cuts are still “new” to the team.
- I am all for giving someone like Larry Ogunjobi all these increased reps too, but it’s just concerning knowing all of the depth uncertainty behind him. Hopefully Carl Davis gets worked into the mix this week.
- The Saints’ are still trying to figure out their linebacker situation. Demario Davis is playing weakside linebacker for the first time in his career, and will be on the field no matter what. Besides him, the team will rotate between three linebackers: Alex Anzalone, Manti Te’o, and A.J. Klein. Anzalone will play more during nickel situations. The Saints love his athleticism, but our Saints affiliate says that he is vulnerable in coverage.
- The Browns confirmed that they will be without OLB Christian Kirksey for Sunday’s game, the first time he’s missed action in his career. Fortunately, James Burgess returns from a concussion and will likely slide in to that starting role. Joe Schobert recovered a pair of fumbles last week, showing the playmaking ability we’ve been waiting for out of him. Are we still counting Genard Avery as a linebacker? Lining up as mostly an edge rusher last week, the 5th round rookie was very impressive in his debut. The edge he provides gives Cleveland the slight advantage at linebacker, even with Kirksey’s absence.
- The Saints’ two starting cornerbacks are Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, with Patrick Robinson covering the slot. New Orleans’ starting safeties are Kurt Coleman and Marcus Williams. Lattimore had a fantastic rookie season in 2017 to where you could already legitimately call him a lockdown corner, and Crawley was a solid second option. All of last year, those two allowed a total of 4 touchdowns through the air. In Week 1, they allowed 3 touchdowns. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, though, and fall back on the success they had a year ago when considering these rankings.
- While the Saints are getting credit for last year’s rankings, for Cleveland, I only have one week to go off of because everyone is new. Denzel Ward won rookie of the week honors with two interceptions, both on good instincts. Damarious Randall looked confident from the free safety role. Terrance Mitchell’s preseason success carried over to being a Week 1 starter. The only player that negatively stood out was Briean Boddy-Calhoun. We will see if E.J. Gaines’ return from injury impacts that this week.
- Wil Lutz is the Saints’ kicker. He made 31-of-36 attempts last year, and his only field goal last week was a 36-yarder. Zane Gonzalez’ only attempt last week was blocked in overtime of a rainstorm, but he made his kicks in the preseason.
- Thomas Morstead is the Saints’ punter. Last week, he averaged 52.0 yards per punt with a net average of 45.7. Britton Colquitt had a league-high 12 punts in the rain last week, with his average (43.5) and net average (37.2) not fairing too well. I’m sure the dome will feel like paradise compared to last week.
- Cleveland was supposed to have Antonio Callaway return punts last week, but we really just ended up getting a heavy dose of more missed plays by Jabrill Peppers. Tommylee Lewis is the Saints’ return man. I’m giving the Saints the special teams advantage because of the concerns I had with Cleveland’s coverage teams last week.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “As much as I love Josh Gordon, I really do believe this is a ‘new Browns team’ this year — that is, they aren’t going to crumble to the ‘same old Browns’ habits. Forcing six turnovers last week wasn’t a fluke, and they have the talent and confidence on defense that they can make a difference on any given snap. Cumulatively, missing two defensive starters will hurt in the long run. Tyrod Taylor will be much crisper this week, particularly with the utilization of Duke Johnson. The Browns still fall short with factors like being on the road, having special teams struggles, and still not having the offensive line chemistry up-to-par affecting them.” Saints 28, Browns 24.
Josh Finney: “Number fire gave the Browns a 13% chance of winning, and that number sounds right. None of the Browns strengths seem to combat what New Orleans does well.” Saints 36, Browns 23.
Mike Hoag: “The Saints are getting 10 points at home after giving up 48 points to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the left-for-dead Buccaneers. Something stinks. One thing to remember, though. According to PFF’s Brian Spoon, the Browns haven’t scored 30 or more points in their last 45 games. This preseason, a boisterous Jarvis Landry told Sports Illustrated that teams would be lucky if the Browns ‘don’t score 40’ on them. To beat the Saints this weekend, they’re going to need to.” Saints 35, Browns 27.
Tom Moore: “The Browns are 8-2 all time against the Saints in New Orleans, with their last defeat in a road game to the Saints coming in 1990. Sadly, it looks like that streak will come to an end this weekend. Cleveland’s offense is still struggling to find a rhythm and offensive coordinator Todd Haley talked this week about having to simply the game plan until everyone is up to speed. That makes for a tall order going against a Saints offense that has only been outside of the Top 10 in scoring twice since Drew Brees took over as quarterback in 2006.
Cleveland counters with the unstoppable force that is defensive end Myles Garrett and playmaking rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, but is still vulnerable in other spots, especially with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah missing the game with an ankle injury.
The Browns will make it tough on the Saints, but will have to wait at least a few more days to claim their first victory of 2018.” Saints 23, Browns 10.
Ezweav: “I don’t expect this to be close. Drew Brees lives in the middle of the field and (especially with the specter of Kirko missing this one) we don’t do especially well defending there. Ogbah’s out, and even if Garrett continues his super-human play from the 2nd half of last week these guys are going to score some points. It will then be incumbent on us to respond, and that’s where we’ll fall short. Todd Haley’s offense against Pittsburgh looked pretty much exactly like Hue Jackson’s offense the last two years. Tyrod Taylor is a wonderful guy and should easily be better than he was last week, but it won’t be anywhere near enough. Once again, defense will be game but not going to be able to shut down New Orleans after the offense keeps giving them the ball back. ” Saints 30, Browns 10.
Dan Lalich: “Man how quickly people forget that the Browns are good now. Granted, the offense isn’t that good (yet). But the defense is fantastic. There’s some kind of magic that affects Browns-Saints games, New Orleans is probably the only team the new Browns have a winning record against. Given that magic and the fact that the Browns are good, I think it’s pretty clear they take this one in the end.” Browns 11, Saints 5.
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.