Two things happened in the NFL last week that involved the Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints that surprised those across the nation. The Saints lost to the Buccaneers by a final score of 48-40 and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. The Browns did not lose — they did not win either, but they are off to their best regular season start since 2004. All that is there is left to be said from here on out is that anything can happen on Sunday.
The Browns have historically been successful against the Saints. The last time these two teams meant down in New Orleans, the Browns won by a final score of 30-17. Historically in the series, the Browns are 13-4 against the Saints, with an 8-2 record on the road. The last time the Browns and Saints met in Cleveland, the Browns won that one as well by a score of 26-24 back in 2014.
A favorite stat from this matchup: The last time the Saints beat the Browns in New Orleans at the Superdome was October 14th, 1990. In that game, Bernie Kosar was the Browns’ starting quarterback and did not throw a touchdown pass until the fourth quarter (The Athletic). This series has favored the Browns historically and could have the same reward for Cleveland as in years past.
A future Hall of Fame quarterback says a rookie that is a backup could be better than him
In a conference call with Browns reporters earlier this week, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees had some pretty positive things to say about rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.”I think he can be a lot better than me,” said Brees (ESPN). Mayfield, a 6’1” quarterback that has not started a game in the NFL yet has drawn comparisons to Brees, the 6’0” passer that was Super Bowl MVP in 2010. With Tyrod Taylor underperforming in his first start, do not expect the Baker Buzz to stop buzzing. Jackson said, “You know I hate to compare. Obviously, I can see people saying that. Until Baker someday gets his opportunity to play that way, then we will see it.”
2. The woes of the Browns communication on starting players
Jackson told reporters in training camp that when Josh Gordon returned to the team he would not be starting in week one of the regular season. On Sunday things must have changed when Gordon trotted out onto the field with the Browns starting unit. “Right. Well, like I said, just miscommunication. Move on from it, it is what it is. We worked through it, it is done with,” said Jackson on Gordon starting. Haley had something different to say, “With the job that we are trying to get done here – no disrespect, I know that you have a job to do – but it is a silly question to me.” Jackson and Haley continue to remain on opposite pages and it continues to reflect laughter upon the Browns.
3. The Browns will start the same left tackle that finished with the worst performance from the Browns vs. Steelers game on Sunday, according to Pro a Football Focus
Desmond Harrison, the undrafted rookie from West Georgia has quite the debut for the orange and brown. Harrison allowed six pressures, allowed five hurries, a sack, and committed three penalties in his first NFL start. “Oh no, he is a left tackle. There is no doubt,” said Jackson on Monday morning. Apparently, Harrison did well enough to warrant a second start according to Jackson: “There was one pressure I know for a fact that he gave up. But he did some really really good things. I was excited about it being his first game and playing against who he was playing.” Best of luck, Desmond.
4. Former teammates set to battle all afternoon
Browns rookie cornerback Denzel Ward had quite the rookie debut against the league’s best receiver Antonio Brown. Ward intercepted two passes, and only allowed five receptions for 50 yards on seven targets against Brown. The rookie cornerback allowed a 66.7 passer rating when targeted and only surrendered 1.06 yards per cover snap (Pro Football Focus). Ward was voted NFL Rookie of the Week and is receiving quite the award for his great week against Brown. The rookie cornerback, Ward, gets to cover his former teammate as a Buckeye Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas was targeted 17 times and caught 16 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown last week against Tampa Bay. This week will probe if Ward is for real.
5. 2nd-year rookie returner gaining trust from the coaching staff
Jabrill Peppers, the 25th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft has not exactly lived up to the potential of his draft status. “Man, I trust that kid. And I’m going to trust him again last weekend,” said special teams coach Amos Jones (Andrew Gribble). Peppers fair caught a punt with no one within 10 yards of him in overtime last week against Pittsburgh. Peppers will have a tough week ahead of him as he will be matched up against Saints running back Alvin Kamara. Peppers said, “He is a guy who can make guys miss in space coming out of the backfield or even lining up at receiver. He is definitely a guy that you have to keep a couple of eyes on.”
Players to Watch
Wide Receiver Austin Carr
Free agent wide receiver Cameron Meredith was a surprise inactive last week as a healthy scratch against the Buccaneers. Last week according to NFL Network, Carr impressed the Saints enough to warrant a start in the slot against Tampa Bay. Carr only received two targets last week but caught both for two receptions for 20 yards.
Linebacker Demario Davis
The former Cleveland Browns captain is one of the NFL’s top tacklers in year seven of his career. Davis was sixth in the NFL last season in tackles collecting 135 tackles, which was actually behind Joe Schobert (144 tackles) and Chris Kirksey (138 tackles) in 2017. Against the Buccaneers, Davis led the Saints in tackles with nine and added a tackle for loss.
Defensive Tackle Tyeler Davison
Davison may come as a surprise for some folks. In his fourth year as a member of the Saints, the former fifth-round pick from Fresno State registered four tackles and led the way in tackles for loss with one a half.
Defensive Lineman Chris Smith
Smith will be replacing third-year starting defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah as the starting defensive end against New Orleans on Sunday. No Ogbah may seem like an issue for Cleveland but the Browns may not skip a beat with Smith filling his spot. Against Pittsburgh Smith notched three tackles and a half a tackle for loss. Earlier this week Smith spoke upon replacing Ogbah: “That is the thing about it, when they bought me in I knew I would be a rotational guy and stuff like that, but I am not really worried about all of that. That is what I do. I just put my head down and work, and whatever happens, happens.”
Running back Nick Chubb
Last week against the Steelers, Chubb only received three carries but ran for 21 yards on few opportunities. Jackson told reporters this week, “I am sure that there is going to be a game where he gets a ton more carries than he did the other day.” There may be an explanation for why he saw such little action last week. “He has got to continue to grow and get better, understand our protections better. He had one of those moments in the game where it did not work out well for him,” said Jackson. This week would be great to see Chubb rebound where he ran well in college, back down in SEC territory.
Tight end David Njoku
Coming into this season Njoku received lots of hype, and rightfully so. The opportunities for the former Miami Hurricane presented themselves as Njoku was targeted seven times, but only caught three passes for 13 yards. Jackson said, “He wants to put that game behind him, let’s go play in this one and see if he can be consistent in catching the ball.” Njoku certainly needs to find consistency if he wants to live up to his first-round potential.
Fun Facts (via Browns official)
Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. served as the Browns tight ends coach/offensive assistant in 2000. His father, Pete Carmichael, was the Browns offensive coordinator at the time. (Browns)
Saints tight end Benjamin Watson spent three of his 15 career seasons with the Browns, totaling 154 receptions for 1,674 yards and eight touchdowns from 2010-12 in Cleveland. Watson started 41 of his 45 games played in a Browns uniform. (Browns)
Browns defensive Devaroe Lawrence was originally an undrafted free agent signing by the Saints in 2017 and was traded to the Browns earlier this month. (Browns)
Injury Report and Guessing Inactives
DE Emmanuel Ogbah (ankle) has been ruled out for Sunday’s game vs. Saints.
Jackson told Browns reporters on Friday morning, “That it is possible the Browns could get Ogbah back after a one-game absence.” (Nate Ulrich, Akron Beacon Journal on Twitter)
LB Chris Kirksey (shoulder/ankle) is OUT for Sunday’s game vs. Saints.
Kirksey has never missed a game as a Brown. He has played 65/65 games. (Andrew Gribble, Browns.com)
DB Damarious Randall (head/neck) and E.J. Gaines (knee) were limited at times during practice throughout the week but all are expected to play.
Other Inactives? (guessing)
QB Drew Stanton. Browns unlikely to dress three quarterbacks.
OL Austin Corbett. Browns made Corbett inactive last week and nothing tells me he did enough to be active this week.
DB Tavierre Thomas. Browns already have nine defensive backs ahead of Thomas.
I will be covering the game on my Twitter (@KyleKellyWFNY) and my Quick Hits and More Column will return on Monday morning.