Week 2 Preview: Browns versus Saints

‘Twas in the Crescent City not long ago befell
The tear-compelling incident I now propose to tell;
So come, my sweet collector friends, and listen while I sing
Unto your delectation this brief, pathetic thing-
No lyric pitched in vaunting key, but just a requiem
Of blowing twenty dollars in by nine o’clock a.m.

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Mistakes were made. Field goals were missed in overtime. Interceptions were thrown at the end of regulation. Blocks were performed in the back. That’s all in the past (and passive voice). The Cleveland Browns (0-0-1) played a regular season game and did not lose and let’s leave it at that. This week the Browns will journey south to the rain-free Superdome and a date with the New Orleans Saints (0-1).

For the second straight week, the Pride of Cleveland will enter play as underdogs. The Saints are nine-point favorites which feels about right. The game theoretically will feature the Browns potent (?) defense against the Saints’ explosive offense.

Cleveland leads the all-time series 13-4 including, buckle up for this stat, a 4-1 record since 1999. That’s right, the Browns defeated the Saints in 1999, 2002, 2010, and 2014. The Orange and Brown picked up a three-game win streak in New Orleans along the way. In the last contest kicker, Billy Cundiff played the hero toeing a 29-yard field goal with three seconds left to lift the Browns to a 26-24 victory.

The Saints opened the 2018 season with a shocking 48-40 home loss to Tampa Bay. The New Orleans offense racked up 475 yards, but the defense bled as Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Bucs to 529 yards. Therefore, a lackluster offense, perhaps featuring Tyrod Taylor, could see some success against such a soft defensive side. The immortal Drew Brees, now 39-years-old, showed no signs of age last week as he tossed 37-of-45 passing for 439 yards and three touchdowns. Alvin Kamara rushed for two touchdowns and caught another along with 141 all-purpose yards. Former Ohio State Buckeye Ted Ginn Jr. snagged five passes for 68 yards and a score. Former Buckeye Kurt Coleman also suits up at strong safety.

Last season the Browns defense struggled with takeaways, recording 13 total turnovers which ranked dead last. The club looks ready to change that script as the D forced six turnovers against Pittsburgh last week. Myles Garrett (2 forced fumbles, 2 sacks, 5 tackles) and rookie Denzel Ward (2 INT, 2 tackles) shone bright and offered a tantalizing look at the present and future of the Cleveland defense. Sunday’s game will offer a chance for these playmakers to show they have the goods; the elements will not be a factor in Louisiana and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees will not be an easy mark.

When the Browns acquired Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo during the offseason it was an open secret that he is meant to keep the seat warm until No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield is ready to take the field. It may (or may not) be too soon for serious Baker talk, but Taylor needs a stronger showing this weekend to both quiet doubters and boost his confidence. Taylor completed only 37.5% of his passes in Week 1 (15-of-40) for 197 yards, a touchdown, and a terribly timed pick. He kept plays alive and ran for a solid 77 yards and a score, but his decision making and inability to connect with receivers made him seem more like a pickup player than a pro who has been working with this group for months.

The Browns running back stable features one of the most talent-rich areas on the team, but the handoff distribution was not terribly even in Week 1. Of the 30 designed runs, Carlos Hyde received 22 touches (73.3%) Duke Johnson had 5 (16.7%) and rookie Nick Chubb saw the ball only three times (10%). Hyde managed a touchdown, but his 2.8 yards/attempt average left something to be desired. If he struggles to get momentum in the Bayou the Browns may benefit from giving Johnson or Chubb (holy cow what a last name combo) more looks.

It’s still too soon to tell what sort of season this will be for the Browns. If nothing else they have already made history; the club had not seen a tied final score since 1989. They will get another chance to record their first win since 2016 which, for the first time in a long time, seems more than a little possible.