Previewing Game #2 – Browns vs. Saints
All the good feelings and positive momentum were wiped away with a late field goal last Sunday, now the Browns face an unhappy Saints team who also lost on a field goal. The teams are nearly polar opposites; one is offensive-oriented with a so-so defense while the other relies on their defense and ball-controlled offense. I didn’t think the Browns had a shot last week, and they almost won it. Can the home team actually steal a win on Sunday?
Offense: The tale of two halves at Pittsburgh makes you wonder which Brian Hoyer will show up this week. The likely option is that it will be somewhere in the middle; if he can be smart with the ball and find the end zone a time or two then that could be enough for the win. The no-huddle offense seemed to work well for the Browns’ offense – but as other teams have film on it, they must make correct adjustments. I think Hoyer will be amped for this contest and have a fine outing.
The two rookies rushed exceptionally in the absence of starter Ben Tate. Terrance West looks to be the guy to tire out defenses (who have to chase him), while Isaiah Crowell simply runs over and through guys. At least in their opener, the Browns stuck to their running game – even when trailing by twenty-four points. I think these guys are the reason why the Browns will have any chance to win this contest. Hopefully other areas of the team step up as well.
Andrew Hawkins was the only receiving threat on the outside for the Browns. I believe he will garner more attention as a result, and athletes like Miles Austin and Taylor Gabriel will get additional opportunities to shine. I’d like to see some shorter, high-percentage throws to this duo – where they can have room to blow by defenders. All three tight ends had at least a reception last week. While none were amazing efforts, that position group (especially Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge) can unexpectedly help this offense out.
It will be interesting to see whether the Browns have to chip defenders coming off the edge against Mitchell Schwartz this week. There’s no doubt Rob Ryan will be flooding that side of the line a copious number of times. I’d like some up-tempo strikes as a result, when receivers can be in areas no longer occupied by linebackers. Running-wise, the offensive line did an exceptional job at opening holes – regardless of who was in the backfield. That is just another reason why a run-dominated offense should be in the Browns’ game plans.
Defense: The play of the defensive line, during the second half last game, also must come out in this contest. They cannot let Mark Ingram and the Saints’ running attack have a type of performance like Le’Veon Bell did. I’m pulling for a guy upfront to be consistent in bringing pressure on Drew Brees. Pettine’s defense typically rotates roles for all his defenders – can a Ahtyba Rubin or Phil Taylor be the man who terrorizes the opposing signal caller? I really enjoyed Taylor’s hustle last week (chasing down rushers in the first half); perhaps the coaching staff wants to put his “speed” to the test.
Following a subpar season, Paul Kruger had a masterful contest in week one. I was very glad to see him return to his 2012 form and am confident he can repeat that output on a regular basis. Outside of a Karlos Dansby interception, the guys inside did not have inspiring contests. Maybe the home crowd can get the two young guys (Kirksey and Robertson) pumped to make some plays on Sunday. One thing is certain, this trio must excel at coverage or the Browns’ defense will be in trouble.
Many fingers have been pointed at the poor secondary play against the Steelers – especially at Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert. They gave up multiple, deep passes to Markus Wheaton and Antonio Brown – my guess is that the Saints will attempt to replicate this attack. Gilbert just finished his first professional contest, while Haden seems to always struggle against Brown. I’d like to believe this duo and Buster Skrine will play lights out against the pass – but I simply just don’t see it.
Special Teams: Why is Travis Benjamin fair catching everything? Is he afraid of additional injuries? Whatever the reason, he is killing the team’s field position on punt returns. Chris Tabor either must demand that Benjamin fights for yards or just allows the speedster to only return kickoffs. On the other side, the Browns must improve greatly on punt returns – they surrendered way too many yards. Giving the Saints’ offense a short field is a recipe for disaster.
Coaching: I know it was only one game, but Pettine gets it. He got fired up on the sideline (the way Shurmur and Chud never did) and saw through the “moral victory” loser talk. Now, that’s great and all – but it’s time for him to get his first win as an NFL coach. He and his staff must notice what worked in the second half and make magic happen this Sunday.
Prediction (My Record: 1 – 0): Well, I got the loss correct but I have to give the Browns credit for fighting back last week. I think they play in another high scoring affair, only to come up a play short. The Saints take this one 30 – 24, and the Browns fall once again to 0 – 2.