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New Orleans Saints vs. Cleveland Browns: Keys to the Game

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Sep 7, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) celebrates with team mates after catching a touchdown pass against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Saints 37-34 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Game 2: ‘Taming the Dawg Pound’

We’re back with another Keys to the Game segment, Who Dat Nation! It’s Week Two, and we’re looking at the New Orleans Saints vs. Cleveland Browns matchup, attempting to put the bitter taste of defeat from the Falcons behind us.

Let’s get started with some power rankings for the black and gold:

  • ESPN – #6 (Previous Rank: #5) -1
  • CBS – #10 (Previous Rank: #5) -5
  • FOX – #6 (Previous Rank: #3) -3
  • NFL – #11 (Previous Rank: #3) -8
  • USA Today – #7 (Previous Rank: #3) -4
  • Who Dat Dish – #12 (Previous Rank: #4) -8

You can’t lose and expect to move up in the power rankings. Perhaps I was hardest on the team, but deservedly so. We all expect better out of this team, and everyone knows it.

What to Watch For

Offense – It’s almost sickening to wonder how bad the game would have went if the Saints offense weren’t clicking on all cylinders. The Steelers were able to put up nearly 500 yards of offense last week against the Browns (490 actual). Something forgotten in the loss last week: the Saints offensive line was able to produce a 100-yard rushing game, and did not yield a sack on Drew Brees.

I was a bit confused by not dressing five receivers for the game (Toon was inactive), but it worked. The Saints went 8/13 on third down last week, which I don’t have to tell you helps fuel a successful offense. In summary, I’m interested to see if we can keep the pressure off of Drew, continue the success on third down, and then be able to move the ball as well as last week.

Defense – How does this unit respond from Week One’s debacle? The Saints allowed nearly 600 yards of total offense to the Falcons. In this game, I am looking for a more aggressive start from the defense, which should result in some quarterback pressures, hits, and ultimately sacks. I am also looking for who will emerge as the person that turns things around the most. Last week, adjustments were not made to combat the Falcons offense. It almost begs the question as to what adjustments the missing veterans (Greer, Vilma, Harper, Smith) would have made in last week’s game. Look for the tone to be set early. 

Special Teams – Another forgotten element from last week was the fact that Shayne Graham went 2/2 on his field goal attempts of 31 and 50 yards. This is one of five games in the season that are played outdoors for the Saints, and Graham is not a stranger to kicking in Cleveland. We are looking for an encore performance should the Saints’ drives stall. The one return that registered on the score sheet from last week was Travaris Cadet’s 34-yard kickoff return. We can only hope for more.

Key #1Tackle, Tackle, Tackle – Tackling 101

It had to be the most frustrating game in recent memory for the New Orleans Saints and their fans. I have never seen so many missed tackles, and it was everyone. The secondary arguably had the most difficulty in wrapping up the Falcons last week.

I’m certain that Rob Ryan has drilled this home to the point where players and coaches are sick of hearing about it. The players have addressed it as well through media interviews.  There’s no way to sugarcoat this in the NFL, you have to tackle. The Saints face two young and talented running backs, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. Each of these backs averaged over 6 yards/carry.

Key #2 – Start Strong, Finish Stronger

If you want to release your frustrations, here’s a perfect opportunity to do so. Prove everyone wrong that last week was just a ‘blip on the radar’. The Saints got half of the formula right in last week’s game, as they jumped out to a 20-7 lead. The Falcons would rattle off 17 unanswered points. As for the Browns, they battled back from a 27-3 halftime deficit, and would tie the Steelers early in the fourth quarter. Sleeping on this team is not going to be an option should the Saints find early success. Don’t have that turnover that sparks the Browns and gives them the momentum.

Key #3 – Replicate the Success on Offense 

Again, amidst all of the focus on the defensive woes and getting wrapped up in the Marques Colston fumble, many overlooked how good the offense looked. Brandin Cooks, Jimmy Graham, and Mark Ingram were all stars for the Saints’ offense in Week One. The Saints had a fairly decent balance of runs to passes last week (28 runs, 42 passes). By last year’s standards, it’s absolutely encouraging. Keep churning with a hydra dose of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Khiry Robinson. Wear down the Browns defense to control the time of possession.

Difference Maker

If you’re going to turn things around on defense, then it all lies with Rob Ryan. Whatever the case was from last week, we’re expecting this to be the defense from a year ago. Formulating an opinion of this unit based on one bad game, let alone the season opener, is just nonsense. Give the defense and Rob Ryan the benefit of the doubt. I expect nothing less than an aggressive, but disciplined approach when Ryan squares off against his former team.

Did You Know?

  • The Saints are 2-4 lifetime on the road against the Browns.
  • This is the 17th time the Saints-Browns will meet. The Browns hold the series lead at 12-4.
  • The Browns won their previous meeting with the Saints in 2010, where Rob Ryan made quite a name for himself. The Browns only need 210 total yards of offense to beat the Saints at home.
  • Brees has a 3-1 lifetime record against the Browns, but only has a 4:6 TD-INT ratio, and has his lowest quarterback rating among any opponents faced: 67.4%

Closing Thoughts

The Browns have upgraded tremendously on paper, and whether that transpires on the field remains to be seen. There’s also this guy named Johnny Manziel in the Dawg Pound franchise that we’ll have to keep an eye out for.

The ‘Rob Ryan squaring off against a former foe’ will make for a great storyline. I think the big question for Who Dat Nation is, ‘Would you be satisfied if the Saints beat up on the Browns’? Would that put last week’s loss at ease, or would you still have the mentality of, ‘Well, it’s just the Browns’?

Either way, it’s a tough spot to be in if you’re the Saints. I won’t automatically give the Saints this one, as the Browns always like to play spoilers. It will be a lot closer than you think.

Prediction: Saints 20, Browns 14

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