The Browns were frustrated with their tie against the Steelers last week, but they’d gladly take one this weekend when they travel to play the Saints.
Both the Browns and Saints endured pretty strange games in Week 1. Cleveland managed to tie the Steelers despite being handed six turnovers. That was still better than the Saints’ effort in Tampa Bay. Despite being the biggest favorite of the opening weekend, New Orleans got their doors blown off by the Buccaneers.
In other words, it’s safe to expect the Saints to come out hot in their home opener. Drew Brees and the offense have the talent to put this game out of reach in a hurry. It will be a severe test for the Browns defense. Hue Jackson has a talented group on that side of the ball, but they’ll need to play their best football to win this weekend.
In particular, the Browns have to survive the opening punch that the Saints are absolutely going to throw at them. Don’t be surprised to see Brees take his offense down the field for a touchdown on the opening possession. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be at a fever pitch at that point.
There will come a time in the first quarter where the Cleveland offense has to buckle down and respond. Tyrod Taylor doesn’t need to get into a shootout with Brees, but he can’t afford to let the Saints run away from them in the first half. The Browns have to keep this game close into the fourth quarter where they can turn the pressure back onto the Saints. The thought of going 0-2 with losses to the Buccaneers and Browns could cause Sean Payton’s team to tighten up if they’re locked in a close game late.
To keep the game close, Myles Garrett will need to have a massive game. His full range of talents were on display against the Steelers, but sacking Brees is an entirely different challenge. He prides himself on getting rid of the ball quickly. If Garrett is going to get to Brees, he’ll need to blow Terron Armstead off the ball at the line of scrimmage to really disrupt New Orleans’ high octane offense.
Garrett won’t be the only young player under pressure for the Browns’ defense. Rookie corner Denzel Ward is going to have to show up big in this one. For the most part, he’s going to be matched up with Michael Thomas on the outside. Cleveland can’t afford to put him on that island alone too often. If they do, Thomas is going to light the talented, but inexperienced defensive back up for a few big plays.
On the other side of the ball, Taylor can’t get caught up in trying to win this game by himself. He’ll need to take a few risks at key times, but trying to challenge the Saints’ secondary too often will result in turnovers. Marshon Lattimore, in particular, will be amped to atone for his mediocre play in Week 1.
If Cleveland is going to win this game they need to keep things calm and boring. That means keeping contact with the Saints early. If they get down by multiple scores, they might get blown out. The only path to victory for the Browns is to keep it close and steal it late. That’s probably too much to ask from Jackson’s team this week. Expect the Saints to even their record at 1-1 at the expense of the Browns.