Coming off of a convincing victory over their division rivals, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Saints have set their sights on the struggling Cleveland Browns. At 1-5, the Browns should be an easy target right? Well, maybe not so fast.
Although the two teams only meet every four years, the Browns currently hold the advantage, leading the series 11 to 4. However, the last time they faced off, the Saints won 19-14 in what was Sean Payton’s debut as a head coach in the NFL. It also marked the inception of what would be the most successful Saints team in the franchise’s history.
This time the matchup should be no less exciting. And even though the Browns are struggling right now, there is no reason to believe that Sunday’s game won’t be as tough as any thus far for the black and gold. They have a running back by the name of Peyton Hillis who is playing very well this year. He already has 4 rushing touchdowns and 1 receiving touchdown, falling just one shy of his career high of 6 in all of 2008. Look for Hillis to really try to challenge the Saints’ 15th ranked rush defense.
You can also expect the Browns’ tight end, Benjamin Watson, to be the go-to guy through the air. He’s already had four straight games in which he’s had 5+ receptions. Also, the rookie quarterback, Colt McCoy is playing more like a veteran. He played surprisingly well in his debut last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, completing 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards and 1 touchdown.
His poise in the pocket proved to be quite an asset as he fearlessly stared down the gut of Pittsburgh’s stout defense. Look for Hillis to run the ball on first and second downs to try to create manageable third downs for McCoy. I expect to see more short, underneath passes and screens as well.
I wouldn’t rule out a shot or two down the field, though. Although the Saints pass defense is currently ranked 7th in the league, it is injury-thin right now. I think the Browns will definitely try to take advantage of all the injuries in our secondary to try to give themselves an edge.
Still and all, I believe the Saints will have another great game. Defensively, I expect New Orleans to literally shut down the run game of Cleveland, therefore forcing McCoy to have to air it out.
With Sedrick Ellis enjoying perhaps his best year thus far and Remi Ayoedele bringing the heat like he’s been doing, it won’t be easy for the young QB. Getting pressure on McCoy is going to be key though. That’s an area in which the Saints failed to capitalize against Max Hall in their loss to Arizona.
If given enough time, I believe that with McCoy’s good pocket presence, he can complete enough of those short underneath throws I was talking about to find some success in moving the ball down the field. One thing about it, the Saints know from experience that they can’t take anything for granted.
Offensively, the Saints should be able to create enough matchup problems to keep the Browns defense off balance and out of sync. Facing another dreaded 3-4 defense won’t be easy though. It’s tough to run on a 3-4 defense and we know that the Saints are a team that has to be able to find some success on the ground.
Needless to say, the offensive line has to have another stellar performance if Ivory and company are going to be able to run with any authority. Right now, I don’t think that will be a problem. The Saints offensive line is one of the best in the league and guards Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks are playing at a ProBowl level. And we know that if Drew Brees has enough time, he can pick any defense apart. I think the Saints will be playing with a lot more confidence with the offense having rediscovered its stride.
The receivers are holding on to the ball more and they are working harder to get open down the field; Robert Meachem even came back for one last week, all of which is necessary to help Brees out when he’s in trouble to cut down on certain mistakes. With the intensity and precision they’re playing with at this point, the Saints are on target to put up some impressive numbers on Sunday.
Look for Brees to air it out down the field more; Colston, Meachem, and Moore should have another great day. Let’s just hope the team can eliminate the turnovers and the dumb penalties.
I predict that the Saints will win 38-16.