for this game

Saints take high-powered offense into Cleveland

Sep 11, 2014 - 6:27 PM ( - The last time the New Orleans Saints started a season with back-to-back road games was in 2007. They began that year 0-4 and missed the playoffs.

The Saints hope history doesn't repeat itself when they pay a visit to the Cleveland Browns Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Saints were 3-5 on the road last season and are 35-30 outside the Superdome since 2006.

New Orleans entered the 2014 campaign heavy favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl and didn't live up to expectations with Sunday's 37-34 overtime loss in Atlanta. The defense couldn't contain Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who passed for 448 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Saints All-Pro QB Drew Brees went toe-to-toe with Ryan and threw for 333 yards to go along with a TD pass and an interception. A 51-yard field goal by Falcons kicker Matt Bryant as time expired in regulation sent the game into overtime and he nailed the game-winner minutes into OT after Saints wide receiver Marques Colston fumbled the football.

Atlanta was coming off a 4-12 record in 2013 and has a lot to prove in the NFC South. Brees talked about the rivalry between the Saints and Falcons.

"That's the way this game has been for about five or six years straight, where it just comes down to one or two plays here and there," said Brees. "I'd say maybe the most glaring statistic -- and obviously what cost us -- was the turnover ratio. We got one and we gave two."

Make no mistake, New Orleans played well enough to win and one person doesn't deserve the blame. Saints head coach Sean Payton said the defense could have been better and the offense needed to convert in the red zone. He liked what he saw from running back Mark Ingram, who ran for 60 yards and two scores on 13 carries. Colston finished with 110 yards on five receptions.

Saints rookie wide receiver Brandin Cooks got his first taste of the regular season and hauled in seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown.

"To be honest. I had an alright day but at the end of the day you want the win," Cooks said. "I would rather have zero catches with a 'W' then what I did. It's one of things where you have to find a way to get on top at the end of the game."

It's obvious, at least for one week, the Saints have picked up where they left off last season in terms of offensive production. The last time the Saints started 0-2 was in 2012, when they opened the year 0-4 and finished 7-9 to miss the playoffs.

Cleveland kicked off the 2013 season 0-2 and was 0-5 in 2012. It has lost eight in a row dating back to last Nov. 3 versus Baltimore.

The Browns almost pulled off an upset of the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday and dropped a 30-27 decision. The Browns rallied from a 27-3 deficit and their effort feel just short, as quarterback Brian Hoyer completed 19-of-31 passes for 230 yards with a TD and no interceptions.

"Obviously, we didn't want to start the way we did," said Hoyer, who was trying to become the first Browns starting QB to win four starts in a row since Vinny Testaverde won five straight in 1994. "If you have the heart and character to battle back against that team and get back to where we were, I'll take that team any day."

Cleveland had just 101 yards in the first half, but finished with 389. It was aiming for its first season-opening win since 2004 against Baltimore.

Terrance West ran for 100 yards on 16 carries and Andrew Hawkins filled in for the suspended Josh Gordon with 87 yards on eight receptions for Cleveland, which kicked off the Mike Pettine era. Pettine was named the 15th full-time head coach in Browns history on Jan. 23, 2014.

Pettine liked what he saw from his uptempo offense and no-huddle.

"We talked about changing tempo, forcing teams to think a little faster, getting lined up, get some first downs, it gets them tired," Pettine said. "It keeps you on the field."

The coach also discussed what changes can be made for New Orleans.

"Whether it's something we are doing from a prep standpoint, how we warm up, all things are on the table for us," Pettine said. "We need to make sure right from the beginning that we are dialed in and focused. You can't ease your way into NFL games. You've got to be ready to go."

Cleveland has owned the Saints in the all-time series, winning 12 of the 14 meetings between the teams. The Browns have won four of the past five in this series, including a 30-17 victory on Oct. 24, 2010 at the Superdome. The Saints won their last visit to Cleveland, 19-14, on Sept. 10, 2006.


If Ben Roethlisberger can throw for almost 400 yards (365) against the Browns, imagine what Brees can do when he's firing away. Big Ben torched the Cleveland secondary, mostly in the first half, on Sunday and beat Browns talented cornerback Joe Haden for a 35-yard TD pass to Antonio Brown in the second quarter. Haden is arguably one of the best at his position and was beaten by an excellent pass from a shifty Roethlisberger.

"I don't know if he could have been in better coverage. That was as perfect of a ball as you could have thrown," said Pettine of Roethlisberger's pass.

Brown finished with 116 yards and that score on five catches. Roethlisberger spread the ball around to six different receivers and three of them had five or more catches. Haden and fellow cornerback Buster Skrine will have their hands full with Colston, Jimmy Graham and anyone else Brees finds open. Brees has 79 career 300-yard passing games.

Since joining the Saints in 2006, Brees leads the NFL with 39,066 passing yards and 284 TD strikes.

Over the top help is a must for Cleveland safeties Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson. Whitner had 13 total tackles in Pittsburgh. Of course pressure up front on Brees is what causes most interceptions and outside linebacker Paul Kruger registered two last Sunday. Linebacker Karlos Dansby posted a pair of tipped passes and an interception, and is confident in this defense.

"We know what we've got," Dansby said. "It was all mistakes on our end. Things that we weren't doing right technique-wise. And making mental errors ... We overcame that in the second half. You saw the lights out defense that we know. We were playing together. We were playing hard. We were trusting one another."

Much like Cleveland, the Saints gave up a ton of yardage -- 568 yards to be exact -- and were lucky to have made it into overtime. They sacked Ryan only once and were led by linebacker Curtis Lofton's 10 tackles.

While it's easy to key on New Orleans' offense with Brees under center and a myriad of weapons around him, defensive coordinator Rob Ryan must find a way to get his players into better position.

"Coming off the first loss on the first week, you never want that to happen, and doing so in this manner of fashion," Saints DE Cameron Jordan said. "Can't wait for this week to breakdown the film and understand how we went awry."

That should be easy. Ryan has enough time on several downs to butter a loaf of bread and the Falcons had a balanced attack with 123 yards rushing. West enjoyed his NFL debut and has to be feel somewhat relaxed going into this week's game against New Orleans. Isaiah Crowell added 32 yards on five career and Ben Tate amassed 41 on six totes.

"Crowell really was not in the game plan," Pettine said. "It was going to be Tate and West. To Crowell's credit, he prepared like the starter. He went in there and did his job."

Now it's going to be West and Crowell for the next few weeks with Tate expected to miss some time with a knee sprain.

The Saints should be used to seeing multiple running backs in the backfield after what the Falcons showed them in Week 1 with Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers. Tackling was a big concern for New Orleans.

On a side note, Browns rookie QB Johnny Manziel could see action if Pettine opts for certain packages for the former Heisman Trophy winner. If that happens, Manziel will have protection from left tackle Joe Thomas, who has started at left tackle in all 113 career contests and has not missed a snap since he was drafted No. 3 overall in 2007.


The Saints have no intentions of falling into an 0-2 hole, so expect a better effort from the defense. Brees just has to study the tape of Cleveland's first half against Pittsburgh to figure out how to get his team ahead early to stay. The Browns may have surprised some for coming back on Pittsburgh, but they're still one of the worst teams in the NFL even though strides have been made to boost years of poor morale. We all know what happens when lipstick is put on a pig, so the Saints better bring their appetite for pork Sunday.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Saints 33, Browns 20