Browns-Saints: Greg's Game Preview

Greg looks for the Browns defense, not Reggie Bush, to stand out in the home opener. Per usual, Greg takes a look at both team's offensive and defensive units...

Preseason is a thing of the past and it is now time for the Browns to show just how much they have improved over this off-season. The first test will come against the New Orleans Saints as the Cleveland Browns will welcome rookie head coach, Sean Payton, and his rookie sensation, RB Reggie Bush, into the NFL this Sunday. Considering the struggles of the Browns run defense, one has to believe that this game was a setup to showcase Reggie Bush to the world. Sunday, however, Sunday should be a day to showcase the new additions to the Browns defense.

Saints Offense

Sean Payton has installed his variation of the west coast offense, which relies primarily upon a short dink-and-dunk passing attack. The scheme relies upon blocking in the secondary as well as the receivers ability to pick up yards after the catch.

Leading the offense is former San Diego Charger, Drew Brees. Drew is the perfect fit for this scheme. He never had the big arm and after a season ending shoulder injury, he may have even lost some of that arm strength. He does however; display a high level of intellect at the quarterback position as he makes his living by using timing to hit the receiver in stride and allowing them the opportunity for picking up yards after the reception.

The Saints offensive line has to be a point of concern, especially at the left tackle position. Jamaal Brown is making the move from right tackle to left tackle. He was solid last year, but struggled with the quick edge rushers during the pre-season. Outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley should be a nightmare for Jamaal.

The Saints new center is former Brown Jeff Faine. Faine has a history of struggling against the larger defensive tackles. This could be an issue as he faces off against mammoth nose tackle Ted Washington.

The Saints are loaded in the backfield with rookie sensation Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister. Reggie is a threat anytime he touches the ball and the Saints are likely to get him the ball early and often, especially in the passing game. Deuce can wear teams down with his physical style, which will put a great deal of pressure on the interior of the defense. The Saints 1-2 punch in the backfield is as talented as anyone the Browns will face this year. The Saints will look to use both backs at the same time, but Reggie will often go in motion, lining up as the slot receiver. He led the team in receptions during preseason.

The Saints receiving options are fairly limited but Joe Horn is the principal weapon. The 11 year veteran sets the standard for how to run a pass route. Horn is flawless at making the quick cuts, finding the soft part of zones, and using his experience to defeat the corners. Teams that are very physical with Joe at the line of scrimmage have had the most success in stopping him.

The tight end position does not offer a great deal in terms of a passing threat but they do block well especially out into the secondary. Former Brown Mark Campbell, will never be known as a great receiving threat but he can become a vital safety valve. Look for the tight ends to be utilized in max protection schemes to offset the poor pass protection.

Saints Defense

The strength of this defense are the two defensive ends, Will Smith and Charles Grant. Will is emerging as a tremendous pass rushing force, while Charles is very difficult to run on. The middle of this line is improved with the addition of former Eagle, Hollis Thomas.

The Saints linebackers may be the least talented trio of backers the Browns will face all year. Mark Simoneau anchors the middle, with Scott Shanle and Scott Fujita on the outside. This group must rely on gang tackling as their ability to make the open field solo tackle is a question mark.

The secondary for the Saints is solid with Mike McKenzie and Fred Thomas manning the corners. Fred is one of the smaller corners in the league and could find himself in a mismatch with the larger receivers of the Browns.

The safeties position is very similar to the Browns but even more inexperienced. Josh Bullocks is entering his second year as the starting free safety. Roman Harper makes his NFL debut after being selected by the Saints in the second round. They may have a difficult time covering the experienced Dennis Northcutt.

Special Teams

The Browns will likely get a heavy dose of Reggie Bush returning punts. This could present a problem for the Browns as they released 2 of their best special teams contributors in linebacker Nick Speegle and fullback Corey McIntrye. Reggie loves that step back move to avoid the dive tackle at his feet. It will be key for both the defense and special teams to drive through the tackle.

Rookie punter Steve Weatherford has a big time leg but in preseason he showed a tendency to out kick the coverage unit. Kicker John Carney is always clutch and has been one of the most consistent kickers over his 17 year NFL career.

Browns Offense

The Browns offense depends upon the offensive line. Hank Fraley was acquired Saturday and should find himself as the starting center against the Saints. The concern of this unit is the lack of continuity. Look for the Browns to pound the ball early, while testing their passing game as the game progresses. The key match up here will be between left tackle Kevin Shaffer and defensive end Will Smith. Kevin must keep Smith out of the backfield in order to protect the quarterback. Look for a great deal of running behind Shaffer as he is an excellent run blocker and this will also slow the rush of Smith.

The running game will rely upon blocking in the secondary. Anytime that you have linebackers that are suspect in tackling the pressure is put on the defensive secondary. Blocking is what the Browns receivers do best, minus Dennis Northcutt. Receivers Braylon Edwards, Joe Jurevicious and Joshua Cribbs have blown up defensive backs all preseason long and if they can do this Sunday, Reuben and Jerome Harrison could have a monster game running the ball.

Reuben appears to be in the best shape of his career. He is quicker in his cuts, showing great vision and should give the poor linebackers nightmares as they struggle to wrap up. Reuben will need to display a better nose for the end zone.

The blocking into the secondary can also be used to set up the passing game. When the defensive backs are struggling to get past the receivers' blocks, they tend to concentrate more upon helping to stop the run than defending the pass. This should be an excellent set up for Braylon Edwards to get deep. Also look for Joe Jurevicious to have a huge day against the smaller Fred Thomas. Joe has nearly 8 inches in height on Fred and also nearly 50 lbs in weight.

Quarterback Charlie Frye has to be excited. He has more weapons at his disposal than any Browns quarterback since the days of Bernie Kosar. Charlie will look to use his legs to get outside the pocket when he feels pressure. This should allow Kellen Winslow time to get downfield and also in obvious mismatch against the linebackers. Kellen will be a vital safety valve for the young quarterback as no one truly knows what to expect from Kellen.

The Browns spent a lot of preseason working on the screen pass. Whether this is part of the game plan or not remains to be seen but if the Saints become blitz happy, the screens will likely come into focus.

Browns Defense

The Browns defense showed something in preseason that we haven't seen in over a decade, the ability to stop the run. This is vital when facing the likes of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. With Ted Washington clogging the middle it should force the run to the outside. Saints' center, Jeff Faine could have a very difficult day trying to control the line against Ted Washington but also look for the Browns to rely upon the inside blitz on passing downs. Jeff struggles in making the quick adjustment.

Kamerion Wimbley and Willie McGinest should have a great day at the office when rushing the passer. This line has struggled with edge rushers and these two can bring the heat. If they can force Brees into making the quick throw consistently out of the three step drop, it will take a great deal of pressure off of the banged up secondary.

Expect linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to be receive his first start and the majority of playing time opposite Andra Davis in the inside. D'Qwell has struggled with his pass coverage but he has been a tremendous force at stopping the run. When he is in the game, the right side of the field appears to be a brick wall that refuses to let anyone pass.

With Brian Russell recovering from elbow surgery, the Browns will turn to the young combination of Sean Jones and Brodney Pool at the safety positions. Browns fans have wanted to see the Jones and Pool combination at safety and this week they get their wish. These two young safeties were regarded as true playmakers in the secondary and this is their opportunity to showcase their skills. A strong showing here could influence the coaches into keeping this duo as the starters.

The corner position was expected to be team strength but injuries have depleted both the depth and the talent of this position. Both starting corners, Gary Baxter and Leigh Bodden, are recovering from injuries and remain questionable although they are expected to start. Daylon McCutheon is likely out for this contest. If either goes down, it is a nightmare situation for the Browns as all of the backup cornerbacks were beaten early and often in preseason.

Special Teams

The key on special teams for the Browns is punter, Dave Zastudil. Dave must avoid allowing the big return of Reggie Bush. He can do this by kicking away from him or by going for hang time over distance, thus forcing the fair catch.

Overview

This is a game that the Browns can not afford to lose, even at such an early date. The AFC North is so tough that 9 wins might not be good enough to finish third. The Browns also have a very difficult schedule and they must capitalize on the changes made in New Orleans. The Saints are on the right track but they are extremely vulnerable right now due to changes in coaches, scheme and personnel.


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