Browns Hope to Get to the Next Plateau

The Browns clash with the Saints is shaping up to be a game that could help this team get to the next plateau. While Browns fans by the score and the BerniesInsiders gang take over New Orleans, a Cleveland-bound, stranded, and not-cranky-at-all-about-it-really Art Bietz abuses his webmaster power to offer his uninformed opinions about today's battle in the Big Easy.

Cleveland Browns Vs. New Orleans Saints
November 24, 2002, 1PM

Louisiana Superdome
: CBS (regional coverage), Gus Johnson and Brent Jones
Radio: WMMS 100.7 (listen) , WTAM 1100AM (listen)

I read a lot of pre-game analysis articles, but I never remember them. I think that's intentional on the part of sportswriters, since they're generally completely wrong in retrospect.

This is the age of parity where last-second victories are a weekly event. Wins or losses seem to depend less on component parts than on weird twists of fate, rule interpretations by elderly officiating crews, and nth-degree ripple effects of chaos theory (if a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, take the Saints and the points).

With that in mind, here are my view of the factors which will make-or-break Sunday's game experience.

Deep Webmaster Analysis of Sunday's Browns-Saints Game

1. If you look at the results achieved to date, the Browns are completely and utterly doomed.

The Browns and Saints have faced two of the same opponents, namely the Steelers and the Bucs. A quick glance the results of those games reveals that the Saints beat both by narrow margins (32-29 over Pittsburgh and 26-20 over Tampa Bay). Providing a stark contrast, the Browns lost twice to the Steelers and got slapped around like an expansion team against Tampa Bay. The Browns wins have primarily been over weak opponents (Bungles, Texans, Jets) and they have yet to beat a serious playoff contender. Based on the only common yardsticks we have, the Saints are a much better team and deserve to be heavily favored.

With that noted, the injury bug needs to be noted as a factor of overriding importance at this point in the season. The Browns have been plagued since their return with a thin layer of talent which gets exposed as the team gets dinged up through the season. Partially as a result, the Browns have a record of 2-16 over the last three years for their last six games. This year, however, there is a difference. The Browns are getting healhier, or so it appears, after taking key injury hits - particularly on offense - during the early season. While the loss of Jamir Miller still stings, the Browns are staying relatively healthy while teams around them are going deeper on their bench because of injuries. The Saints, in contrast, will have LeCharles Bentley, and possibly Deuce McAllister on the sidelines. Plus, the team has benched Norman Hand due to non-physical factors. This trend takes a little of the edge off the sense of statistical doom which should pervade all the pre-game analysis.

2. The Browns effectiveness running will, per usual, provide today's wild card.

I'm going to assume that both of these teams will pass effectively on the other, as Aaron Brooks and Tim Couch both have a deep group of receivers to throw to. The matchups, despite the presence of solid corners in Corey Fuller and Dale Carter, simply aren't all that good for either defense once you start to get into three and four reciever sets.

The Saints defense is 27th in the NFL against the pass, and 28th overall. The Browns aren't much better, being 27th in the NFL against the run and 23rd overall. The team's pass defense is hurting as the secondary recovers from injuries. Based on this, expect a shootout: the Browns will be able to throw and the Saints (particularly if McAllister is able to play) will be able to run and Aaron Brooks will make our lives miserable.

Expect that we're going to see a fairly high-scoring game, and that the team which is able to control the ball and minimize turnovers, i.e., the team that can run the ball, will have a crucial advantage.

I highlight the running game because that's where the wild cards are for both the Browns and the Saints. Deuce McAllister is still having trouble with his ankle and will be a gametime decision. If he's out, the Browns have to deal with the less-capable James Fenderson. If he's in, McAllister might be still be tender and less aggressive than usual.

On the Browns side, there's greater confidence in William Green's ability to be an effective starter after his performance in Cincinnati, and Green has a history of doing very well on artificial turf (which he ran on in college). William Green's second start is perhaps the most the intriguing element of this game. Certain factors (turf, Hand sitting, White not being able to go) are in Green's favor, and being able to repeat last week's performance against a decent club would cement his role as the #1 running back. Watch the running during the first quarter. As this goes, so goes the game.

3. Anyone who says the Browns have an advantage because of "intangibles" is joking, right?

I read about intangibles a lot, generally from people who should know better.

One I've read frequently this week is the notion that the Saints might be "looking beyond" the Browns as they come off a loss to the Falcons and prepare for another game against the Bucs.

Balderdash and poppycock.Professional football is a game where large men hit each other, and fast men try to outrun each other. Joe Horn won't be slower because he's daydreaming about Warren Sapp. As soon as the ball is kicked off, assuming the Saints are well-coached, no one is going to be thinking about Tampa Bay.

I've also read that there is a sense that the Browns are getting their "swagger back". That swagger lasts as long as the next long run or time-consuming drive.

The Browns "swagger" last year came about because the defensive line, especially Gerard Warren, where making plays and hitting hard. They aren't this year. The Browns won't get significant momentum until the top draft picks defensive line starts making plays. If a playoff run is going to happen, two elements of play - pass rush and the running game - have to become NFL caliber. The former has been largely absent. "Swagger" means nothing. Sacks mean everything.

4. The game will be nearly unbearable because Brent Jones is doing color analysis and I can't get the radio tuned effectively in my basement sports den.

Fortunately, I'll be too busy slamming together game updates and talking in the chat room to get really irritated. Not so for most other Browns fans, including those in Columbus who are fortunate to be seeing the game rather than the Bungles-Squeelers alternative. No, those fans are doomed to

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