Friday, October 22, 2010

Not so Saintly

A quick perusal of their statistics this season reveals that the New Orleans Saints have discovered the formula of how to win games despite very average numbers.

The Browns' opponent this Sunday won't overwhelm you with its offense or frighten you with its defense. And yet, all Sean Payton's team does is win. The defending Super Bowl champion would be 5-1 entering the Browns' game had Garrett Hartley not missed a chip-shot field goal in the Atlanta loss several weeks ago.

The Browns will discover a team that likes to throw the ball a lot (averages 38 passes a game), runs only to keep the defense honest, spreads the ball around, is zealous in protecting its quarterback and plays solid enough defense to never be out of a game.

As long as Drew Brees remains vertical, the Saints are strong enough to impose their will on just about any defense. Although the smallish veteran quarterback has averaged a pick a game, his 70% completion rate should be a warning to all Browns fans that this one could spiral out of control in a hurry.

If the Browns have one major problem on defense, it's defending the pass. With little or no pressure on the quarterback and a secondary that has struggled all season. there is little doubt what the Saints' game plan is for Cleveland.

And it fits right into their philosophy. With receivers like Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore, Robert Meachem and Jeremy Shockey, is it any wonder Brees' completion rate isn't even higher? Colston, his favorite target, hasn't reached the end zone this season. What are the odds he'll make it seven games against the Browns?

If the name Lance Moore doesn't seem familiar to some Browns fans, it should. The little wideout from Toledo was in Cleveland's training camp a few years ago before being cut. Too small at 5-9. He leads the Saints with four touchdown catches.

Another Ohio college product has produced for the Saints at a time when Brees needed some relief from the running game. Chris Ivory, who played his college ball at Tiffin, stepped in when starting running back Pierre Thomas went down with a high ankle sprain and looked nothing like a rookie when he ripped off 158 yards last week against Tampa Bay.

If the 1-5 Browns have any chance of becoming the 2-5 Browns, they must somehow make life difficult in the pocket for Brees. Considering how much difficulty they have experienced at reaching opposing quarterbacks this season despite a plethora of blitz packages, that's not going to happen. Factor in that the Saints' offensive line has permitted only eight sacks and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

The Cleveland offense, which didn't embarrass itself last week in the loss to Pittsburgh, faces a New Orleans defense that has picked off only four passes. That gives Browns fans some hope considering that Colt McCoy completed 22 of 33 passes last week.

Accuracy was McCoy's forte in college and his pro debut against the Steelers only fortifies the notion that game experience should enhance that aspect of his game. He certainly played well enough against the Steelers to warrant a much longer look after Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace return.

At this point in the season, what difference would it make who starts under center? If McCoy shows he's got the tools and at least doesn't embarrass himself, why not let the rookie start? What harm would it do?

So even if the Browns fall to 1-6, and they will, an injection of Colt McCoy the rest of the way would give Browns fans something to look forward to. Nothing wrong with that. Until then, though, make it:

Saints 31, Browns 14

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