SCOUTING REPORT: The Falcons had way too much time to pick the Saints apart. The defense must make things tougher on the Browns passing game.
After weeks of talk about how they wanted to be the best in the league this season, the Saints defense failed to get much going in their season-opening loss at the Falcons.
Outside of failing to execute on basic fundamentals, such as tackling, at the forefront of those issues was an ineffective pass rush. For the most part, despite the Saints crashing the pocket a few times, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan never felt uncomfortable. New Orleans is hoping Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer does not find this group as hospitable this week.
The Browns allowed the third-most sacks in the NFL season with 49 and surrendered three more in a season-opening loss to the Steelers. At least on paper, it appears the Saints should be afforded opportunities to get after the quarterback.
That’s good news, but it will not be easy. Joe Thomas remains one of the better left tackles in the NFL, and center Alex Mack created a bidding war this offseason after the Browns hit him with the transition tag. Rookie Joel Bitonio is the starter at left guard, and right guard John Greco and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz played well against Pittsburgh.
As a whole, Cleveland allowed only five pressures last week. The Steelers just happened to make the most of those opportunities.
The Saints are going to have to do the same.
On the other side of the ball, if not for New Orleans surrendering more than 500 yards, the Browns would enter Week 2 with the distinction of having the most porous defense in the NFL.
This group endured its share of struggles last season, but back then they had T.J. Ward, who signed with the Denver Broncos, anchoring the defense at safety. Donte Whitner was added this offseason to help at safety, and Cleveland still has Joe Haden at cornerback. There should be opportunities for Drew Brees to move the ball through the air.
As long as the Saints do not overlook the Browns — and there’s little doubt that will happen given the way the opener went — the Saints should have a good change of getting their season back on track.
Know your opponent: Browns QB Brian Hoyer
Despite all the talk and all the bluster, the Saints are not likely to see Johnny Manziel this week. The talk about the Cleveland Browns featuring a package of plays with the former Heisman Trophy winner at the helm was more than likely a bluff.
That’s unfortunate. Starting quarterback Brian Hoyer is not as flashy and would be mostly unknown if not for his name being linked to his rookie teammate, but that shouldn’t be taken as a condemnation of his talent. Hoyer can play.
Sure, he’s a workman and the type of quarterback you would like to replace, but he can get the job done and has done so while flying under the radar the past two years. Though he’s only appeared in four games over the past two seasons, the former Patriots backup has completed close to 60 percent of his passes and knows how to get rid of the ball quickly (2.48 seconds to attempt).
His trigger is not nearly as quick as the Falcons’ Matt Ryan’s was on many of his attempts last week, which gave the Saints’ pass-rush issues, but Hoyer is smart enough not to sit for too long. The Saints likely will find ways to get to him, but he won’t make it easy.
Three and out
1. TACKLE THAT GUY: The team spent a good amount of time focusing on fundamentals this week after missing more than a dozen tackles against the Falcons and are hoping to clean things up against the Browns.
2. WIDE RECEIVERS: If this is, indeed, the week Kenny Stills comes back from his quad injury, it will be interesting to see all of Drew Brees’ weapons on the field at the same time. There were moments last week when it almost felt unfair that Brees had so many options at his disposal.
3. PASS COVERAGE: Our view on the cornerbacks is not as pessimistic as in some corners, but the cornerbacks behind Keenan Lewis on the depth chart need to show something to warrant our continued faith.
PROBABLE: WR Kenny Stills (quadriceps), LB Curtis Lofton (shoulder), CB Keenan Lewis (knee)
-- Stills’ injury kept him out of the Week 1 loss at Atlanta, but he fully practiced Friday. When he was limited Wednesday and Thursday, he looked to be at full-speed. Lofton and Lewis were full practice participants Thursday and Friday. They should be good to go.
OUT: S Marcus Ball
-- Ball missed Week 1 and was out Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. As long as Jairus Byrd, Kenny Vaccaro and Rafael Bush are healthy, Ball will not be above them on the depth chart.
OUT: FB Erik Lorig
-- Lorig was hurt in the Saints’ scrimmage Aug. 2 and has been out since.
OUT: RB Ben Tate (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Desmond Bryant (wrist), TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder), DE John Hughes (hamstring), G Paul McQuistan (ankle), LB Barkevious Mingo (shoulder)
Ramon Antonio Vargas: Saints 27, Browns 21
The good news for the Saints is they’re facing the defense that allowed the second-most yards in the NFL in Week 1. The bad news is the Saints allowed the most yards in the NFL in Week 1. The Saints have prioritized fixing the defensive mistakes that doomed in them their season-opening loss at Atlanta, and it should pay off as long as the offense is its usual self.
Nick Underhill: Saints 31, Browns 21
This team is ticked off about what it put on film last week against the Falcons. The players embarrassed with all of the mistakes and missed tackles and want to get that taste out of their mouths. This defense is too talented to struggle through another game. Look for the Saints to bury last week’s performance and the narrative about their road woes this week.
Scott Rabalais: Saints 29, Browns 23
It’s early for a must-win game, but call Sunday’s trip to Cleveland a “strongly suggested win” game for the Saints. Expect New Orleans to boat-race a Browns defense that gave up 503 yards to the Steelers in Week 1. But there is little faith in the Saints defense to stop the Browns cold. Rob Ryan should be relieved that Josh Gordon is still suspended.