Even though they gained 74 percent of their yards and erased a 24-point deficit in their Week 1 loss at Pittsburgh by using a no-huddle offense, the Cleveland Browns on Friday told reporters they don’t plan on making that package a focal point of their attack when they host the Saints on Sunday — or at any point beyond that.
Pardon the Saints (0-1) for not taking Cleveland’s word on that.
Saints coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said Friday their team indeed had prepared itself to face a hurry-up scheme that almost powered a comeback win for the Browns five days earlier.
“I am sure they will run that, especially since they are at home in a quiet crowd, so they can operate even more effectively,” said Ryan, whose defense surrendered the NFL’s most yards (589) during the first week of the season in Sunday’s 37-34 overtime defeat at Atlanta. “That is what made that so impressive. ... You are doing that in Pittsburgh, which is ... loud.”
After falling behind 27-3 by halftime while deploying an offense that huddled up before each snap, the Browns had quarterback Brian Hoyer run an attack that did not huddle up on 27 of 40 plays over the third and fourth quarters. Cleveland generated 288 yards in the second half after gaining only 101 in the first; and they scored on four straight possessions following halftime to tie the score at 27 with more than 11 minutes to go before losing on a last-second field goal.
Hoyer (19-of-31 for 230 yards and a touchdown) completed 15 of his 19 second-half throws for 173 yards and a touchdown. On the ground, the Browns picked up 121 of their 183 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Hoyer did much of his damage throwing on plays that had him fake handoffs and then roll out toward the sideline. While Hoyer did well selling the fake handoffs, what facilitated his job in that area was the success the Browns had running the ball, frequently from formations that used two tight ends and two wide receivers.
Payton on Friday said that particular alignment made the Browns’ hurry-up package different from that of other teams who might prefer to use three receivers and one tight end. He added the fact that Hoyer rolled out to both sidelines at Pittsburgh could “put a lot of stress” on the Saints safeties and linebackers if he did the same Sunday.
So the Saints this week quickened the pace at which their scout team ran plays in practice. Payton said it’d be key for the defense to quickly understand both what the Browns are accomplishing with their run game and the play-fake opportunities that could present.
For his part, Ryan said the Saints have been working to fortify themselves against any hurry-up schemes they might encounter this season ever since they began installing the defense in the preseason. He alluded to how he and the Saints in a January playoff victory at Philadelphia last season limited the Eagles’ vaunted up-tempo offense to 256 yards, well under their 2013 average of 417.2.
“I know they were successful with the no-huddle,” Ryan said of Cleveland. “But we’ll be ready to roll, just like we were against Philadelphia.”
Of course, it’s possible Browns coach Mike Pettine was being honest when he insisted to reporters Friday that the no-huddle is “a weapon ... (and) not our lifestyle.” But, in case Pettine was staying loose with the facts, exclude the Saints from those who’d be surprised.