Burning Questions

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Burning Questions for Week 16 vs. Saints

The biggest questions the Browns face in their final home game of the regular season

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The Browns' final home game of the 2022 season is already a guarantee to be an unforgettable one.

Anyone who's followed the weather forecast this week — or stepped outside Friday — understands why.

Saturday will be one of the coldest games in Browns history, with temperatures expected to feel much colder than the high of 15 degrees due to 30 mph winds that could gust as high as 60 mph, weather.com. The real feel temperature will be closer to -20, and there's also a 30 percent chance of snow.

The Browns are going to do their best to ignore the blustery conditions and win a football game.

"I don't control the weather, so whatever we have to play in, strap up, put your extra sleeves on, wear your leggings and whatever you have to do," DE Myles Garrett said. "We can't be worried about that. You have an opponent ahead, and you have to go 1-0."

With that in mind, let's head into the top questions for the Browns this week:

1. How will the frigid conditions affect the game?

The short answer is probably a lot.

With the high winds, it's going to be very difficult to pass or kick the football, which will also feel more like rock due to the temperatures. Both teams might have little choice but to run the ball a ton, and that will especially be the case if there's also any snow.

The Browns should still be in good shape if they have no other options than to run. Cleveland ranks fifth in the league in the run game and has averaged 149 yards on the ground per game. The Saints' run defense ranks 23rd in the league — one spot ahead of the Browns — and has allowed 132.6 yards per game.

"We will adjust and adapt to conditions," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "It is what it is. We're fortunate to get to play in it being from up here and facing a team from the south. We like that. If it's one of those days that you can't even take a shotgun snap because the wind is blowing too hard, we will adjust and adapt. I think we have a good plan going in and contingency plans if it is one of those days where you just can't really do anything but get under center and run the ball. We're ready for that.

"If we get lucky and it's not as windy as they're calling for, we're ready for that. Just should be fun. It's cold. A lot of energy in the stands when it gets cold like that. so it should be a fun day."

The Browns will also be returning C Ethan Pocic to the starting lineup after he missed the last four games with a knee injury. Pocic had been one of the best centers in the league this season prior to his injury in Week 11, and his 84.1 run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus ranked four among all NFL centers.

Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the New Orleans Saints

2. Can Browns D slow Kamara?

The Saints would've likely been expected to run the ball a ton regardless of the weather conditions — two of their top WRs, rookie Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry, were ruled out for the game with injuries. Landry, who signed with the Saints in the offseason after four years with the Browns, was placed on injured reserve.

That means a big workload is likely coming for RB Alvin Kamara, who can be a threat as both a pass catcher and runner.

Kamara, though, has largely struggled running the ball this season. He's averaged 3.9 yards per carry and has topped 90 rushing yards just three times this season, although one of those times was last week against the Falcons when he rushed for 91 yards. Kamara hasn't scored a touchdown as a runner or passer since Week 8.

"He is a unique player in his own right just because he is a very good runner, but you can see they put him in different places," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "When he gets out on routes, he is hard to deal with. You have to have a plan just because of what he is able to do in the passing game against him. The run game, there is obviously coverage pressure, but when he gets out in the pass game, you better have a couple of different ways to try to cover him."

3. Can Browns contain Taysom Hill?

The biggest threat the Browns will likely need to focus on most Saturday is Taysom Hill, who can line up at just about any spot on the offense and can also play special teams.

Hill's official designation is a tight end, but he's rushed 68 times for 449 yards (6.6 yards per carry) with five touchdowns. He's only caught seven passes for 66 yards but has scored two touchdowns through the air, and he's also passed the ball 17 times for 11 completions, 216 yards and two touchdowns.

Hill is the Saints' key to big plays, and the Browns know they can't lose sight of him when he's on the field.

"He's one of the most unique players in the league," Woods said. "They do a good job of using him. They are really running multiple offenses where if he is on the field he can play a lot of different positions. It's definitely a challenge, but I think we are putting together a good plan."

4. Can Watson continue showing improvement?

It's going to be awfully tough, if not impossible for Watson to continue showing strides as a passer in the weather conditions Saturday.

The most Watson can do to keep showing he's made progress in his fourth start since taking a 700-day gap between NFL starts is to play mistake-free football and keep the offensive operation clean. That's what he did last week in a low-scoring, but mostly smooth performance in a 13-3 win over the Ravens when passing conditions were also difficult due to the weather. Watson didn't throw any interceptions in the game, though, and made a few strong throws in the game's only touchdown drive.

This week, anything beyond a short pass will likely be difficult to complete, so all the Browns can really ask from Watson is to help the offense avoid penalties, put guys in the correct position after the huddle breaks and manage the game appropriately.

"My main job is just going out there and like I said before just executing the gameplan and try to win," he said. "Not so much of what the weather is going to be because I can't control that."

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