When the New Orleans Saints take the field Sunday against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, they'll be looking to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2007. The Browns are attempting to win their first home opener since 2004.
Three keys for the Saints:
1) Throw the football deep
The Browns' secondary was put on notice last week in Pittsburgh, when the Steelers used a variety of screen passes and deep bombs to fluster the entire unit. Expect Saints quarterback Drew Brees to stretch the field early in the game with vertical routes to Marques Colston and Brandin Cooks. If they connect on deep passes, the underneath routes to Jimmy Graham and company will be easier to execute.
2) Stop the run
Atlanta hurt New Orleans in the ground game with an inferior offensive line and a hodgepodge of different backs. On paper, the Browns have the advantage in terms of size up front. The real question: can both Browns rookie running backs (Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell) continue to rip off long runs this week?
3) Keep attacking
If the Saints find themselves up early, they'll need to keep their foot on the gas pedal. Last week in Pittsburgh, the Steelers got lackadaisical in the second half, trying too hard not to lose. New Orleans can't think about the clock. They need to play their game or the Browns could come creeping back, if they trail.
*Three keys for the Browns *
1) Get Brian Hoyer in a rhythm
The Browns need the Hoyer from the second half against the Steelers as opposed to the one we saw most of the preseason. If Cleveland needs to use the no-huddle for a series or two early in the game, they shouldn't hesitate. The Browns' defense is one of the stoutest in the league, but you always head into a game against New Orleans expecting to have to score four touchdowns to win. If Hoyer plays lights out football, the Browns have every chance in the world to take down the Saints.
2) Force interceptions and fumbles
Last week the absolute goal was to sack Ben Roethlisberger, and it worked. Cleveland dropped the quarterback four times in the backfield, often on crucial third-downs in the second half. The thing about Drew Brees: he wasn't sacked once against the Falcons. The 34-year-old rarely gets credit for this part of his game, but Brees has become nearly impossible to fluster if a team tries too hard to blitz. Instead, expect the Browns to be more exotic in coverage, using more zone than you are used to seeing. The more defenders in space, the more chance Brees has of throwing an interception. Watch closely for Buster Skrine in this game.
3) Come out focused, but loose
Last week a few Browns players hinted in interviews that they came out too fired up, meaning they didn't quite have a handle on their emotions and when they made bad plays, they let it frustrate the entire team. That obviously spilled over into their production on the field. But in the second half, Cleveland played inspired football because they stopped worrying about making mistakes. They just went out and had fun. The offense and defense became nearly indestructible because of the momentum they were spoon feeding each other. That strategy can work against the Saints. Make one big play at a time and remained even-keeled.