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Saints-Browns: What To Watch For


Will the Saints be able to stop the Browns running game?

Some NFL teams would be a little nervous flaunting only two rookies at running back. But the Cleveland Browns feel confident Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell will continue to help the offense move the chains. The pair of rookies energized an offense in desperate need of a jolt. If West and Crowell can start the game the way they finished it last week in Pittsburgh, the Saints might be in trouble. New Orleans gave up 123 yards on the ground last week to Atlanta and the Falcons used three different running backs – primarily the aging Steven Jackson. The opportunity is sitting on the table for West and Crowell.  

Who will guard Jimmy Graham?

The Browns have been coy all week in terms of their plans for marking one of the NFL's most dangerous weapons. When Graham lines up on the outside, our guess is that Donte Whitner will see a majority of the coverage responsibilities, with linebackers Karlos Dansby and Chris Kirksey keeping a watchful eye. The Browns cannot let Graham run behind them, under any circumstances.

Does Andrew Hawkins have another big day?

No target was more reliable than the Browns' 5-foot-8 speedy receiver against the Steelers. His eight receptions tied a career-high and two of those came on big third downs. Earlier in the offseason, Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer compared Hawkins' role in this offense to the way the Patriots used Wes Welker. The slippery receiver, like Welker, is able to turn cornerbacks the wrong way with his shifty foot work in the middle of the field. If Hawkins can churn out another day close to 100 yards receiving, Hoyer's comparison might be an accurate one. Also, if tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder) is unable to go, Hoyer will be looking Hawkins' way even more than usual.

Will the Browns play better on special teams?

The Steelers' fake punt didn't lead to a score, but special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will be the first to tell you plays like that from his unit are still inexcusable.

"It needs to be better and we need to play better overall," said Tabor. "That's what we're working hard to do this week. We had some missed tackles and we've got to do a better job in that area and hopefully we see that improvement this week."

"[Coach Tabor] is very competitive, and I think their performance really bothered him," said head coach Mike Pettine. "I'll be surprised if that group doesn't have a solid performance."

The Browns hinted rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert may get a kick return or two to help ignite not only the specials teams play, but himself.

Can the Browns take an early lead?

Jumping out the gates quickly has dominated the discussion this week inside the locker room and at the podium with Pettine. There is no secret formula for success. But playing catch-up football against the explosive Saints will be a whole different animal compared to last week's comeback in Pittsburgh. If the Browns can maintain an early lead, start establishing their running game and controlling the clock, beating New Orleans is quite feasible.

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