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Saints vs. Browns: Five Questions with Dawgs By Nature

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I am joined by Chris Pokorny of SB Nation's Dawgs By Nature to preview Sunday's contest between the New Orleans Saints and the Cleveland Browns. After both teams started the season 0-1, this game suddenly has big implications for the rest of the season.

Hold on to that ball, Marques!
Hold on to that ball, Marques!
Chris Graythen

Hey Chris, thanks a lot for joining us here at Canal Street Chronicles to answer a few questions for us ahead of this week two matchup between the New Orleans Saints and the Cleveland Browns. Let's get right into it!

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Canal Street Chronicles: After starting really slowly against the Steelers last Sunday (down 27-3), the Browns almost completed an amazing comeback, eventually losing 30-27. What is your overall opinion of the team after week one? Do you feel like Cleveland's productive second half against Pittsburgh is more indicative of who they'll be this season?

Chris Pokorny: Last week's second half should be more indicative of how the Browns will play this season. That doesn't mean we're going to steamroll teams by several possessions; it's necessary to have luck on your side when you make that significant of a comeback. The significant progress that was made in the second half came on the offensive side of the ball. Cleveland went with an up-tempo attack, but that's not the reason things started clicking: it was the play-calling that played more to the strengths of QB Brian Hoyer.

During his two starts in 2013, Hoyer excelled at establishing the quick passing game first, which helped set everything else up. In the first half against Pittsburgh, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had Hoyer operating long-developing plays, many of which saw him dropping ten yards behind the line of scrimmage or rolling out to his left and not being able to set his feet properly. The second half began with a quick drop-back and throw - then the running game started clicking, and once the defense had to respect both the passing game and the running game, we could afford to have Hoyer run some of those longer developing plays.

Defensively, the first half against Pittsburgh was a bit of an abomination. Mike Pettine is a defensive coach, and we saw guys we know are sound tacklers whiff left and right. They'll get the message this week.

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CSC: Both teams are coming into this game 0-1 and certainly eager to record their first win of the season. What are aspects of this Saints team that have Browns fans a) worried and/or b) salivating?

Chris: The number one thing we're worried about is our pass defense. Even though the Browns were able to pick off Drew Brees four times the last time these two teams met in 2010, that was obviously a rarity and we know how effective he is. Heading into the season, our secondary looked like a strength. We locked up Joe Haden to a new deal, drafted Justin Gilbert at No. 8 overall, signed a nickelback from the Jets in Isaiah Trufant, drafted Pierre Desir in the fourth round, and retained Buster Skrine to be our other starting cornerback.

Last week, Haden had a terrible game against Pittsburgh, and Gilbert was even worse. During the last two preseason games and then last week, Gilbert has looked awful. He is having trouble staying with receivers, has been very awkward with his tackling approach, and hasn't made a single positive play that I can recall. Gilbert is actually expected to receive a cut in playing time this week. After Haden and Skrine, though, who do the Browns go to? Desir was hurt all preseason and Trufant is on injured reserve. I guess we'll be salivating at facing a Saints defense that gave up 500+ yards last week against the Falcons, but I say that with hesitation because I expected a lot more from Rob Ryan and company.

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I guess we'll be salivating at facing a Saints defense that gave up 500+ yards last week against the Falcons, but I say that with hesitation because I expected a lot more from Rob Ryan and company.

-Chris Pokorny


CSC: How do you feel about quarterback Brian Hoyer starting for the Browns? More importantly, how long do you think it will take before head coach Mike Pettine and Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan yank him for rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel?

Chris: I'm a big fan of both quarterbacks, but I've been a strong advocate for Hoyer starting. Despite the awful team effort in the first half last week, I think Hoyer's second half showed how prepared he is right now to give this team a chance to win. I think we'll end up seeing Hoyer for a while; in fact, I would like to see him play the entire season.

If Cleveland gets in a situation where they are clearly out of the race, though - such as a 2-6 or 1-7 record - then it only makes sense to put Johnny Manziel in so we can get him better prepped for the 2015 season. Hopefully during his time as a backup, he will have started to learn Shanahan's system a little more so he can look more polished than he did during the preseason when he gets his next chance.

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CSC: It seems like we're not going to have a chance to see the intriguing, mind-bending matchup of Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan being blocked by Browns tight end Jordan Cameron. This is due to Cameron (the tight end) suffering from a shoulder injury that'll likely keep him out of Sunday's game. With star wide receiver Josh Gordon suspended for the year and Jordan Cameron hurt, who do the Browns turn to in terms of pass-catching?

Chris: Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins will probably see the most targets because he is the best played on the team in making quick moves to get open. Without Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, the Browns play a pretty even distribution at the receiver position, rotating the top four guys on their depth chart in and out of the game.

Last week the snap count distribution was as follows: Andrew Hawkins (60%), Miles Austin (57%), Taylor Gabriel (49%), and Travis Benjamin (43%). Gabriel is very similar to Hawkins, but without the experience as an undrafted free agent. Benjamin will be sent deep on a lot of plays in an attempt to stretch the field and draw safeties. Austin is the veteran who goes for the basic slants and out routes.

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CSC: It never bodes well for an NFL team with any kind of playoffs aspirations to start 0-2. Late Sunday afternoon, either the Saints or the Browns will have that ominous record. Who do you think wins the game and how do you see it unfolding?

Chris: A personal quirk of mine is to withhold my Browns prediction until the last second, partly because I go back-and-forth weighing the positional match-ups as much as I can as Sunday draws near. With that said, I think it's pretty safe for me to say that I'll be picking the Saints to win this week. I'd like to play the, ‘but New Orleans is on the road!' card, but I don't know exactly how much of a home field advantage Cleveland has, and our pass defense left a lot to be desired last week. Even if our offense performs adequately, it's tough to envision us being able to match points with Drew Brees.

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Many thanks to Chris for giving us some of his time to answer these questions. Share your reactions and opinions in the comments section, gameday is almost here!