The New Orleans Saints started their 2017 NFL preseason with a matchup against the perennially woeful Cleveland Browns. Let’s face it, even though it isn’t completely fake news, the NFL preseason is largely fake football. However, for one with a keen eye there is always a nugget or two to glean, even from the meaninglessness of August football. Thus, here are some early winners and losers from the Saints’ 20-14 loss to the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium Thursday night:
Winner: Tommylee “Don’t Call Me Jones” Lewis
The diminutive receiver made a case for being part of the Saints’ receiving corps when the final cuts are made prior to the beginning of the regular season. Tommylee Lewis is in a fight to make a Saints team that has a plethora of postulants at his position. With Mike Thomas and Willie Snead assured to be on the team, Lewis’ competition includes the likes of Ted Ginn Jr., Brandon Coleman, Corey Fuller, and former LSU Tiger Travin Dural. Last night, Lewis made outstanding catch after outstanding catch, collecting 10 receptions on 11 targets, 124 yards (a spectacular over-the-shoulder 32-yarder) and one touchdown. Lewis also returned two punts, and even though the stats were paltry in that department, his versatility will only help him in his case to make the Saints’ 53-man roster.
Loser: Ted Ginn Jr.
Ted Ginn Jr. is a veteran wide receiver and the first preseason game of the year isn’t likely to cost him a spot on the team. However, Ginn Jr., as has been the case over his 10-year NFL career, dropped a very catchable ball that would have been a sure touchdown in the first quarter of last night’s game. I can hear what most of you are thinking: “we’ve seen this before.” Yes, we have. And sadly, I suspect that we will see it again, should Ginn Jr. make the Saints.
Winner: The Saints’ First-String Defensive Unit
Sure, it was Brock Osweiler and the Browns, but Cleveland didn’t record its first “first down” until the second quarter, when the first-string D had vacated the field. The Browns also went three-and-out on three consecutive possessions to start the game, with the Saints’ defensive line putting pressure on Osweiler and the secondary making crisp open-field tackles, notably by veteran safety Kenny Vaccaro and rookie safety Marcus Williams. The first quarter was promising. Remember, this is only the beginning, and Dennis Allen and Co. are going to work to build the defense up from here.
Loser: Ken Crawley
I like Ken Crawley, I do. The kid has a lot of talent. But he reminds me of another maligned Saints cornerback otherwise known around these parts as “P-ROBlem.” Yes, I’m talking about former Saints Patrick Robinson, who had tons of talent too, but couldn’t ever stay away from the crucial pass-interference call, or the crushing defensive holding on third-and-Poydras that would result in an automatic first-down for the opponent. In the second quarter of last night’s game, Crawley was called for a pass-interference on third-and-four as the Browns were finally driving the ball. Later in the drive, he’d get called for an offside to make life even easier for Osweiler and Co in the red zone. Just to drive you completely mad, he then made a beautiful break-up on an Osweiler pass on fourth-and-goal. Later in the game, Crawley would commit his third penalty, a PI in the end zone that would lead to Cleveland’s first touchdown of the night. Who are you Ken Crawley?
Winner: Ryan Nassib
In somewhat limited action, Ryan Nassib showed us once again what a turrble, turrble, terrible draft pick Garrett Grayson was for the Saints. Nassib, who was 10 of 14 for 110 yards and a touchdown, had a game-high 118.2 QB rating last night. More than that, he showed not only poise in the pocket, but decisiveness and a great vision, all things that Garrett Grayson seems to cruelly lack. With about 6:42 left in the fourth quarter, Nassib got shellacked while hanging tough in the pocket and had to leave the field for a few plays. Garrett Grayson re-entered the game and quickly proceeded to hold on to the ball as if it were dear life. He was sacked, thwarting a promising drive and forcing the Saints to punt. At this point in my book, Ryan Nassib should be the Saints’ third-string quarterback, and I don’t find the argument to be particularly close.
Loser: Damian Swann
The clock is ticking for the former Georgia Bulldog. As good as it was to see Swann on the field last night (he has suffered from multiple head injuries the last two seasons), the third-year cornerback was on the wrong end of two of the biggest splash plays for the Browns last night. Late in the fourth quarter with New Orleans up 14-13, Swann gave up too much of a cushion to a Browns receiver Richard Mullaney on third-and-24, which allowed Cleveland to complete a 22-yard catch over the middle. Swann made the tackle two yards shy of the first down, but on the very next fourth-and-two play, he was burned to a crisp by Jordan Payton for a 45-yard touchdown. The Browns took a 19-14 lead that they would not relinquish. With the Saints’ defensive back room as crowded as it is this year, Swann can ill-afford to repeat last night’s performance in the remaining three preseason games. Here’s to hoping that he’ll regain the form that made him such a promising rookie in 2015.
In all, and as we all know, last night was not about winning the game. The Saints showed some good signs (first-string defense, Tommylee Lewis) and a few worrisome ones (defensive backfield, Garrett Grayson). An honorable mention in the “winner” department could also be given to rookie running back Alvin Kamara, who had four rushing attempts for 35 yards (8.8 yards-per-carry). The next preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers should reveal a bit more about who has a legitimate chance to win a roster spot on the team. In the meantime, there’s no reason to be despondent about this loss, we’re not playing for keeps just yet.
What do you think of the Saints’ 20-14 loss to the Browns?
This poll is closed
Encouraging, they didn’t give up 40 points
10 preseason losses in a row, that’s brutal
Whatever. When does real football start?
Tommylee Lewis is awesome!
I’m counting the burgers until September 11