Browns vs. Saints
My Cleveland Browns are facing what projects to be a very tough matchup as they travel to the Superdome on Sunday to take on the New Orleans Saints. The Vegas line is not being kind to the Browns, predicting they will lose by more than a touchdown. So let’s jump right in and look at what can be expected from Cleveland fantasy-wise.
What should we look for from Tyrod Taylor?
QB Tyrod Taylor has faced quite a bit of criticism for his performance last week, it’s true. He was hesitant with the ball and he had less than a 50% completion rate. I acknowledge that, but I insist that there are a few games that are very hard to take useful information from because they were anomalous. The Dolphins/Titans game had long weather delays, the Lions/Jets game got ridiculously out of hand, and the Browns/Steelers game was in the dying throes of a hurricane. Because both Taylor and Ben Roethlisberger struggled last Sunday I really think we have to give weight to the impact of the rain. So looking forward to this next game vs. the Saints one of the few legitimate takeaways that can be relied on is that Tyrod Taylor has a pretty safe rushing floor. Ryan Fitzpatrick had 36 rush yards last week against the Saints, but that was on 12 carries, so it was mostly just scrambling. Taylor is a better scrambler, but I also think there will be some designed plays where he rushes because OC Todd Haley is known for using the talents of the players he has. Also, game script will be a huge factor and the Browns will want to chew up as much clock as possible to keep the ball away from Brees and co, so at least at first it will be a run-heavy game plan with short passing favoring WR Jarvis Landry. When the Saints get up a couple touchdowns early my guess is that we will see the Browns offense really open up. HC Hue Jackson said this week that Josh Gordon will see more targets. That should be obvious given that he only saw three targets and basically played all of last week, but it’s nice to hear Hue acknowledge it. Importantly, since Gordon has now had a full week of practice with the team, I believe that we will start to see him more integrated and through week 4 we will have a much clearer picture of the season-long target spread.
Who would you rather play this week- Landry or Gordon?
That’s a very tough question for me. I’m a guy who’s part of a group of people that have an undying love for Gordon. I had him during his big breakout period in 2013 and I’ve never lost the excitement of putting him in my lineup. More importantly, Tampa WR Mike Evans just destroyed CB Marshon Lattimore for 147 yards on 7 receptions so it can definitely be done. Gordon is a little smaller than Evans in most physical measurables, but he is also a bit faster. Still, Gordon came off an extended absence last year and in his first game back he was playing very well against the Chargers’ CB Casey Hayward. After struggling last week against Joe Haden and also catching a great 50/50 ball over Cameron Sutton for a touchdown you could say Gordon’s performance recently is a bit of a mixed bag. Add in that he missed all of training camp, and it’s simply not entirely clear what to expect from Gordon. I will say that in a game expected to be very high scoring where the Browns will likely be down the entire night, I wouldn’t sit either, especially since Taylor threw 40 passes last week and could potentially throw for more if the game is getting out of hand. Landry has a demonstrable rapport with Taylor so he is especially valuable in PPR, and Gordon is a big play guy on a night when the Browns will need big plays. I love them both, don’t make me choose. This will be a game I do not recommend anyone miss. On the one hand, the Saints just got stung by an offense that was supposed to be terrible before the season, so it is very possible that they will put in extra work to make sure it doesn’t happen again by another presumed bad offense. On the other hand, this game may have more import for the Browns in light of the tie against division rivals a week ago. There is a lot of hype in Cleveland for this team because it is loaded with talent and they just fought one hell of a fight against the presumed leader of the division. This team wants very badly to be a Superbowl caliber team so it is altogether possible that everyone plays above their level. Do not be surprised if everyone on the Browns’ offense has a great week.
edit: Josh Gordon has been downgraded to out with a hamstring injury. This surprise move comes after not appearing on injury reports and practicing in full throughout the week. Fire up WR Jarvis Landry big time, and TE David Njoku gets a big bump as well. It remains to be seen if WR Rashard Higgins or WR Antonio Callaway will fill in, though my money is that Higgins has a decent chance at a surprise game. Hamstring injuries are about the worst thing ever as they tend to linger so my prediction is that Higgins may have multi week value in Gordon’s absence. Certainly those two are worth keeping a close eye on.
That was very unhelpful, but I guess I can’t argue we simply need more game tape. Fair enough. How about the rushing game? Are you confident in Carlos Hyde this week?
The first thing I want to note about RB Carlos Hyde is that he is clearly in control of the backfield. Simply for volume, Hyde probably shouldn’t be benched unless you have good options otherwise. The Saints did hold Payton Barber to fewer than 70 yards on 19 attempts so if you have someone you think can get you 40 yards + a TD or 100 yards, that’s where your breakpoint is. I would also say that I expect more involvement from RB Duke Johnson, Jr. I’m pretty surprised at how little impact he had last week, but there were still 6 targets for him even if he only caught 1. I’ve seen a lot of people tilt on the Duke but I simply think that is a mistake. If it continues for 2 more weeks, then I would jump off the Duke train, but for now in PPR at least I think he probably has at least FLEX value. Of course, that depends on your roster construction and he is probably a safe floor bet than a high ceiling bet. I think Hyde will have 15-20 carries for maybe 80 yards and Duke will have maybe 5 receptions for 75-ish. RB Nick Chubb is a desperation play and remains just a handcuff but it’s important to note that Hyde has a bit of an injury history, so Chubb should probably be rostered somewhere, most likely by the Hyde owner unless you are in a very deep league.
Defensively, do the Browns stand a chance?
In a word: no. The Saints have too many weapons. Kamara especially has shown that he simply cannot be stopped and Brees is a hall of fame QB with Michael Thomas, one of the best receivers in the league. Even Roethlisberger threw 93 yards and a touchdown to his #1 receiver and that was with a slippery football. It was great that the Browns were able to get so many interceptions from Big Ben last week, and maybe they can have 1 or 2 against the Saints because miracles happen every week in the NFL, but it is unlikely the Saints will score fewer than 4 touchdowns in my opinion and very possible they will have more than that. Sorry, guys. I really do like you, but this Saints team is unreal.
Any last thoughts?
That’s about it. If you are in a very deep league, you can continue to keep an eye on WR Rashard Higgins and WR Antonio Callaway. And of course, many analysts expect that QB Baker Mayfield will start at some point this season even if Taylor remains healthy. I don’t see that happening outside of injury but Mayfield looked excellent in the preseason and he has great support from the vets around him. You don’t need to pick any of them up, necessarily, but those three are definitely worth keeping an eye on. And oh, yeah, Go BROWNS!
Can Drew Brees sustain elite fantasy production? Can he be a top 5 option at the position going forward?
It is funny. I checked a bunch of different consensus rankings this week and Drew Brees was definitively the best QB. We are talking about a player who is one game removed from being the 10th quarterback off the board! It was like Brees had been forgotten in the offseason. If you have read either my game preview from last week or my season preview, I urged everyone to believe in Brees’s elite level skills, despite the lack of fantasy production last year. Game script and strategy are the fickle parts of football. For most of last year, the Saints were winning and were content with running. Not only that, their runs worked extremely well. In spite of all that, Brees still showed his incredible ability. Last week was no anomaly, considering how talented Brees is. I am not expecting teams to routinely put up 48 points on the Saints defense, but this type of game is exactly why you should have drafted Brees. He absolutely is can continue with this type of production and should be challenging for a top 5 spot moving forward.
Drew Brees: 310 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 Int
What went wrong with the defense and will it continue against the Browns this week?
The way the Browns lineup is currently constructed, they are not a scary offense. For a team that got annihilated defensively in week 1, this might be the best week 2 matchup possible. Like with Brees, I still believe the talent on this team makes them a top 10 defense. The young safety Marcus Williams had a very poor showing last week, despite being one of the better safeties in the league last year. Marshon Lattimore and Cameron Jordan were quiet despite being the best players on the team. All three of these players should return to form this week. There is one red flag, however, Ken Crawley. Crawley was a huge surprise for this defense last year. Rarely do undrafted corners make such an impact. On Sunday, Crawley was targeted 8 times in coverage. He allowed 7 catches, for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns. Brutal. That adds up to a perfect 158.3 passer rating allowed. In comparison, Crawley allowed a passer rating of 81 last year and only gave up 4 touchdowns in 16 games. Like these other players, Crawley showed some talent last year but was not elite. He was a nice compliment to Lattimore and left the defense with a strong number 2 corner. If this 2019 type of play is more of the norm for Crawley it could mean big issues for the Saints. The immense talent in other places can be completely overcome by one player who cannot cover. This will be the ultimate key to the defense’s performance this week and moving forward. The Browns receiving corps is not particularly strong, as Crawley should draw Rashard Higgins on most plays. Higgins is a decent player but does not have the same speed and talent that Desean Jackson showed against Crawley last week. You should not give up on the Saints because of one game, but if Crawley proves to be a weak link, you may need to look elsewhere.
17 points allowed, 1 turnover
How high can Kamara and Thomas fly?
As I mentioned in my preview from last week, if the Bucs were to score early, the Saints offense could be in for a huge fantasy week. I did not predict the onslaught by Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the idea was correct and this offense made me proud. I predicted pretty substantial weeks from both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, citing the fact that these two were clearly the most talented players on the field. Kamara did his usual thing. While the run game was mostly left behind, he did score twice on the ground. But his real strength, in the passing game, was on display yet again. He was targeted a healthy 12 times, hauling in 9 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. This volume in the passing game is incredible at the running back position and there is no reason this should not continue. The Browns were absolutely gashed by James Conner last week on the ground, but he also surprisingly caught five passes for 50 yards as well. The Browns do not have anyone capable of dealing with Kamara and I expect another huge week. For Thomas, the narrative is similar. This massive 17 target game is something we have not seen from a Drew Brees offense very often. Thomas simply knows how to get open, and the hall of fame QB is trusting his young stud more and more. The Browns, in the sloppy contest, forced 6 turnovers but did not look impressive on defense. Juju Smith-Schuster racked up impressive yardage totals as did Antonio Brown, which we should expect from Thomas this week. The Browns fourth overall pick, cornerback Denzel Ward, looked impressive in his debut but should be no problem for the much bigger Michael Thomas. To answer my early question, these two can fly very high. Like last week, if the game flow has the Saints chasing at any point, the fantasy output will be spectacular.
Michael Thomas: 12 targets, 90 yards, 1 TD
Alvin Kamara: 11 carries, 75 yards 1 TD; 8 targets, 90 yards, 1 TD
Is Ted Ginn Jr. the number two WR? What about Cameron Meredith and Tre’Quan Smith?
Ted Ginn Jr. had an impressive week 1 showing. I was expecting him to potentially fade from the offense, however, that was not the case. Ginn provides something in the offense that is unique from the other players, and that is a deep threat. His top line speed threatens a big play on every route and this, in turn, creates space in the defense. Although he might be a less talented receiver overall than Tre’Quan Smith or Cameron Meredith, this skillset will probably keep him on the field. The problem with Ginn is that he is boom or bust, as you can never be sure when he will produce. With Ginn, it is like throwing a dart with your eyes closed, do it enough and you can hit a bullseye. This week, the “board” is bigger, and if Brees throws enough, Ginn has a decent chance to produce one of his big plays.
Ted Ginn Jr.: 4 targets, 55 yards, 1 TD
Tre’Quan Smith: 2 targets, 15 yards
Cameron Meredith: 1 target, 0 yards