Game Overview ::
By hilow >>
- One of the two games this week with the weather likely to be a factor – we’ll have to wait until the day before the game to get an accurate aviation weather update, but the current forecast includes snow and sustained winds in the 25-30 mph range, with wind gusts upwards of 40 mph — yeah, that level of wind is concerning.
- The Saints rank 22nd in adjusted line yards, 23rd in DVOA against the run, and allow 4.62 yards per carry this season while the Browns rank 31st in adjusted line yards, 30th in DVOA against the run, and allow 5.42 yards per carry this season.
- Considering the expected weather and the relative weaknesses of each of these defenses, I think it’s safe to expect a ground-based offensive game plan from each side here.
- On the other side of that coin, it is likely that each team will be able to dedicate an additional body or two in the box until or unless the opposing pass offense is able to generate chunk yardage through unique looks.
- Saints rookie wide receiver Chris Olave was listed as a non-participant on Tuesday’s estimated injury report (the team only ran a walk-through).
- Cleveland rookie wide receiver David Bell returned as a limited participant in Tuesday’s practice.
- Both Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett missed practice on Tuesday for the Browns, Clowney with a concussion sustained in Week 15 and Garrett with an illness.
- Amari Cooper and Nick Chubb both missed practice Tuesday, but both instances appear to be maintenance related.
- WEDNESDAY UPDATE: Chris Olave remained out for the second consecutive day while Jarvis Landry was added to the injury report as a non-participant with an ankle injury. Nick Chubb and Amari Cooper also remained out, as did Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett.
- THURSDAY UPDATE: Chris Olave been ruled out and Jarvis Landry was placed on IR and is also out. Nick Chubb was removed from the injury report and Amari Cooper has been cleared to play.
How new orleans Will Try To Win ::
The Saints have been at or below league average in pass rate over expectation (PROE) in all but two games this season – a Week 11 positive game script win against the Rams and a Week 12 shutout at the hands of the 49ers, where San Francisco only managed 13 points themselves. Furthermore, Andy Dalton has not attempted more than 30 passes since Week 7, averaging 26.4 pass attempts per game over the previous seven games. Even furthermore, the Saints have averaged just 55.7 offensive snaps per game during that time, about eight offensive snaps per game lower than the league average this season. That equates to anywhere from one to two possessions of missing offensive plays over the sample size of almost two months’ worth of games. That is a statistically significant sample size. Now consider the expected weather and the uncertainty of their top pass-catcher in Chris Olave, and I think it’s pretty clear how the Saints are likeliest to attack this game – slow pace of play and heavy bias towards the ground, most probably with increased Taysom Hill involvement as a way to generate unique looks in a game the weather is likely to take away much of the dynamism through the air.
Eno Benjamin was added to the practice squad after he was released from his second team this season (Arizona and Houston) while David Johnson was called up from the practice squad for the second time last week. Even with Mark Ingram on injured reserve, the team kept lead back Alvin Kamara to a modest-for-him 62% snap rate after holding him to 59% of the offensive snaps in Week 13. Even so, Kamara saw more than 20 carries for only the second time last week, turning 21 carries into 91 scoreless yards and catching both targets for an additional 13 yards. We know the drill by now with the Cleveland defense – they give up a massive yards per carry value and are towards the bottom of the league in explosive runs against this season. The biggest issue for projecting this backfield isn’t the path of least resistance, the weather, or the lack of depth, it’s quite simply the seemingly bipolar coaching staff that will nuke Kamara’s utilization out of nowhere. Look no further than the “Mark Ingram with an injury play” from Week 13 against the Buccaneers, with the team electing to throw a pass to an injured Ingram instead of Kamara, the former of whom promptly ran out of bounds short of the first down marker late in the game and ultimately cost the team a win. The pure rushing matchup yields a borderline elite 4.73 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Cleveland defense allowing a robust 5.42 yards per carry to opposing backfields this season.
We know the Saints don’t operate from standard NFL alignments, instead utilizing quarterback/tight end/fullback hybrid Taysom Hill all over the formation and rotating through wide receivers like a vagrant changes locales. Consider this – only punt return specialist turned wide receiver Rashid Shaheed saw more than 49% of the offensive snaps last week, and that includes up-and-coming rookie WR1 Chris Olave. Whether that dip in snap rate from Olave was due to a hamstring injury that he apparently picked up during the game remains unknown (likely, in my opinion), but the fact of the matter is this team has rotated wide receivers all season. With the expected wind and sprawling rotation at wide receiver, short area specialists Juwan Johnson and Jarvis Landry gain increased relevance, albeit with the caveat that we can’t confidently project the Saints to throw the football more than 25-28 times in this spot.