Saints must show Browns more than Brees Sunday to be effective

Saints QB Drew Brees must diversify offense against BrownsDerick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Saints offense was too one-dimensional in a season-opening 48-40 loss to Tampa Bay last week.

The New Orleans Saints need to be a more balanced team when they play the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

They were one-dimensional in a season-opening 48-40 loss to Tampa Bay last week.

The passing offense was exceptional, even by head coach Sean Payton's and quarterback Drew Brees' standards.

But the running game was nearly non-existent and the defense, especially the pass defense, was poor. The special teams were non-descript.

"It was the first game," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "Nothing is going to be perfect. We have to execute the game plan better. We've got to get back to basics and work on the fundamentals. We're looking forward to righting the ship."

Brees passed for 439 yards and three touchdowns, one of which went to Michael Thomas, who set a franchise record with 16 catches and gained 180 yards.

But the Saints know that they can't rely strictly on Brees and the passing games if they are going to repeat as NFC South champions. The running game gained a mere 43 yards, though that was partly due to New Orleans running the ball just 13 times as it tried to catch up.

"That's just kind of the way the game went," Brees said of the Saints' limited running game. "I would ask, were we effective? There are going to be games that are going to be lopsided.

"In other games the running game is going to be more prominent. I'd ask the same question - were we effective? If we're moving the ball and scoring points I'd say it was the right plan."

New Orleans had to play catch-up for most of the game because the defense allowed 417 yards and four touchdowns to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"We had a lot of technical mistakes," cornerback Marshon Lattimore said. "It's nothing to panic about. There's a lot of stuff we can correct. It was a lot of small things."

The Saints are playing a team that hasn't won a game since Dec. 24, 2016, but one that might have increased confidence after ending a 17-game losing streak by tying Pittsburgh 21-21 last week.

"We saw them put a lot of good things on film last week," Brees said. "That's a real good defense. We've got to take care of the football and be effective in both the running game and the passing game and forget who we're playing."

SERIES HISTORY: 18th regular-season meeting. Browns lead series, 13-4. Cleveland has won eight of the 10 games in New Orleans, including the last meeting, a 26-24 victory in 2014. The Browns won the first eight meetings in the series and have won five of the last six. The Saints won three straight in 1984, 1987 and 1990.


--For the second consecutive week, the Saints are playing a franchise that got a historic victory against New Orleans. Tampa Bay beat the Saints, 33-17, in 1977 after losing its first 26 games. When the Cleveland Browns franchise was restored in 1999, it lost its first seven games before beating the Saints 21-16 on Halloween.

--The Saints are trying to avoid starting 0-2 for the fifth consecutive season. They followed their 0-2 start last season with eight consecutive wins on their way to an 11-5 record. But they followed 0-3 starts in 2016 and 2015 and a 0-2 start in 2014 with 7-9 finishes each season.

--New Orleans is tied for 27th in the NFL in turnover margin at minus-2. The two lost fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown, certainly hurt the Saints' cause last week, but the Browns are proof that even turnover margin can be a misleading stat. The Browns took the ball away from the Steelers six times and their plus-5 margin leads the NFL, but still all they could manage last week was a 21-all tie. "I can't