First Impressions: Game 2

1. Close– and a cigar: It’s hard to be 100% wrong about a prediction (Saints 41-16) and still come any closer to the truth than I did with the preview. Pointed out that the Saints don’t do well on the road, that their offense is erratic– and that Rob Ryan is a clown, saying:

There is a universe where the Browns exploit Rob Ryan’s deficiencies by calling a series of draws, screens, play-actions and counters, burning the Saint defenders repeatedly… the Browns could win. But I’m not going to bet that way, based on less than one half of football against a bad team.

Well, I guess we’ve reached that universe. I doubt I’ll end up picking the Browns to beat the Ravens (though that could change as I do my homework), but there’s no reason to assume they’ll lose badly.

2. Get ye hence, vile creature: It’s rare for an assistant to get fired in mid-season,, but the odds on New Orleans retaining Rob Ryan as coordinator– barring a miracle– are in single digits.

Last week, with 20 seconds left to go in the first half, New Orleans was leading Atlanta 20-7. They kick the ball out of the end zone, and Atlanta has the ball on their 20, with 20 seconds left.

20 seconds.

Matt Ryan throws a 19-yarder to Devin Hester– and then a 39-yard pass to Roddy White. Atlanta had the ball on the New Orleans 22 with :04 left and kicked a field goal to bring it within 10. Then they win the second half 24-14

Down by 3, with the ball on their 20 and only 1:20 on the clock and only one time out, Atlanta drove the ball 47 yards to get the game-tying field goal.

Now this. 

That’s why Sean Payton barked at Ryan during the drive. When you have the lead and the clock is running out, you don’t need to make a great play– you simply need to make sure that the other team doesn’t.  

As Terry Bradshaw pointed out after the game, with 39 seconds left and the ball at the New Orleans 39, the Browns use a “bunch” package (as the name implies, a bunch of receivers)… and Ryan called a blitz. An interception or a pass batted down  is just as effective.

With 2:06 left in the game and the ball at the 4, the Browns (who granted, had three time outs left) still managed to travel 85 yards, giving Billy Cundiff a chip-shot.

When Ryan gets fired, there isn’t a spot as coordinator left. He’s been at Oakland, Cleveland and Dallas– all the places that do goofy stuff. He can maybe try Chicago, who still can’t play defense. But otherwise he’ll be down to position coach.

His best bet would be to try that team the guys from Kiss are running. He’d fit in well on a reality show with Gene Simmons.

3. The other genius move. Of course if Peyton wants to fire people for stupid game management, he try himself. New Orleans blew its third time out with 5:52 left in the second quarter– on a fourth down where they had the ball at the Cleveland 9.

They ran 32 seconds off the clock, called time to avoid a Delay of Game penalty– which would have taken it from a 27-yard kick to a 32-yarder (not exactly otu of range) and then kicked.

When New Orleans scored at the end of the first half, they had only 8 seconds left.

But here’s the other genius thing. Here are the Saints offensive stats by quarter:

Qtr Rushes Yards Avg Passes Yards Avg
1 3 12 4.0 9 2 0.22
2 9 94 10.4 15 100 6.7
3 7 34 4.9 7 54 7.7
4 8 34 4.2 9 65 7.2

Now maybe I’m just whacky, but was there any point where the Saints weren’t able to run the ball?

Also, New Orleans took the lead 24-23 on a drive that began with 3:19 left in the third quarter. On that 13-play, 80-yard drive (which took 6:07), they :

  • Ran 8 times for 28 yards
  • Passed 5 times for 52 yards

The rushing average dropped because when New Orleans got it to the Cleveland 3 (on a 20-yard pass to Jimmy Graham), they ran it twice for 3 yards. The Fox announcers, who see the Saints often, were mightily impressed, commenting that it was uncharacteristic of New Orleans to go toe-to-toe with an opponent.

The Browns got the ball back, went only 32 yards in seven plays and punter the ball back at 8:59. The Saints:

  • Ran 4 times for 17 yards, killing 1:53
  • Passed 6 times for 42 yards, killing 2:42

On third-and-5, with 3:36 left, the Saints were leading 24-23, with the ball at the Cleveland 31. That was a 48-yard field goal– probably not makeable for 37-year-old Shayne Graham.

Yes, that’s the same Shayne Graham the Browns signed a year ago, but cut in training camp, feeling his leg was like chewed bubble gum.

With time about to expire, the Saints had to call time out, stopping the clock. When play resumed, they tried to pass, got sacked and lost 7 yards, taking themselves out of field goal range.

It’s clock and play mismanagement sufficient to get a coach torn to shreds by second-guessers. And rightly so.

4. The Johnny Football era begins. To answer the three texts,  actually it does make sense to bring the guy in and hand off the ball. If the is expecting him to do razzle-dazzle, you have a chance of catching them off-guard.

It just didn’t work. Also, hsi pass to Ray Agnew couldn’t have been better– the kid just dropped it.

5. Pending further review… OK, this is turning into a game review and I want to run the tape and do some work, so we’ll pick up tomorrow or Tuesday.

Nothing I’ve said here should be taken as a negative on the Browns’ effort, by the way. I’m not saying “Boy did New Orleans blow that game…” First impressions are the obvious stuff you see… the obvious things are “Geez, here’s another surprising game” and “Wow do the Saints not know what they are doing…”

Cleveland made a strong effort, performed well and did more than enough to establish itself as a club that could reach .500, or maybe better, depending on how some players develop– or life progresses in other clubhouses.

The significant thing is that the team does seem, for the first time in many years, to show some degree of spirit and good decision-making.  And that, as Martha Stewart likes to say, “is a good thing.”

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