OK, it's going to be cold and windy. And one of those – the wind – could be a significant factor.
Regardless of its effect, the New Orleans Saints (5-9) are going to have to construct a gameplan that will be effective against the Browns (6-8) on Saturday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. If the Saints are able to do so, they might also be able to leave the cold with their first two-game winning streak of the season.
Here are a few factors that can work in the Saints' favor against the Browns.
- RUN IT BACK: If the wind is a factor – and a forecast that includes almost 30 mph wind from the southwest very much sounds like it will be a factor – then New Orleans probably is going to have a significant amount of its offensive damage in the run game. The Saints are coming off a 34-carry, 134-yard offering against Atlanta in victory (Alvin Kamara accounted for 21 carries and 91 yards), and they'll be facing a Browns run defense that allows 133.1 rushing yards per game, tied for eighth most in the league. Kamara and Taysom Hill could see some heavy usage, especially considering receivers Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry are out. New Orleans will be without right guard Cesar Ruiz, who was having his best NFL season, but it will have to establish the run because the passing game simply won't be as available without a couple of top targets and because the wind won't be passer-friendly.
- PLUG IT UP: Just as the Saints have to be prepared to run it, they'll have to be ready to stop the run. Stopping it, consistently, has been an issue for New Orleans all season and the Saints are coming off a game in which the Falcons ran for 231 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries. The Saints are allowing 132 rushing yards per game, so whether or not Browns running back Nick Chubb will be available, they understand that the Browns intend to impose their will in the run game. Pro Bowl linebacker Demario Davis will lead the charge here, and there's no better choice for New Orleans to do so. But he'll need help. The Saints need to be disciplined in run defense, because missed assignments lead to chunk plays.
- JUWAN-JI: Let's say that, even minimally, the Saints and quarterback Andy Dalton are going to have to throw the ball some. Without Olave and Landry, the best bet for being a factor in the passing game could be tight end Juwan Johnson, who leads the team with seven touchdown catches. If routes are going to be short because of wind, then Johnson has the receiver moves to get open and the big frame to make contested catches. And Kamara could be of assistance in this area, too. If New Orleans is able to take a deep shot, look for rookie Rashid Shaheed, the most pleasant surprise of the class.
- NOT ELEMENTARY: There's no easy way to slow down Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, but the elements should help because if the Saints aren't able to do what they want in the passing game, neither should the Browns. The issue is that Watson is evasive and he can scramble, and that could lead to big gains via his legs or the fact that his receivers could pop free because of the extra time.
- CAN I KICK IT? The kicking game is going to be vital. Due to the conditions, it's very possible that one team could make a mistake – poor punt, poor kickoff, errant field-goal attempt, muffed return. New Orleans can't be the team that commits the error. Hopefully, Wil Lutz can find a comfortable range for field goal attempts and the Saints can get him there if they can't get into the end zone.