It was an entertaining season opener for the New Orleans Saints, but not a victory. That's the obvious goal for Week 2 against Cleveland, and here are a few things that'll assist the pursuit:
- No need to be alarmed at New Orleans' 13 rushing attempts against Tampa Bay. First, the Saints liked the matchups they had against Tampa Bay's secondary. Second, Tampa Bay wanted to take away the run. Third, when Alvin Kamara catches nine passes (for 112 yards and a touchdown), it's somewhat an extension of the running game because getting him in space, with his ability to separate from defenders, is akin to a long handoff. That said, the Saints probably still want to get a little more work for Jonathan Williams and Mike Gillislee, who combined for four carries against the Bucs. Gillislee's lack of ball security was costly, but Williams showed some pop in preseason and could be a good complement to Kamara if the Saints want to lessen Kamara's snap count.
- New Orleans' defense didn't adequately pressure the quarterback or cover receivers against Tampa Bay, and that combination is a lethal deficiency. Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 21 of 28 passes for 417 yards and four touchdowns – a whopping 19.9 yards per completion and 14.9 yards per pass play – and he wasn't sacked. That can't happen against the Browns. Tyrod Taylor may be more noted as a runner than as a passer (he had 77 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in the opener against Pittsburgh, while completing 15 of 40 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, with an interception), but don't let the reputation deceive. He's more than capable, and he has a couple of receivers (Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon) who are handfuls. After watching Mike Evans (seven catches for 147 yards and a touchdown) and DeSean Jackson (five catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns) have their way, Landry and Gordon probably anxiously are looking forward to Sunday. The Saints can't afford a similar collapse defensively against Cleveland, so the technique and communication issues that popped up against the Bucs need to have been solved.
- Want to know why Coach Sean Payton always mentions winning the turnover battle? Because of examples like this: The Saints turned over the ball twice against Tampa Bay, and failed to force any. Gillislee's lost fumble was recovered and returned for a touchdown by the Bucs and Michael Thomas' lost fumble was recovered by Tampa bay at its 32-yard line. That's at least a seven-point swing, and possibly 10 or 14 points, in a game that the Saints lost 48-40. Do the math. Playing turnover-free football always helps.
- Tossing Michael Thomas in here because, well, when you set a franchise single-game record with 16 catches (for 180 yards and a touchdown), you earn the right to be a key ingredient. It'll be interesting to see how Cleveland chooses to match up against Thomas, who throws hands with the best of them if a cornerback dares to cover him man-to-man. Cleveland likes its corners (Terrance Mitchell and Denzel Ward). We'll get an indication of just how much it likes them against Thomas.