Quick Takes: Saints drop preseason opener at Browns
At FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday night in Cleveland, the new-look New Orleans Saints provided a first look at whether they can actually become a first-place team in 2017. First impressions were mixed. After all, it is not how you start, it is how you finish.
David Onyemata, Ryan Nassib, Tommylee Lewis, Alvin Kamara, Hau’oli Kikaha, Mitch Loewen and P.J. Williams all had very good moments for the Saints in the exhibition contest.
No one will mistake the Browns with being a good team. You would certainly like the chances for New Orleans to win at Cleveland in a regular season game with regular players. Nonetheless, the Saints managed to continue their long preseason dry spell.
Here are my Quick Takes on the 20-14 Saints defeat versus the Browns:
**Travaris Cadet and Tommylee Lewis were deep to receive the opening kickoff for the Saints. If either (or both) is to make the team, both will have to contribute in the return game.
**Khalif Barnes started at left tackle with Ryan Ramczyk still nursing an injury.
**With Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson not playing, Alvin Kamara got the start at runningback and got the first two carries, including a 12-yard jaunt on the second carry, showing quickness and good one-cut ability. While everyone talks about how he will improve the Saints passing game, Kamara is a good runner from scrimmage as well. He showed that again on the second offensive series, breaking a tackle, bouncing it outside and making a play, gaining 22 yards.
**Josh Hill got the start at tight end. Can he stay healthy in 2017? He played in just nine games a year ago.
**Can Hau’oli Kikaha return to form and stay healthy? On consecutive plays on the opening offensive series for Cleveland, Kikaha drew a false start penalty and a holding call from his opponent on consecutive plays and reacted in demonstrative fashion. He plays emotionally and with a high motor is quick off the edge. It was a very positive first sign, back from his knee injury.
**Bryce Harris took over at left tackle for Barnes on the second series.
**Daniel Lasco showed his speed, hitting the hole running after a hesitation step, exposed a big hole and
**The ongoing problem with shotgun snaps continued on the second series with a high snap from Josh LeRibeus, resulting in a one-yard loss for Lasco. The Saints really need to get Max Unger back.
**Ted Ginn, Jr. debuted auspiciously, dropping a touchdown pass from Chase Daniel. That forced Wil Lutz to boot a 22-yard field goal to give the Saints a 3-0 lead with 8:02 to play in the opening quarter, capping a seven play, 50-yard drive. Ginn, Jr. has always had shaky hands. Early in his career, he dropped too many passes but he has improved annually. Unfortunately, the problem manifested itself here.
**Daniel was solid, going 4-for-6 for 27 yards with the drop by Ginn, Jr.
**P.J. Williams showed his speed, pursuing a receiver beautifully, firing from the deep to shed a block midway through the first quarter. He is a likely starter on this team.
**Kamara then showed why he will likely return punts. Surrounded by white shirts, he made the first man miss and somehow returned a punt 10 yards. Kamara finished with four rushes for 34 yards.
**Garrett Grayson took over for Daniel on the third series of the game. With more reserves in along the offensive line, he was sacked and there was no blocking in the run game, either, on his first series.
**The Browns were the Browns early on, incurring five penalties in their first 10 offensive snaps of the game.
**DeVante Harris was flagged for illegal contact on a deep ball early in the second quarter. It was a ridiculous call.
**Manti Te’o made a very nice play early in the second quarter. Te’o showed quickness on more than one occasion.
**Ken Crawley dres a penalty for pass interference and then missed a tackle in the open field when in man coverage as a result of an all-out blitz. He has had a good camp but he has to show it on the field to make the team this season. Crawley then gave up what looked like a touchdown pass from Brock Osweiler to Kenny Britt but Britt had one foot out of bounds. Of course, Crawley was offside on the play.
**Then, there was the good news. On fourth-and-goal, Crawley broke up a slant pass attempt to Britt at the goal line to prevent a touchdown. All’s well that ends well.
**Unfortunately, it did not end there. Crawley was guilty of an obvious defensive hold, giving the Browns the ball at the one-yard line and Matthew Dayes scored on the next play to make it 7-3 Cleveland with 5:22 to play in the first half.
**Lewis caught a quick pass from Grayson and turned it into a 17-yard gain midway through the second quarter. He made the first defender miss before showing his speed, his biggest asset.
**Grayson turned it over, stepping up in the pocket and was stripped by Carl Nassib, and the Browns took over at the New Orleans 21-yard line. For a third-round draft pick in his third year who has struggled, the play did not help Grayson’s chances of even sticking on the final roster. He has to have a good preseason.
**Cody Kessler took over for Brock Osweiler and got the Browns in the end zone.
**Al-Quadin Muhammad had a good pass rush, resulting in a holding call that was not made. Muhammad later had a sack in the fourth quarter.
**Harris appeared to hurt his back when beaten on a pass rush late in the second quarter. His spot on the roster is tenuous, perhaps depending on the health of others.
**David Onyemata got penetration and batted down a pass in the second quarter, a good sign for the second-year player.
**Obum Gwacham went down late in the second quarter. It appeared to be cramps.
**A forgotten man a year ago, Stephone Anthony shot the A-gap, used his speed and sacked Kessler to force a Cleveland punt. There is no doubt that Anthony has the kind of speed that Danell Ellerbe showed, when healthy.
**Barnes was flagged for illegal use of hands, hurting the final drive of the first half for the Saints. Lutz had to come on and he knocked in a 42-yard field goal to make it 7-6 Cleveland with 40 seconds left in the first half. Lutz drilled it right down the middle and he got it elevated quickly, an area he has improved in dramatically.
**It was nice to see Justin Drescher back as the deep snapper as well. There were no issues in the game in that area.
**Alex Anzalone tipped a pass late in the first half, displaying his athletic ability as he dropped into zone coverage. He sure is easy to spot with his hair but he looks like he can play.
**Deshone Kizer took over at quarterback to start the second half for the Browns.
**Taves Calhoun had a pass defensed early in the second half for the Saints.
**Rafael Bush made a big play, hitting a ballcarrier for a loss early in the third quarter.
**Grayson made his best throw, hitting Clay Harbor for 19 yards and a first down midway through the third quarter.
**Grayson then made his best throw yet, hitting Lewis on a deep route, putting it in a perfect place. Lewis laid out to make a terrific catch at the Cleveland three-yard line.
**Unfortunately, the Saints could not finish the drive. On fourth-and-goal from the two, Lewis was hit for a seven-yard loss.
**Grayson finished 11-of-16 for 126 yards.
**Ryan Nassib entered the game late in the third quarter and performed extremely well, guiding the Saints on a six play, 50-yard drive, culminating with a two-yard touchdown pass from Nassib to Lewis. Nassib was 3-for-3 for 32 yards and the score on the drive, looking good in the process.
**Lasco ran hard through contact to get the two-point conversion to make it 14-7 with 14:57 to play in the game.
**Rookie defensive lineman Mitch Loewen got a sack and had another pressure of Kizer. He is one of those dark horse candidates to watch moving forward.
**Erik Harris got beat deep by Richard Mullaney on a double move for a 52-yard pitch and catch from Kizer to the New Orleans one-yard line. Harris was caught peaking in the backfield and lost touch with Mullaney.
**That set up a one-yard touchdown run by former Franklinton and LSU running back Terrence Magee to make it 14-13. The Browns went for two and Nate Stupar came up with a big stop with 12:19 to play in the game.
**Nassib hung tough, got planted and still made a good throw which Jake Lampman made an outstanding catch on to sustain a fourth quarter drive. Nassib had to leave the game after the huge hit.
**Alex Jenkins had a sack and a pass batted down. Good stuff from a guy who came from England!
**On fourth-and-two from the New Orleans 44-yard line with 1:58 to play, Kizer hit Jordan Payton for a 45-yard touchdown pass. The Saints had an all-out blitz on and did not get to Kizer, who made perfect throw to Payton, who torched Damian Swann.
**Nassib guided one final drive but a sack and turnover killed the Saints chances. Nassib was impressive, going 10-of-14 for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Obviously, winning is preferred to losing. The Saints lost a game they could have and perhaps should have won. Lewis was brilliant, with 10 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. Onyemata had four tackles and an assist, along with a forced fumble. Williams had six tackles. Loewen had 1.5 sacks.
Clearly, there are building blocks from this game. Drew Brees, Cam Jordan, Ingram and Peterson did play and most veterans barely saw action. The team you watched Thursday night will not resemble the team you see playing in September. Next up is another road game against the Chargers on Aug. 20. We will get a better idea of who this team is, what their personality will be and where they may be going in 10 days.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…