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Barry Hirstius

5 Biggest Saints “Winners and Losers” in Loss to the Cleveland Browns

The New Orleans Saints lost their 10th straight consecutive Pre-Season game in a row last night, following a 20-14 defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Saints have not won in the NFL Pre-Season now dating all the way back to the 3rd game of the 2014 Pre-Season, when they defeated the Colts in Indianapolis.

As we will do all season long this year (and right now during the Pre-Season as well), the Saints News Network will look back at each week's game and list the 5 BIGGEST "winners and losers" --- whose performances either helped or hurt the team and had a direct impact on the eventual outcome / final score.

With that in mind, here's a look a the 5 biggest winners and losers, from last night in Cleveland........

 

THE FIVE BIGGEST WINNERS

 

5. ALEX ANZALONE, LINEBACKER

Photo courtesy of Ron Schwane, The Associated Press

Anzalone saw extensive action during the 1st quarter as the team continually shuffled linebackers in and out of the line-up as they experimented with a variety of different defensive looks and packages. He flashed some nice athletic ability and tremendous range in pass coverage, including one play where he literally dove to get a hand on a pass that forced a Browns incompletion on 3rd down.

Anzalone may or may not start at the "Will" / weak side LB spot when the team opens the season on Monday Night Football at Minnesota on September 11th, but this much is clearly evident: his sideline-to-sideline range and capability might be the best on the entire team even as a rookie, and he WILL have an impact on the Saints defense in 2017, as long as he remains healthy,

 

4. RYAN NASSIB, QUARTERBACK

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Nassib has had a relatively quiet Training Camp since the Saints brought him into the fold late in the off-season, which made last night's at-times impressive showing all the more surprising in some aspects. He completed 10 out of 14 passes for 110 yards and a TD pass to Tommylee Lewis, although to be fair most of his stats came against the Browns 3rd-string defense.

Nevertheless, given the performance of the player he replaced in back-up QB Garrett Grayson (more on him coming up), it made Nassib appear to be the better of the 2 players fighting for the #3 QB spot; assuming the Saints actually decide to keep 3 QB's active on Game Days during the regular season behind Drew Brees and Chase Daniels. At this point, Nassib appears to have pulled slightly ahead of Grayson --- despite coming up short on the final drive of the game.

 

3. HAU'OLI KIKAHA, DEFENSIVE END

Photo courtesy of Ken Blaze, The Associated Press

It was a great night for the Saints defensive line, which tallied a total of 4 sacks on the night; and although he didn't notch a sack himself, Kikaha had a phenomenal performance in the starting line-up during the 1st quarter; creating consistent pressure from his outside edge rusher spot including a play where he was clearly held by the Browns left tackle before forcing an incompletion by Cleveland QB Brock Osweiler on a key 3rd down situation.

There had been some concern coming into last night about how Kikaha might look with it being his first game action since tearing the ACL in his left knee for a 3rd time last summer, but he looked as fast coming off the edge as he ever has; and at this point it appears safe to say that the 3rd year star is fully healed and ready to go for the upcoming 2017 regular season.

 

2. ALVIN KAMARA, RUNNING BACK

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

What can be said about this kid that hasn't been said already? After being compared to former Hall of Fame legend RB Marshall Faulk during Training Camp, Kamara looked the part last night on one particular play during the Saints 2nd offensive series, that completely left Browns defenders looking silly.

The rookie and 3rd Round pick out of the University of Tennessee tallied 35 yards on 4 carries to lead the team in rushing, but it was his "highlight reel" 22-yard run that had Saints fans at home coming off of their couches. The most impressive thing was that Kamara demonstrated the ability to play "lead" RB if he had to (which he did at Tennessee), if either Adrian Peterson or Mark Ingram were forced to miss time in the regular season.

 

1. TOMMYLEE LEWIS, WIDE RECEIVER

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Lewis was the game's MVP for the Saints last night, with a game-high 10 receptions for 128 receiving yards and a 2-yard TD grab from Nassib. Lewis also had a "highlight reel" play of his own, a diving and acrobatic 32-yard catch in single coverage against a Browns DB early in the 4th quarter that set the Saints up down near the goal line, before the offense turned the ball over on downs.

Coming in to the game, Lewis -- who was the team's #5 WR last season --- has been engaged in a heated position battle with veteran WR Corey Fuller and Dural for the team's #5 WR spot this year; and after last night's performance, it's pretty evident that he doesn't intend to give up that spot, without a fight. If the season started today, he'd still be the 5th and final WR on the roster.

 

THE 5 BIGGEST LOSERS

 

5.  KEN CRAWLEY, CORNERBACK

Photo courtesy of Michael C. Hebert

Crawley, the 2nd year UDFA player out of the University of Colorado, has had a phenomenal Training Camp but last night had a "rough go" of it at times during the first half when he missed a tackle on one play and then was flagged twice for defensive holding, one in the Browns end zone which nearly set up an easy Browns TD drive late in the 1st Quarter.

He did eventually redeem himself however by coming up with a nice PBU in that very same end zone on a Browns 4th down pass attempt, as the Saints defense made a stand with their backs to the goal line. Crawley still appears to have locked down the #4 CB spot on the Saints Final 53-man roster later this month, but last night might make the coaching staff a bit hesitant or give them 2nd thoughts about ever letting him be a starter, if they needed him to.

 

4. TRAVIN DURAL, WIDE RECEIVER

Photo courtesy of Kristian Garic, WWL Radio New Orleans

It's probably a bit unfair to put Dural on this list, simply because he never even got the opportunity last night to show what he can do. Dural was injured on the only pass of the game that came his way: a horrendous throw from QB Garrett Grayson (as we said: more on Grayson coming up) that allowed the Cleveland defender to get a "clean shot" on Dural's neck and shoulder area, forcing him to leave the game with Saints trainers and medical staff.

After last year's #5 WR Tommylee Lewis had the huge night that we mentioned up above, Dural will now be forced to "come up big" in the remaining 3 Pre-Season games, or else he appears destined to eventually end up on the Saints Practice Squad --- once he likely gets released during the team's final cuts at the end of this month.

 

3.  ERIK HARRIS, FREE SAFETY

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

Harris, who played in the Canadian Football League alongside Delvin Breaux in 2014 before the Saints signed him last off-season, missed the 2016 season when he was placed on injured reserve. He is trying to earn a final roster spot this season as well, but last night unfortunately might not have helped his cause all that much.

Harris got embarrassed on a 52-yard bomb by Browns rookie QB DeShone Kizer when he took what appeared to be a bad angle in zone coverage, and got burned by Cleveland WR Richard Mullaney that set up a Browns TD early in the 4th quarter. In these next 3 remaining Pre-Season games, Harris will need to shine on special teams and in more situations such as the one last night; or else he'll find himself back in the CFL.

 

2. DAMIAN SWANN, CORNERBACK

Photo courtesy of Jason Miller, Getty Images

Swann, who is battling for his final roster spot this year after suffering from a series of concussions which have slowed his NFL career the first 2 years since the Saints traded up to take him in the 6th Round of the 2015 Draft, didn't exactly do himself any favors last night.

After he actually had gotten off to a good start with a PBU on an earlier 4th quarter series, Swann was BEATEN BADLY on the Browns' winning TD pass from DeShone Kizer to WR Jordan Payton, when he attempted to use press coverage on Payton -- who was lined up at least 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped and blew right past Swann with a running head start. With plays like the one last night and with Swann already buried on the depth chart at CB, his future in a Saints uniform could now be in jeopardy.

 

1. GARRETT GRAYSON, QUARTERBACK

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

Wow. What can we say about Grayson that wasn't already said about Grayson after last night's performance? Grayson held on to the ball far too long which caused him to get sacked a few times and lost a fumble deep in the Saints' own territory, and honestly looked indecisive and downright flustered at times. He also looked to struggle with progressing his reads quickly enough, despite the decent numbers that he was still able to put up (11 out of 16 for 126 yards).

At this point, it's honestly hard to envision any sort of scenario that would allow Grayson to remain in a Saints uniform past the final game of the Pre-Season against the Ravens. Grayson will have to DIG DOWN DEEP and save his future with the team and possibly his entire career, by having a string of good (or at least good "enough") performances in the next remaining 3 Pre-Season games; or else his time in NOLA and perhaps in the NFL, is about to come to a very quick and abrupt end that no one -- including Grayson himself -- probably ever expected.......

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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