After a rather unexpected Season Opening loss at home last week, the New Orleans Saints in just a few short hours from now will be seeking to even their season record at (1-1) when they host the visiting Cleveland Browns at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
However: if the heavily-favored Saints are hoping to bounce back with a much needed victory and avoid being upset by an underdog for a 2nd straight week, then THESE 3 Saints players specifically need to “show up” and play well today.
AJ KLEIN, STRONG SIDE LINEBACKER
Sometimes you just have to “call it like you see it”, and the Saints 6th year veteran whom the team signed to a 3-year, $15 million deal last year in 2017 NFL Free Agency, has turned out to be a bit of a “mixed bag” for the defensive unit.
While Klein certainly can play on the strong side well enough to be a starter, he also seemingly has struggled at times both defending the run and in pass coverage at times, dating back to last season and again in recent weeks.
In today’s game at the Superdome, at times he’ll very likely be tested in run containment by a combination of athletic Browns QB Tyrod Taylor and RB Carlos Hyde.
But perhaps the scariest of all: he also could see some pass coverage on certain plays matched up with Cleveland TE David Njoku (pronounced EN-JOE-KOO) — who is essentially a gigantic wide receiver that possesses great deep speed to boot, lined up as a tight end.
Klein has drawn the ire of more than a few observant fans who would like to see back-up LB Craig Robertson (zero snaps at linebacker last week) get an increase in playing time in his place; and so today would be the perfect opportunity for the former back-up previously with Carolina to silence his critics. It’s time for “Klein to shine” against a scrappy but still hungry young Browns squad.
TERRON ARMSTEAD, OFFENSIVE LEFT TACKLE
Speaking of being “hungry”, perhaps no one player on Cleveland’s roster is any hungrier than 2nd year defensive end / edge pass rusher Myles Garrett. Coming off the outside edge against the Steelers, the dynamic and already-elite pass rusher was COMPLETELY UNSTOPPABLE — recording 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and 2 forced fumbles.
In today’s game, Garrett will primarily be matched up against starting Saints offensive left tackle Terron Armstead, who appears to be fully recovered from his series of nagging injuries in recent months that date all the way back to last year when he suffered a torn labrum in training camp that cost him the first four weeks of the regular season.
Now entering his sixth NFL season, Armstead is one of the game’s best left tackles when healthy; but he has never played a full 16-game season. In today’s game at the Superdome, he’ll no doubt be tested by the sensational Browns defensive superstar.
“He definitely has the ability to disrupt a game,” Armstead said to reporters after practice Friday. “A freak athlete. Extremely talented, gifted. The size he possesses, along with his abilities, makes him a tough opponent. You can tell he’s working to become a complete player.”
Clearly from a defensive stand-point, the Browns need Garrett to have another big game and disrupt the timing and rhythm of the Saints offense and Drew Brees if they are to have a legitimate shot at winning this game. A strong performance from Armstead to counter that effort by Garrett, would be just what the doctor ordered for New Orleans.
MARSHON LATTIMORE, STARTING #1 / OUTSIDE BOUNDARY CORNERBACK
Sticking with our “being bluntly honest” theme: 2nd year Saints CB and reigning 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore certainly remains among the very elite players at his position in the entire NFL, and no one questions that otherwise.
But even Lattimore is still human, and he struggled and actually got burned a few times last week against Tampa Bay;, when he yielded 7 catches for 147 yards and a TD to Buccaneers #1 WR Mike Evans.
Lattimore’s take on his performance: “We watched the film, and it was a lot of, just, technique,” Lattimore said. “It just wasn’t nothing to panic about.” Give Lattimore credit for this much: one thing that he DOESN’T lack is confidence.
In today’s game, Lattimore will be matched up one-on-one with Browns #1 offensive weapon (and former LSU star wide receiver) Jarvis Landry — who impressed in his Browns debut last week as he hauled in 7 catches for 106 yards, and is slowly beginning to establish a bond with Taylor over the past several months.
Yet nevertheless: if Cleveland has any hope of winning this game, they’ll need Landry to have a huge performance; meaning that the Saints defense will be looking for the exact same result from Lattimore.
Klein, Armstead, and Lattimore.