AFC North: Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are taking a wait-and-see approach to the availability of tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder) and linebacker Barkevious Mingo (shoulder) for Sunday's game against Baltimore. However, coach Mike Pettine said he does not expect Ben Tate (knee) to be ready to play.

Tate will probably rest his injured knee this weekend and then take the bye week before coming back to play in Tennessee in Week 5.

Cameron and Mingo are iffy at best. Both were listed as limited for Wednesday's practice after both missed Sunday's win over New Orleans.

Cameron's absence would be felt significantly against the Ravens, whose aggressive corners will do all they can to play press-man on the Browns receivers.

Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray have played well in Cameron's absence, but having the Pro Bowl tight end on the field against Baltimore would help counter the Ravens' strategy.
A weekly by-the-numbers look at the Cleveland Browns' next game, at home against the Baltimore Ravens:
  • 83.2 -- Joe Flacco's passer rating
  • 87.4 -- Brian Hoyer's passer rating
  • $51 million -- The guaranteed portion of Flacco’s contract
  • $1.965 million -- The complete value of Hoyer’s contract
  • 4.5 -- The Ravens' average yards per carry in the run game
  • 5.1 -- The Browns' average yards per carry in the run game
  • 89 -- Rushing yards allowed per game by Baltimore
  • 152.5 -- Rushing yards per game by the Browns' offense
  • 78.2 -- Opposing quarterbacks’ passer rating vs. Baltimore
  • 33 -- Total first downs Baltimore’s defense has allowed
  • 32.4 -- Average number of yards the Ravens have given up per drive
  • 27 -- Total points allowed by Baltimore in two games
  • 5 -- Said total points rank in the NFL by Baltimore's defense
  • 26.5 -- Points scored per game by the Browns' offense
  • 5 -- Browns' rank in total points in the NFL
  • 6.2 -- Yards per play when Baltimore faces a no-huddle offense
  • 8 -- Yards given up rushing in the red zone
  • 6 -- Yards given up passing in the red zone
  • 0 -- Opposing quarterback rating in the red zone
  • 2.33 -- Average yards given up on red-zone plays
  • 1 -- Baltimore’s rank in the NFL in red-zone efficiency
  • 1 -- The number of touchdowns the Ravens have given up in two games

Clearly the Ravens present a more serious test defensively to the Browns than Pittsburgh or New Orleans. The Ravens are a physical, aggressive group that has been very stingy giving up points. The only touchdown they allowed was a 77-yard deep throw by Andy Dalton to A.J. Green. Teams have yet to sustain any drives against them.

Offensively, both teams have had effective running games, but Baltimore has been stingy giving yards up as well. Baltimore’s struggles against the no-huddle has to have caught Mike Pettine’s eye.

If Hoyer and the offense can get something done on this Baltimore defense, it will be the first time it happens. But Baltimore has yet to play away from home and the Browns' crowd provided a huge lift in the win over New Orleans.

The numbers say this will be a tough game, but it will also be a very interesting one -- and can reveal much about where the Browns stand with the big boys of the NFL as they head to the bye week.
BEREA, Ohio -- One of Brian Hoyer's most important throws in the win over New Orleans on Sunday was to his third read, and to a receiver he had never thrown to on that particular play call.

That came on the fourth-and-6 throw that kept the Cleveland Browns' game-winning drive alive, a throw that Hoyer either makes or the game ends in a loss.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
AP Photo/David RichardBrian Hoyer gave Browns fans reason to cheer on Sunday with his clutch play during the final drive.
Hoyer broke down the play, saying it was similar to a third-down play call against Pittsburgh when he forced a throw to Gary Barnidge when Barnidge was well covered. Hoyer admitted in Pittsburgh he thought pre-snap of getting five yards to try a field goal. Because he forced it, the Browns had to punt.

As he lined up against the Saints, he saw a coverage he didn’t like and reminded himself to let the play develop and go through his reads.

His first was outside to Taylor Gabriel, but he was double-covered.

His second was to Andrew Hawkins over the middle, but he was short of the first-down marker and well covered.

His third took him to Barnidge, who had safety Jairus Byrd at his feet as he made the catch.

“I’ve probably never thrown that ball to Gary in my life [on that play],” Hoyer said “That read on that fourth-down play, I don’t think I’ve had on that play with him.”

But he explained the way the play developed.

“You know exactly what you need to get and when they take No. 1 away, [No.] 2 is in front of the sticks, you gotta get to No. 3 and that's what we were able to do," Hoyer said.

The pass was on the money, and Barnidge made the catch with Byrd spinning him to the ground immediately.

“That was a heck of a throw and an even better catch,” coach Mike Pettine said. “He had Byrd just hanging on his back. That was clutch.”

Barnidge has 36 career receptions, and he was playing at the time because starting tight end Jordan Cameron was sidelined with a shoulder injury. In the Browns' system, Barnidge is the receiving tight end, Jim Dray the blocker. Trusting the backup tight end in that situation might take some gumption, but Hoyer didn’t hesitate to throw the ball where it should go, saying he trusts all the backup receivers “with all my heart.”

“He’s a solid player,” Pettine said of Barnidge. “He’s not going to be on anybody’s Pro Bowl ballot, but I believe in the guys that we have. You have to because they feel it if you don’t.”

Hoyer understands any and all skepticism because he’s been released three times and is coming off major knee surgery.

But in four starts for the Browns when he finished the game, Hoyer has led the team back from 24 points down against Pittsburgh, led a late game-securing drive against Cincinnati and led late game-winning drives against Minnesota and New Orleans. Against the Saints, he converted two third downs and the fourth-down throw to Barnidge.

“We talk about, ‘If you’re going to be a great player, you need to make great plays when your best is needed,’” Pettine said. “He certainly did that for us. That’s when you gain respect. Respect can’t be manufactured that way. It can’t be artificial. It just has to be earned, and it has to be earned through his play, through his actions. I thought he handled himself real well [Sunday].”

Breaking down Cundiff's winning kick

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
BEREA, Ohio -- Billy Cundiff's 29-yard field goal to beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday was not his first game winner for the Cleveland Browns.

Cundiff joked that his first winner came in a game when the Browns and Buffalo Bills "set fooball back 40 years."

He was only partially joking, because that game did feel like it set football back decades. It was in Eric Mangini's first season, after the Browns had lost four in a row to start the season. The Browns scored on two field goals and won 6-3. Quarterback Derek Anderson was 2-for-17 and the Browns won because a Bills punt returner fumbled a return.

Cundiff was with the Browns only because Phil Dawson was hurt.

"I was kind or re-establishing myself back in the NFL, letting people know I still had the ability to play at this level," Cundiff said. "That's exactly what it did. It was able to get me another job in Baltimore."

Where he kicked for two-plus seasons (and went to the Pro Bowl in 2010) before going to Washington for one season. He then joined the Browns late in training camp a year ago. Sunday was his first game winner in his second go-round. His only chance last season was from 58 yards in New England, which fell short (his career long is 56 in 2005).

"It's still early in the season," Cundiff said. "Obviously we don't want to put too much stock into one kick. But as the season goes on you want to be able to win close games, especially at home."

Cundiff is learning about the winds off Lake Erie and how they can affect the game. But he's also learned that offseason stadium renovations make the winds swirl more. He referred to something called "the Dawson flag," which is a flag former kicker Phil Dawson had installed to the right of the Browns bench.

"That was the flag that would tell you which way the wind was coming," Cundiff said. "Now it's not working."

Because the renovations added seating that enclosed the end zones.

Cundiff also knew the Saints would aggressively go after the kick, and they did.

"That was our fastest get-off time all game," Cundiff said. "I think it was clocked at 1.21 (seconds) and they almost got it. So it shows that we were really humming."

Which was good also because until that kick, the kicking trio of Cundiff, snapper Christian Yount and holder Spencer Lanning were responsible for the one-point differential. Yount's snap on the extra point after Tashaun Gipson's interception return for a touchdown was high and slipped through Lanning's fingers.

"As a specialist you guys know when we fail," Cundiff said, adding: "It's a tough feeling for the whole week knowing that your mistake led to a team losing."

Of course, the opposite is just as true when a kick wins a game.

Said Cundiff: "It's the feeling you live for."

The Film Don't Lie: Browns

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
A weekly look at what the Cleveland Browns must fix:

The Browns' secondary has given up 599 yards passing, three touchdowns and 8 yards per attempt through two games. The last number is especially troubling as the team prepares for Sunday’s game against Baltimore, because it is the best indicator of a passing game’s success. Heading into Monday night’s game, only one team -- Atlanta -- had given up more yards per attempt.

The Browns started the season by facing two of the league’s best quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. Brees is the same guy who helped make Atlanta’s figure so high. Still, the Browns have to address their secondary. The two quarterbacks have a 94.3 rating against the Browns, 14th in the league. It’s tough to address this situation with personnel at this point of the season, so the Browns will have to do it with coaching and scheme. Joe Flacco is capable of putting up big numbers.

Hoyer prepared for Manziel playing

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
Brian Hoyer used the words “mad” and "irk me" when discussing the fact that Johnny Manziel ran three plays during Sunday’s Cleveland Browns win over New Orleans.

It’s important, though, to put those words in perspective.

In his postgame news conference, Hoyer was asked if he was at all annoyed that he came out for a few plays.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/David RichardJohnny Manziel took three underwhelming snaps on Sunday, but Brian Hoyer maintained his focus.
"No. I think [offensive coordinator] Kyle [Shanahan] ... we talked," Hoyer said, "and he said, ‘Look, there might be a few looks with Rob Ryan’s defense and the situation that we’re in I think we can use Johnny in there.'

"Like I told you guys before, as much as it might irk me to go off the field, if it’s going to help us win, then I’m all for it. As a competitor and a quarterback, when there’s only one of you on the field, it’s hard for you get taken off.

"But I think for me, I was mentally able to stay in it. I think a lot of guys might not be able to handle that. But I think because they were up front with me, Kyle was up front with me, and said, ‘Look, we may do it, we may not. If we need to use it, we might.’ I think that helped me. As mad as I was when he told me, I think it mentally helped me prepare for it.”

Players always say they want honesty from their coaches. Because Shanahan was honest, it seemed to temper the negative feelings. Had Shanahan not told Hoyer and just gone ahead with the move, it might have caused problems.

But it’s also important to remember that back in August, before anyone was named the starter, Hoyer was asked how he would feel if he was the starter and Manziel had a group of plays he would run in a game.

His answer then is the same as it is now: “If it helps us win, I’m all for it."

Against New Orleans, Hoyer found himself watching as Manziel ran three plays. The first happened with the Browns leading 16-10, the second with the Browns down 17-16.

Manziel ran all his plays out of the pistol, and he ran read-option on all -- with the third play-action off read-option. The first he handed off to Isaiah Crowell for a 3-yard gain, the second Crowell lost 3 yards, and the third Manziel scrambled and threw a floater to the sideline that Ray Agnew had but then had dislodged on a hit by Jairus Byrd.

Hoyer followed Manziel’s first appearance by completing a 22-yard pass on third-and-7 that was negated by a penalty. He followed Manziel’s second appearance by converting a third-and-13 and a third-and-4 to guide the Browns to a go-ahead touchdown.

"Obviously as a competitor, as a quarterback, you want to be out on the field," Hoyer said. "It was something that was discussed all week. We weren’t sure if we were going to need it or run it. I just told myself, because I knew at some point it might happen, just be ready to go back in and a lot of them were on third downs.

"And I think we completed both of them, so for me it was more I come off the field and I’m thinking, 'All right, if we get to third down, what coverage are they going to play? What play are we going to run?’ Just really try to focus on what I had to do and go back out and move the ball. Luckily it worked out."

Coach Mike Pettine said Hoyer should have been unhappy to go to the sideline.

"Knowing the competitor he is, he probably wasn’t real thrilled to have to come off the field," Pettine said. "That’s the nature of who he is, as he should be."

Hoyer is starting to show the same things he showed last season: preparation, the ability to complete an important drive when needed, the ability to read a defense and make a throw. He’s doing it without Josh Gordon and for the last six quarters without Jordan Cameron. Hoyer can play better, but clearly he can win.

On Sunday he showed two other sides of himself -- the human side and the professional side.

Hoyer's story gets better and better

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
CLEVELAND -- What should be one of the NFL's best stories is back to life.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer now has started five games, finished four, won three and led the Browns twice on game-winning drives in the final minute.

In one of his other starts he hurt his knee five minutes into the game, in another he secured a win with a long drive, and in another he led the team back from a 24-point deficit to nearly steal an improbable win in Pittsburgh.

That kind of production has all the earmarks of a winning quarterback, a guy who does his job when it matters most. That it's a guy who grew up in Cleveland and was released by three teams makes the tale even better.

On Sunday, Hoyer guided the Browns on a winning drive by beating the New Orleans Saints 26-24. Cleveland started from its 4-yard line with 2:40 left and ended at the Saints' 11 -- setting up Billy Cundiff's winning field goal with three seconds left.

On the drive, Hoyer completed two third-down throws to Miles Austin, a fourth-down throw to Gary Barnidge and a 28-yard throw to a wide-open Andrew Hawkins to set up the field goal.

Hoyer completed four of his last five passes and won a game when the Browns did not have Ben Tate and Jordan Cameron because of injury and Josh Gordon because of suspension.

"I think a lot of people would have told us that we shouldn't show up in this game," Hoyer said.

He can thank a lot of players for the win: Karlos Dansby, whose sack of Drew Brees on New Orleans' last offensive play took the Saints out of field goal range and kept the deficit at one. Tashaun Gipson, who intercepted a Brees pass in the first half and returned it for a touchdown. Austin, who shrugged off a third-down drop to catch a touchdown pass in the first half.

"So [often] in this business you get caught up in results," Hoyer said. "And if you can just focus on the process and on each play one at a time and figure what you have to do to win that play ... "

The winning play started with Hoyer throwing on third-and-1 to Austin, whose snag at the two-minute mark got things going. Three plays later, Austin converted another third down. Hoyer's next big throw was fourth-and-6 with 38 seconds left, a pass over the middle to Barnidge for 10 yards and a first down that gave the team life.

"Probably his best throw of the day," coach Mike Pettine said.

"It just opened up," Barnidge said. "I was one-on-one with the safety. I just broke in, and Hoyer made a great throw."

Hoyer said he didn't like the coverage as he lined up, so he reminded himself to read the play to the finish. He did, and waited for Barnidge.

"It was actually the same play last week that I tried to force it," he said of a play he decided where to throw before the snap against Pittsburgh.

A pass on the sideline to a sliding Austin put the ball a the Saints' 39 -- and the officials stumbled their way to the right ruling, with Austin out of bounds and 15 seconds left.

The Saints blitzed everyone, and Hoyer's quick slant to Austin was knocked down. Hoyer called that fortunate, because on the next play New Orleans again went with an all-out blitz and left the secondary in man coverage.

Corey White and Keenan Lewis both went to Austin. Nobody covered Hawkins, who was wide-open at the 15.

"I think it was a dropped coverage," Hawkins said.

Hoyer said he almost threw a punt just to make sure the ball got there.

"We were surprised they all-out blitzed us two plays in a row," Hoyer said.

That's defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, though. The blitz and blown coverage wound up costing the Saints, as Hoyer's calm was too much for the frenzy Ryan tried to create.

Hoyer has now lived through the frenzy of the drafting of Johnny Manziel and the preseason frenzy of who would play. Once named the starter, Hoyer shrugged off the pressure of the celebrated draftee lurking behind him, settled in, came within a whisper of winning in Pittsburgh and then beat New Orleans.

Not too bad for the hometown guy who graduated from high school the same year the Browns last won a home opener.

Hoyer's moxie helps Browns win

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
CLEVELAND -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Browns’ 26-24 victory over New Orleans:

Cover zero: Brian Hoyer said he was surprised to see the Saints run an all-out blitz and go cover zero (no safeties, all man) on the Browns' final two offensive plays. The first throw was batted down and the second was a completion to a wide-open Andrew Hawkins. With the game on the line, the Saints gambled, the Browns read their move and won the game.

Opening win: Many players were eager to get out of the locker room as fast they could to celebrate the first win in a home opener since 2004. Coach Mike Pettine joked there was a big cigar waiting for him after his first NFL win, and Hawkins wanted to get to his family. Karlos Dansby talked about the stadium being deafening, and Hoyer talked about how the fans deserved it. This was not just a win, but an emotional win that could provide momentum going forward.

Hoyer moxie: In five starts for the Browns, Hoyer has four wins and two last-minute, game-winning drives. In one of the wins, he played only five minutes against Buffalo, but his only loss as a starter for the Browns came when he helped wipe out a 24-point halftime deficit in Pittsburgh. Against New Orleans, Hoyer was without Josh Gordon (suspended), Jordan Cameron (injured) and Ben Tate (injured), yet he still guided the team on a game-winning drive. Emphatic point made.

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 26-24 win over the New Orleans Saints at FirstEnergy Stadium.

What it means: The second half against Pittsburgh meant more than originally thought. That second half gave the Browns confidence, and they started strong and finished with a game-winning drive against New Orleans. The Browns opened against two of the NFL's better teams, losing on a game-ending kick and winning on the second-to-last play of the game. This win should give the team and coaching staff faith, which the fans can share. After two dismal quarters against Pittsburgh, the Browns have played well enough to come back from 24 down in Pittsburgh and beat New Orleans. They haven't been perfect, but the second game follow-up confirmed that what happened in the second half of the first game was not a mirage.

Stock watch: The secondary has shown it may be a concern. The Browns appeared to have addressed the issue by drafting Justin Gilbert and signing Isaiah Trufant to be the nickelback, but Trufant was lost for the season with a knee injury and Gilbert has struggled. First the Steelers took advantage of Gilbert in the opener, then the Saints used Jimmy Graham's superior size and strength to beat whoever covered him -- and more than once it was Pro Bowler Joe Haden. Drew Brees does that to a lot of teams, but the Browns secondary has not shown signs of being able to cover well enough to win.

Manziel package: Johnny Manziel got his first NFL playing time, and it wasn’t exactly a glittering debut. Manziel had three plays in the third quarter, when he scampered on the field for a particular play at a particular time. On the first, he ran the read-option off the pistol formation and handed off to Isaiah Crowell for a 3-yard gain. On the second, Manziel handed off and Crowell went nowhere. On the third, a second-and-13 play, Manziel ran play-action, hesitated, looked right, spun and ran left, and threw off balance to fullback Ray Agnew at the sideline. The ball hung up, which allowed Jairus Byrd to hit Agnew and knock it loose. The three plays were inconsequential and seemed to disrupt the offensive flow as much as help anything.

Game ball: Brian Hoyer did it against Minnesota a year ago with a game-winning drive. He led a big drive against Cincinnati last season to secure a win. And he did it against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. An improbable chance turned real when Hoyer completed a fourth-down throw to Gary Barnidge to keep the drive alive then found Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins for completions to set up the game-winning field goal from Billy Cundiff. Hoyer went 8-for-11 for 77 yards on the final drive, and because of it he gets this game ball. He dealt with the Manziel-mania for an offseason and a training camp and responded the best way possible: on the field.

What’s next: The Baltimore Ravens visit Cleveland for a 1 p.m. ET game at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Browns: Wait and see on Gordon

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
The Browns weren't jumping to any conclusions about Josh Gordon's suspension being reduced in a new drug-testing agreement that could be implemented either any day or any year.

"I'll believe it when I see it," coach Mike Pettine said.

Asked if he was aware what was happening, Johnny Manziel said: "I think that's way higher than the backup rookie quarterback."

Several reports, including one from ESPN's Adam Schefter, had Gordon's suspension being reduced from the season to eight games. That was an apparent compromise because the new agreement evidently is retroactive to March 11, 2014, and Gordon's positive test was before that. later reported the reduction would be to 10 games, the penalty under the new terms.

Nothing is official, though, until the NFL players vote on an agreement.

However, the team knows what it would mean to have Gordon on the field, no matter when it happens.

"That'd be huge for us, and for the season," safety Tashaun Gipson said.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns listed tight end Jordan Cameron and linebacker Barkevious Mingo as questionable for Sunday’s game against New Orleans even though neither practiced all week.

Coach Mike Pettine said he “absolutely” hopes to have Cameron on the field, but a decision on whether he’ll play will come Sunday when inactives are due.

Petttine said he has no rule that requires players to practice during the week to play on Sunday.

“Ive seen guys that for a large part of the season would do nothing but walk through and go out there and play at a high level,” Pettine said.

He called any decision on practice and playing an individual decision based on the circumstances. Cameron is a big part of the Browns offense, but he barely played in the second half against Pittsburgh and the Browns had 288 yards of offense and scored 24 points.

Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge replaced Cameron. If he can’t play the Browns would activate recently signed tight end Gerrell Robinson.

Mingo would be replaced by Jabaal Sheard.

Running back Ben Tate met the media for the first time since hurting his knee in the opener. He said he hurt it on a 25-yard run with just less than 7 minutes left in the first half and felt it when he tried to return to the game.

“It just didn’t feel right,” he said.

Tate would not say how long he’d be out, but did say: “The bye week comes at a good time.”

Which would indicate he probably is unlikely to play next week against Baltimore but could return in Tennessee after the bye.

Browns: We won't go all no-huddle

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
BEREA, Ohio -- The no-huddle offense that was so successful for the Cleveland Browns in the second half of the season opener was in the plans all along.

“We kind of planned on going to it in the first half,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said Thursday. “We just didn’t stay on the field long enough, so we opened up the second half with it.”

 Which is interesting, because the way the game unfolded the no-huddle seemed a clear response to the Browns' first half struggles. Coach Mike Pettine even said it was used to start the second half as a change of pace.

“We thought it would be good,” Shanahan said. “It was a little better than anticipated. It was something that got them off-balance, tired them out a little bit. It tired us out too. When you do that that much, you get a little sloppy on both sides of the ball, but it ended up working out well for us -- got some points, got us going.”

To say the least.

Every single Browns offensive number went up in the second half, when they almost exclusively ran no-huddle as compared to the first half when they huddled on every play.

Yardage increased from 101 to 188 in each half, and the yards per play jumped from 4.2 to 7.2. Most important, the Browns scored 24 points with the no-huddle compared to three in the first half.

Despite the success, the Browns have no plans -- they say -- to go exclusively no-huddle.
“It’s a weapon,” Pettine said. “But it’s not our lifestyle.”

Pettine said the Browns can use it as a change of pace or a change in tempo. But he said the team’s focus during the week leading up to the Saints game was on refining its work in the base offense because they are running the same plays in the no-huddle.

“We have to be able to execute our base offense,” Pettine said. “It’s what we worked on all through the spring, all through training camp. We didn’t execute it very well in the first half, but that’s something that ... we’re not an up-tempo all the time team.”

A team like the Eagles built its roster with the hurry-up in, mind and the players are conditioned for it. The Browns, Pettine said, are not.

“That’s not the way we built this roster,” he said. “That’s not the way we worked from the beginning. Just because we had a good half of it doesn’t mean that we need to junk what we’re doing and go to no-huddle and not work on our base stuff.”

Gamesmanship? Perhaps.

Every NFL coach likes to keep the other team guessing, and if the Browns opponents spend a little extra time preparing for something the Browns might do, Pettine would not be at all disappointed.

The one thing that is true is the Browns have shown they can run the hurry-up, which gives an offense that needs any edge it can find one more possible edge.
BEREA, Ohio -- It’s looking more and more likely that the Cleveland Browns will be without tight end Jordan Cameron when they face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.

Cameron missed practice for the second day in a row with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder. Cameron initially injured the shoulder in a preseason scrimmage, thought he was back to full health, but then re-injured it in the season-opening loss to the Steelers.

The Browns sent Cameron for an MRI on Monday, and he said it revealed no structural damage. He remains day-to-day, but missing practice Wednesday and Thursday does not help him.

Cameron was slated to be one of the Browns' main targets in the passing game following the suspension of Josh Gordon. He had a 47-yard reception on the fourth play of the opener, but hurt his shoulder being tackled.

Cameron would be replaced by a tandem of Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray.

Also missing both days was linebacker Barkevious Mingo, also with a shoulder injury. Mingo started at outside linebacker in Pittsburgh. Jabaal Sheard would take Mingo’s place if he can’t play.

Against Browns, Brees becomes human

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
BEREA, Ohio -- Drew Brees is one 300-yard game from the 80th of his career.

He’s 62 yards from moving into fourth on the NFL’s list of all-time passers.

In 2011, he finished one yard shy of the all-time NFL record for passing yards in a season.

He’s been that good for that long, both with San Diego and New Orleans, whom he will lead into Cleveland on Sunday.

But when he faces the Browns, Brees becomes human.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Jason Getz/USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees doesn't have good career statistics against the Browns, but he does have a 3-1 record.
In four games against the Browns -- two with the Chargers, two with the Saints -- Brees has completed 60 percent of his throws and has a passer rating of 67.4.

The completion percentage is nine percent lower than his overall rating, and his 67.4 rating is 29 percent lower than his overall career rating of 95.2. His rating against the Browns is also lower than his rating against any other team.

“I [was] not aware of that,” Brees said on his conference call with the Cleveland media. “That’s a great stat.”

The rating is even lower when Brees’ two games with the Saints against the Browns are considered. In those games, he has completed 66 percent with three touchdowns and five interceptions -- a rating of 66.3.

All is relative, of course. Brees won three of the four games. But he’s split as a Saint. He won the season opener in 2006 in the first game Sean Payton and Brees were a tandem. But in 2010, the Browns went to New Orleans and won, though they had to use every special-teams trick they had to get it done.

“Last time I played against them was four years ago, “ Brees said. “They’re a completely different team, obviously, with a new coaching staff and a lot of new players.”

When it comes to the Browns, four years is a four-generation change. Only four players on this Browns team were on the team in 2010 -- Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Ahtyba Rubin and Joe Haden.

So Brees will be seeing a different group, but he’ll be playing outside, where he isn’t as effective as he is in the confines of the friendly Superdome. And he’ll be playing on the road, where the Saints have lost six of their last nine.

Coach Mike Pettine said the Saints use the short passing game as a controlled form of the running game. Once they’ve drawn the defense up, they hit the big play.

“You have to eliminate the chunk plays,” Pettine said.

It’s easier said than done, as many have learned. In a losing effort to Atlanta in the opener, Brees threw for 333 yards, Jimmy Graham had eight catches and rookie Brandin Cooks had seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.

“They’ve got five eligible receivers,” Pettine said. “All of them can catch. They have run-after-the-catch ability. I think their scheme is tremendous – just the way they substitute players to multiple personnel groups to keep you off-kilter.”

The key, in Pettine’s mind, to facing a team that puts up offensive numbers that are “legendary?”

Limit the big plays, and keep Brees guessing.

“I don’t know if there’s a defense you can draw up that he hasn’t seen before,” Pettine said. “He knows where to go with the football. As we told our guys [Wednesday], we have to do a great job with our pre-snap movement – our disguise. It’s a poker game.

“Don’t be that guy with the obvious tell. If he’s staring at you pre-snap on a lot of plays, then you’re the sucker at the table. We’ve got to make sure we’re doing a good job disguising what we do.

“With any great quarterback, if they know what you’re in pre-snap, you’re in big trouble. At least force them to figure it out as the play is beginning instead of before the ball is snapped.”