September 10, 2014

The New Orleans Saints turned around the NFL's worst defense with a better showing last season, but they're searching for answers after resembling that woeful 2012 unit in Week 1.

A matchup with the banged-up Cleveland Browns might provide an opportunity to build some confidence.

The Saints look to put an end to their road woes while avoiding their first 0-2 start since 2007 on Sunday against the Browns, losers of eight in a row.

New Orleans allowed a league-record 7,042 yards on the way to a 7-9 finish in 2012 while coach Sean Payton served his one-season suspension for his role in the team's bounty scandal.

Things changed for the better last season as Payton returned and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan came aboard to help the Saints rank fourth with almost 2,500 fewer yards allowed.

New Orleans, however, seemed to regress at Atlanta last Sunday, giving up 568 yards - including Matt Ryan's franchise-record 448 through the air - in a 37-34 overtime defeat.

They're hoping to tighten things up as they try to avoid losing five straight regular-season road games for the first time since the 2007 and '08 seasons.

"We don't expect to ever lose, especially the first game of the year," defensive tackle Akiem Hicks said. "So that's definitely going to touch you and that's definitely going to make you want to come in the next week and perform better.''

Cleveland could be missing two key playmakers as it attempts to win its home opener for the first time since 2004. The Browns are also trying to snap their longest losing streak since an 11-game skid between 2011 and '12.

Starting running back Ben Tate will be sidelined with a knee sprain he suffered in the first half of last Sunday's 30-27 loss at Pittsburgh. Tate is expected to miss an extended period, moving rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell up the depth chart.

West, a third-round draft pick from Towson, stepped up with 100 yards on 16 carries in the opener, while Crowell, an undrafted free agent from Alabama State, ran for two touchdowns.

''It was encouraging, but they need to be able to take the next step, and this is another challenge for them,'' first-year coach Mike Pettine said.

Jordan Cameron is day to day after reinjuring his right shoulder on a 47-yard reception. The Pro Bowl tight end had a career-high 917 yards and seven TDs last season.

After Cleveland fell behind 27-3 in the first half, Brian Hoyer held off the calls for popular backup Johnny Manziel for another week by rallying the Browns.

He went 19 of 31 for 230 yards with a nine-yard TD to Travis Benjamin to tie the game with 11:15 left before Shaun Suisham made a 41-yard field goal as time expired.

''It gives us some momentum,'' Pettine said. ''We know we're 0-1, it could be different had the second half been a duplicate of the first half. To get a taste of what it should look like is a confidence boost for our guys.''

Pettine's club is also looking to make improvements defensively after allowing 490 yards. However, linebacker Barkevious Mingo and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant could be sidelined with injuries.

New Orleans' Drew Brees has thrown for more than 5,000 yards in each of the last three seasons, and he completed 29 of 42 passes for 333 yards with one touchdown and one interception last week.

Brees went 37 of 56 for 356 yards with two touchdown and four interceptions in a 30-17 home loss to Cleveland on Oct. 24, 2010. He won his previous three starts against the Browns - all in Cleveland - despite totaling 329 yards with two scores and two picks.

Marques Colston had 10 catches for 112 yards with a touchdown in the 2010 meeting. He had five receptions for 110 yards in the opener but fumbled in Saints territory to set up Atlanta's winning field goal.

Rookie Brandin Cooks had an impressive debut with seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, while starter Kenny Stills is probable after he was held out with a quadriceps injury.

''We felt like we were pretty balanced and moved the ball well,'' center Jonathan Goodwin said. ''Of course, you want to eliminate the two turnovers, and in those first two drives, get touchdowns instead of field goals.''

The Saints have dropped 12 of 16 in the all-time series but have won two of the last three in Cleveland.

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