The Browns have led at halftime in 4-of-6 games this season, and in the only two games in which they have trailed after 30 minutes, they were down by just four points. So can they play the Saints closely on Sunday? Of course they can, given how they have started every game this season. Their physical, conservative style on offense, coupled with solid special-teams efforts and above-average defensive play in the red zone, has proven capable of keeping them competitive.
But to me, the Browns are more vulnerable now than at any point this season. They could be quite thin at wide receiver if WRs Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi can't go because of concussions. While rookie QB Colt McCoy flashed some intriguing potential in the loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, he will be making just his second career start, if indeed he gets the call in place of Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, both of whom have ankle injuries.
And even if McCoy can come close to playing like he did in Week Six (23-of-33 passing, 281 yards, one TD, two INTs) — no sure thing — there is the matter of the Browns' pass defense stopping Saints QB Drew Brees.
Cleveland has played hard all season, but its last two losses were by double digits, and the 18-point defeat to Pittsburgh came as the Steelers rolled to three TDs in a 16:48 span in the third and fourth quarters, due in part to two Cleveland turnovers. One was a McCoy interception, the other a fumble by Chansi Stuckey, filling in for the injured Cribbs on punt returns. In short, it was not a promising ending to what had been a solid game for Cleveland for much of three quarters.
In the first half against Pittsburgh, the Browns attempted 15 rushes and had McCoy attempt to pass 12 times (10 passes, two sacks). They committed just one turnover, a McCoy interception in Pittsburgh territory. A similar safe, slightly run-favoring strategy wouldn't be a bad idea against the Saints. The Browns need to keep that strong offense off the field. Also, their defense must improve after allowing 378 yards last week.
In short, no team may face a bigger series of challenges in Week Seven than Cleveland.