The 6-4 Cleveland Browns will face an Atlanta Falcons’ team, which appears to be trending upward in recent weeks. While the Falcons don a losing record at just 4-6, they sit atop the less-than-stellar NFC South. The Browns certainly have the pieces necessary to come away with the victory against the falcons this week, but they must execute on both sides of the football. The Browns must also overcome injuries on the defensive side of the ball to Karlos Dansby (knee) and Jabaal Sheard (foot).
Below are five areas the Browns must focus on in order to improve their record to 7-4:
Youth in the Secondary
Justin Gilbert and K’Waun Williams must step up. The Falcons love going up-tempo, which strains communication and forces young players to think more quickly. Browns’ head coach Mike Pettine spoke about the Falcons’ up-tempo offense on Friday,
“…They like to go up-tempo. They like to get you on your heels to get you in some very predictable looks. He does a good job calling plays at the line. That’s our challenge is to force them to be one dimensional, and when they are, take advantage of getting them behind the sticks.”
The Falcons have had a lot of success in four-wide receiver sets, which provides spacing in the run game. Joe Haden will be responsible for Julio Jones the majority of the game, and if healthy he will provide Haden with his most challenging test of the season. If Haden can complicate things for Jones, and the young players in the secondary execute when their number is called, the Browns shouldn’t have much of an issue matching up against the Falcons’ wide receivers.
Pressure Matt Ryan
Falcons’ offensive line has been decimated by injuries to the point they once had to bring in tight end Levine Toilolo to play tackle. This is the week that Browns’ outside linebacker Paul Kruger must rebound from his performance against the Houston Texans and get pressure on Matt Ryan from start to finish. Barkevious Mingo must make his presence felt as well in an effort to limit the success of the Falcon’s spread attack. Browns’ defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil discussed expectations for Mingo as a pass rusher,
“Mingo needs to step up for us in that roll. His roll isn’t going to change much on early downs, but when we get into the later downs, third downs and some situations where we’ve been dropping him more, or he’s not on the field, he’ll get his opportunity to rush the quarterback or blitz.”
What good does it do to go four wide when the quarterback is constantly getting hit? Look for the Falcons to have to be a little less frivolous with their sets, and minimize their utilization of five-seven-step drops as the game progresses.
Get the Rookie Running Backs Rolling
The Browns waived Ben Tate and for good reason. The Browns have two supremely talented running backs in Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell who must get going against the Falcons who haven’t been overly successful stopping the run all year. The Browns coaching staff no longer considers West and Crowell to be rookies and will look for them to carry the load the remainder of the season. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan praised his two-headed rushing attack when speaking to reporters.
“I’m excited for them. We’re putting them into a situation where it’s their show now. They’re the only guys in the room. Puts a lot of pressure on them, but I think they’re going to rise to the occasion.”
Target Robert McClain
To put it mildly, Robert McClain is the furthest thing from a speed merchant, and will have a difficult time keeping up with the likes of Josh Gordon, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel. If McClain isn’t receiving any help over the top, he must be the player in the secondary the Browns go after early and often.
Stay in Your Lane
While Devin Hester has been mighty helpful on downs for the Falcons’ offense, the future Hall of Famer continues to be dangerous in the return game as well. If the Browns can maintain their assignments running down the field and stay in their lanes (as they have the majority of this season), they should be just fine converging on Hester throughout this game. Many feel Hester is slowing down, but in the eyes of special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, Hester hasn’t slowed down a bit.
“…This year as you watch him on tape, I think he’s kind of found the fountain of youth a little bit. He’s not one of the leading punt returners because he hasn’t had enough opportunities, but he’s over 12 yards per return. Kickoff wise, he’s making you cover the whole thing. He looks like old Devin to me.”
If the Browns focus on the abovementioned items, they should be able to come away with the victory this week. Execution is the word of the day Browns’ fans; and should the Browns execute in all three phases, the Falcons’ weaknesses will prove to be palpable throughout the contest.
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