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Browns vs. Falcons: Why Cleveland Gets the W

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Taking a look at three reasons to be feeling good for Sunday...

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

I hadn't been that excited for a Browns game in a long time, as I was for Sunday against the Texans. I had gone to Cincinnati for the Bengals beatdown. I guess I was still riding high from the energy in the stadium.

Then Sunday happened.

What a letdown. Not only was I excited for last week's game, I genuinely thought the Browns would win (easily, I might add). Obviously that wasn't the case, quite the contrary.

So here we are now. An opportunity to get a home win in November that was meaningful to playoff chances. That was a blown opportunity. But now the Browns hit the road with a very important away game. So let's take a look at why I'm feeling optimistic this week...

1. Clarification at RB

After weeks of instability at running back the Browns cut ties with Ben Tate this week.

It's no secret that Tate was unhappy in Cleveland. His post-game comments after Sunday's loss to Houston all but said it.

When approached by the media Sunday, Tate said, "Why do you want to talk to me? I didn't play a down."

Clearly the Browns front office felt it was time to move on, waiving Tate on Tuesday. They'll now go forward with Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West in the backfield.

Listen, I'll be the first to state that I was really excited to see Tate sign with the Browns. I thought it was a good scheme fit, his opportunity to get out from Arian Foster's shadows, and a chance to be the lead back. However, clearly things got sour, fast.

But this is a good thing for the Browns. Sure, Tate may be a very talented back, but he'll be replaced by Crowell and West, both of whom are more than capable backs. Tate may be a talented back, however look at his numbers recently:

Week

Opponent

Attempts

Yards

Y/A

5

@TEN

22

124

5.64

6

PIT

25

78

3.12

7

@JAX

16

36

2.25

8

OAK

15

26

1.73

9

TB

10

3

0.30

10

@CIN

10

34

3.40

11

HOU

2

-9

-4.50

 

Now, in review of the above chart, it's easy to point the blame on Tate and his incredible decline, but that's not entirely fair. One can easily look at that chart and say "Week 6 is when Alex Mack got hurt." That's correct. And of course Mack's injury has completely altered the way the team runs the ball, let alone the entire offense.

But, the fact still remains true that Tate lacked explosion in recent weeks. I mean, Mack is great and everything, but Tate carries some burden for the lack of success.

What the coaching staff now has is two rookie backs who have shown a lot of promise. Instead of worrying about: Who should be getting touches? Is Ben Tate upset? Etc. They can now go forward with the two baby-backs.

Waiving Tate is a decisive move from the front office and coaching staff. One that will carry weight throughout the locker room. Ultimately it's a decision that I applaud, and expect to have a positive impact on this team going forward.

2. Atlanta's Defense

Statistically speaking, Atlanta has one of the worst defenses in the league. They rank 24th in rush defense, 32nd in pass defense, and 32nd overall. That's not very good, at all.

In their defense, we've seen the Browns not fare all that well against bad defenses, but this time it seems different.

The Falcons are giving up a league-worst 281.2 yards a game through the air. A large factor into giving up that many yards is they're giving up the 'big play'. The Falcons are one of only four teams in the entire NFL to give up double digit receptions of 40+ yards so far, allowing 11 of them. The Browns have established themselves as a run-first team, but they also love to take shots deep off of play-action. The Browns currently sit top-10 in both 20+ yard pass plays, and 40+ yard pass plays. They have 43 pass plays of 20+ yards, good for 4th in the NFL, and 8 receptions of 40+ yards, tied for 9th.

Clearly Atlanta has shown they are vulnerable through the air. Football Outsiders also ranks them as the worst total defense, and last in pass defense. So pretty much everyone agrees, they're struggling to stop people.

With the Browns relying so much on the pass last week, Hoyer's 50 attempts is far from his norm, I expect the Browns to come back to the mean. In the previous bullet I mentioned the clarity the Browns now have at running back, which I also think will carry over to the pass attack. I expect the Browns to get into a rhythm offensively by running the football and taking shots deep.

With the Falcons' susceptibility to large chunks of yards through the air, it sure is handy that the Browns will be getting back...

3. Josh Gordon

You didn't think that I'd get through this entire piece without mentioning Josh Gordon did you? If you did, something's up, go see a doctor.

Obviously this has been the talk of the town this week year. And rightfully so. The Browns are getting one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL back for a stretch-run. That's undeniably huge, especially given their lack of weapons presently.

I've already covered how spotty the Atlanta secondary can be, but what adds insult to injury (literally), is the fact that Robert Alford suffered a broken wrist last week and will be out against the Browns. So how the Browns matchup offensively against the Falcons certainly favors the Browns, at least through the air.

Getting Gordon back is a huge boost to the receiving core. With Jordan Cameron still sidelined with a concussion, and who knows at this point if he'll return this year, Gordon's return couldn't have come at a better time. I've been incredibly impressed with the receiving core, one in which I didn't have a ton of faith in at the start of the year. However, Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin and certainly Taylor Gabriel have all proven to be adequate thus far. Throw Gordon into the mix and suddenly this looks like a pretty solid receiving core.

I'm not expecting Josh Gordon to come back and do what he did in his debut last season, 10 catches, 146 yards and a touchdown. But, that's not out of the realm of possibility. I think Pettine saying they're going to ease him in is a bunch of bull. I expect him out there for snap one with the offense, and if not then, I'd be shocked if he's not out there for snap two. Does that mean he'll play every down? Of course not. But I expect Gordon to get looks early and often Sunday, and to put up a big game.

Recap

I've listed my three reasons that I feel optimistic above. I think they all piggy-back off of each other. I am confident in the Browns ability to head south and get a win, but there's reason for concern as well.

The injuries along the defensive line, and the injuries to Jabaal Sheard and Karlos Dansby are contributors to my nervousness. However, the good outweigh the bad for me this week.

My excitement level for Josh Gordon's return is through the roof. My excitement level is also through the roof to see how this team responds to the dud from last week, as well as their matchup against a weak secondary.

Why are you optimistic for Sunday?