The Cleveland Browns head south on Sunday to take on the Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta has always been a favorite destination for the Browns as they have won six of the seven road games against the Falcons over the years.
Cleveland is coming off a nerve-calming win against the Pittsburgh Steelers that kept the Browns tied for the AFC North Division lead, while the Falcons picked up their first win of the season last week against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Browns have established their formula for winning this season behind the league’s best rushing attack, but key injuries are starting to hit the defense, so let’s dive in with what you need to know as the Browns take on the Falcons.
Records: Cleveland is 2-1. Atlanta is 1-2.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Stadium: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta
Announcers: Andrew Catalon and Tiki Barber
Radio: ESPN 850, 92.3 The Fan, 98.5 WNCX
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Nathan Zegura, Jerod Cherry (sidelines)
Last meeting: Cleveland won the last meeting, 28-16, in Week 10 of the 2018 season.
All-time series: The Browns lead the all-time series, 12-3. The Browns have won six of the seven road meetings against the Falcons.
Weather: Mercedes-Benz Stadium has a retractable roof, so the weather is not an issue. But if they do decide to open the roof for Sunday’s game, it will be 69 degrees and sunny with no wind at kickoff. (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns will be sporting white jerseys and white pants, which will make for an interesting visual given that the Falcons are breaking out their all-black uniforms for the game.
crispy all white unis for Sunday pic.twitter.com/W2ixbsFqtB— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 30, 2022
Injury report: Browns - Questionable: defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (ankle). Out: defensive end Myles Garrett (shoulder, biceps) defensive tackle Taven Bryan (hamstring) and offensive tackle Joe Haeg (concussion). Falcons - Questionable: running back Cordarrelle Patterson.
The line: Browns -1 (Draft Kings)
A Few Things to Watch
Strength vs. Strength: The Browns come into the game with the league’s best running attack as Cleveland tops the NFL in rushing yards (572), are sixth in yards per carry (5.0), second in rushing touchdowns (five), first in runs of more than 20 yards (six), and first in rushing for a first down (33).
When they look across the field, however, it may feel as if they are looking in a mirror as the Falcons are fifth in rushing yards (470), tied for seventh in yards per carry (4.9), tied for third in rushing touchdowns (five) and tied for fifth in rushing for a first down (25).
Leading the way for the NFC OPOTW, them big boys on the Falcons OL have been doing work.— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) September 28, 2022
-156.7 YPG (5th in NFL)
-49% rushing success rate (3rd)
-26 rushing first downs (3rd)
-12 rushes of 10+ yards (5th) pic.twitter.com/2SGnIKn1G3
While the Browns are led by running back Nick Chubb, who enters the weekend as the league’s leading rusher with 341 yards, the Falcons can counter with running back Cordarrelle Patterson, who is third in the league with 302 rushing yards and is a big back at 6-foot-2 and 232 pounds, making him a challenge to bring down, according to defensive coordinator Joe Woods (quote via a team-provided transcript):
“(Cordarrelle) was a very explosive returner early in his career, but he is a tough, physical runner. He is going to get north and south. A really tough mentality in terms of his mindset. We know we are going to have to have multiple players tackle him. We have to be able to set edges. You see some of the run game we watched on tape where he is creasing people right now on the edge. We are definitely going to have our hands full, but it is going to take everybody.”
Cleveland might be catching a break, however, as Patterson has missed practice this week with a knee injury and is questionable for the game, so even if he can go on Sunday he might be limited.
Speaking of injuries: The Browns are dealing with several injuries throughout the entire defense as they lost one of their starting linebackers, Anthony Walker Jr., to a season-ending injury and the other starter, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, is dealing with a groin injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday and limited his participation on Thursday and Friday. Owusu-Koramoah is not on the injury list, so hopefully, that is a good sign.
Related: Data show value of Garrett and Clowney
Cornerback Denzel Ward has also been dealing with injuries to his back and ribs that have limited his practice availability this week, although Ward said on Friday that he believes he will be good to go against the Falcons, so that is a positive.
"get better each day" - @iamjohnthethird pic.twitter.com/cZq7dictDU— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 28, 2022
The biggest question mark comes at defensive end as starters Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney both missed practice this week. Garrett was ruled out of the game on Saturday, while Clowney is listed as questionable for the game. Garrett is dealing with the aftermath of a single-car accident on Monday that left him with injuries to his shoulder, biceps and wrist, while Clowney has yet to practice or play after suffering an ankle injury in Week 2 against the New York Jets.
.@Flash_Garrett's play status Sunday will be a game time decision pic.twitter.com/oKF5b7sax8— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 30, 2022
The Browns appeared to have solved the communication issues that plagued the secondary in the opening weeks of the season, so now they may need to find a way to slow down the Falcons without some of their top defensive players being on the field.
Protecting Jacoby: Cleveland’s offensive line has done a solid job so far in protecting quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has been sacked just four times through the season’s first three games.
They will need to stay on top of their game against an Atlanta defense that, while not exactly stout as they are allowing 271 passing yards, 109 rushing yards and 27 points per game, has suddenly gotten frisky when it comes to attacking the quarterback.
running behind two Pro Bowl guards definitely helps@JoelBitonio | @NickChubb pic.twitter.com/jsqTMicx41— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 29, 2022
The Falcons closed out their first win of the season by blitzing Seattle quarterback Geno Smith five times in the fourth quarter. That resulted in a pair of sacks, including one by defensive Grady Jarrett that was then followed by a game-sealing interception from safety Richie Grant with less than two minutes remaining.
On the season, the Falcons have seven sacks, three interceptions and 12 tackles for a loss, but the Browns are able to counter that with the combination of one of the league’s best offensive lines and the running attack of Chubb and Hunt, Atlanta defensive coordinator Dean Pees told atlantafalcons.com:
“They have a heck of an offensive line that’s all worked together. They are a veteran group and very talented. Probably the best, if not at least one of the best offensive lines in the league. Their tandem of backs, I mean either one of them can be starters on every team probably in the league. They’re just two great talented backs. It’s the best of backs I think I’ve ever been around combined together and that’s not taking anything away from any one guy.”
A big challenge at tight end: The players and coaches change, but one constant through the years is that the Browns struggle when it comes to defending opposing tight ends.
This week’s challenge comes from 6-foot-6 and 247-pound tight end Kyle Pitts, who despite being off to a slow start to the season with just nine receptions still presents a matchup challenge for the Browns.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods may turn to rookie cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. to take on the challenge of lining up against Pitts. Emerson is the tallest of Cleveland’s cornerbacks at 6-foot-2, and has been thrown into the fire through the first three games and has held up well as he is currently the 26th-ranked cornerback by Pro Football Focus.
If he is matched up against Pitts, Emerson said he is ready for the challenge (quote via cleveland.com):
“Great player, big, physical. (Pitts) can run as well. He’s a good player. I have to be more firm at the top of my routes because he’ll probably be able to push off, be a little stronger. So that’s probably the only difference. Plus he can run, so I look at him as a true receiver, really.”
A Final Quote
Defensive end Myles Garrett on his status for Sunday (quote via clevelandbrowns.com):
“I’m feeling a lot better. Just glad that everything worked out in a positive light. Me and my passenger, we’re both healthy and walking around. We’re blessed to live another day. As far as Sunday, it’s a game-time decision and it’s up to coach and the training staff and all of us to come together and make the right decision moving forward. I’d like to thank Ohio Highway Patrol, Medina Sheriff’s County office and all the first responders that were able to get to me and my passenger and came so quickly to help us get the medical attention we needed.”
Those are just a few things to keep an eye on; now it is time to have your say. What are you looking for from the Browns in Sunday’s game against the Falcons?