This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
The Great Unknown
- Heading into this Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, the great unknown remains the status of defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. Neither player practiced all week, but in my mind, I’m assuming that Clowney is not going to play — for a player returning from an injury, they would’ve at least had him doing some work out there if he was under consideration for Week 4.
- The biggest question mark surrounds Garrett. Physically, although he’s sore, it’s probably not too different than some of the football soreness that a player would have from being banged up during a season. You could see the bumps and bruises on his face as he met with the media on Friday, thankful that that he was alive and pledging that this was a wake-up call regarding his speeding. Even though Garrett says that he has already mentally moved past the incident, you have to imagine that he’s still a little shaken up, and that this has been the furthest thing from a normal week for him.
- Ultimately, the team has to do what is best for Garrett. My assumption is that he wants to play, and my gut feeling is that he will play. It doesn’t seem like the injuries he sustained will get worse from football; he just might feel the aches and pains a bit more. And there’s no doubt the impact he has on gameday — looking at the graphic below, Garrett faces a double team about 38% of the time (most in the league), and despite that, he still has the third-highest pass rush win rate. If you remove Garrett and are already without Clowney, then you’re talking about Marcus Mariota having all day to run around and throw the ball to Drake London and Kyle Pitts, who are tough enough to contain. Again, you do want to put Garrett first and I hate feeling like I’m angling for the football side of things, but he knows how valuable he is too and I just don’t see how him watching from the sidelines is going to be the right decision.
Double team rate at edge (x) by pass rush win rate at edge (y), updated through Week 3.— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) September 29, 2022
-Micah Parsons came back to Earth, Von Miller leads the way now
-No sacks for Jaelan Phillips yet but a nice start from PRWR perspective
-Myles Garrett getting doubled more than ever before pic.twitter.com/TmVVx938Yj
With That Said...
- Even though the Browns seemed a bit banged up on the early-week injury report, besides the defensive ends, almost everyone else is healthy and is coming off of having 10 days off, which always offers a little more fresh legs and preparation time.
- I haven’t had a chance to watch any full Falcons games this season, but the common theme I am seeing from fans is that defensive coordinator Dean Pees likes to play soft zone coverage with a 3- to 4-man pass rush (and Atlanta doesn’t feature a standout pass rusher). In order to generate pressure, they need to bring some players on a blitz. Fans want to see the team play more man-to-man coverage; while teams do sometimes make that adjustment (see what the Browns did against Pittsburgh in Week 3), that is often wishful thinking that a coordinator will change his strategy much.
- Defensively, the Falcons are allowing 271.3 yards passing per game, which ranks 27th in the NFL. Against the run, they are allowing 109.3 yards per game, which ranks 16th. But then when you dig deeper at the yards per carry they allow, it is at 4.82 YPC, which ranks 21st. This is probably the worst defense that the Browns have faced so far this season, although it’s also around the same as Pittsburgh’s defense was without T.J. Watt. With how efficient Cleveland’s execution has been, I think the Browns should be able to maintain a balanced attack again.
- My concern is more focused on the Browns’ defense, especially if (as I pointed out earlier) Garrett isn’t available. We saw how Garrett Wilson carved up the Browns’ defense in Week 2, and Drake London could do the same. Also, with how many good receiving tight ends there are in the NFL, it’s kind of unusual that Cleveland faced three straight teams with tight ends who you can barely remember the name of. That isn’t the case with Atlanta, where Kyle Pitts as an athletic specimen who can also split wide at wide receiver. Maybe this is the week to challenge John Johnson III for a good duel with the Falcon tight end:
John Johnson III this season has more forced incompletions (2) than receptions allowed (1)— PFF CLE Browns (@PFF_Browns) September 29, 2022
JJIII passer rating allowed: 39.6
Passer rating if you threw the ball into the dirt every play: 39.6 pic.twitter.com/jg3XJnokWa
- Did you see WR Chester Rogers return punts last week while WR Demetric Felton was inactive? I felt 100% safe because of Rogers’ body language when he was fielding any punt; it looked like he could do it in his sleep with no level of antsy play. I know it’s tough to keep an extra receiver on the team with the number Cleveland already has, but I’d keep Rogers up here for that role. Unfortunately, due to injuries on defense, it sounds like Rogers won’t get the role this week:
Source: #Browns will not be elevating WR Chester Rogers this week due to injuries on the defense.— Brad Stainbrook (@StainbrookNFL) September 30, 2022
Rogers handled returns on Thursday night vs Pittsburgh.
- One thing I liked is what I read about RB Jerome Ford, who took a kickoff out of the end zone last week and was stopped inside the 20-yard line. I get upset at return men who do that, but I like when you can tell how they recognize their mistake and it impacts them, as our special teams coach pointed out this week:
“He knew exactly what happened after he did it. He gave the iron cross, which is the touchback signal, and then he saw the ball was only go about 2-3 [yards] deep, which is kind of his rule to bring it out. He just made a poor decision for him, but he will be fine. A lot of confidence in him. It means so much to him – we win by 12 points, and he is so distraught in the locker room after the game, and (RB) D’Ernest Johnson and I are giving him a pep talk. ‘You are going to be OK.’ He will be fine. I have a lot of confidence in Jerome.”
- K Cade York is perfect on field goals, but has missed two extra points in back-to-back games. It contributed to the Browns’ stunning loss in Week 2, and his miss last week could have contributed to another upset loss. He was money all of training camp, so hopefully he gets that straightened out. P Corey Bojorquez, on the other hand, has been [bleeping] fantastic. He is having a big impact on the game each week.
- This week, defensive coordinator Joe Woods talked about losing LB Anthony Walker and how LB Jacob Phillips appears to be the guy who will take his role in the starting lineup:
“It is a big blow just because of the leadership and what Anthony was doing on the field. Definitely thought that he was playing really well for us, and then guys are confident when he is in there. I definitely feel like (LB) Jacob (Phillips) is ready to take the reins. He is very confident. He is a take-charge type of guy. He is just young. He is learning. Sione, we involved him in teaching him multiple positions so he will be ready to step in our nickel, dime and our ruby package.”
- According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Browns are 1 point favorites against the Falcons.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I actually had a layover in Las Vegas on Monday night, so I went to the Strip and put $20 on the Browns (it was -2 at the time); it seemed like one of the most attractive picks of the week because it’s as close to a pick’em as you can get.
Cleveland’s offense has played so efficient these first three weeks, and Atlanta’s defense has not been sharp. The Browns have also been good at putting together lengthy drives, so I like that formula of the Browns continuing to do that, and hopefully giving less possessions to a potent Falcons offense. It would be nice to force Marcus Mariota into a couple turnovers.” Browns 27, Falcons 20
Thomas Moore: “The Browns head south to Atlanta on Sunday, which in some ways could be considered their second home as they are 6-1 all-time on the road against the Falcons. (That may help explain the extremely questionable decision by the team’s marketing staff to play Chicken Fried - a song that talks of being home among the Georgia pines, drinking sweet tea and eating pecan pie.)
On a more important note, Cleveland appeared to clean up the communication issues in the secondary last week, and roll into town with an offensive strategy built solidly on quarterback Jacoby Brissett not turning the ball over and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt stealing the souls of the defensive in the fourth quarter. That is a strategy that should work against the Falcons as Atlanta is allowing 109 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry, so if the Browns can take a lead into the fourth quarter - and the defense does not revert to its previous Three Stooges routine in pass coverage - Cleveland should head back north on Sunday night still in no worse than a tie for first place in the AFC North.” Browns 28, Falcons 17
Barry Shuck: “Despite their 1-2-0 record, the Falcons have stayed in every game with their two losses by a combined five points. Only five other NFL clubs have scored more points than this year’s Browns roster. QB Jacoby Brissett is playing well and the run game, led by that Cleveland offensive line, is now healthy and opening big holes for RB Nick Chubb. Special Teams is concerning. Still no returner on kickoffs or punts and K Cade York has missed two PATs which has affected the last two games. Punt coverage is outstanding. Although WR Amari Cooper is doing well (thank you Jerry Jones), no other receiver has any stats worth mentioning. Chubb leads the league in rushing yards so far.
The Browns really need this win because beginning in Week 5 through Week 12 the schedule is brutal. On defense, Cleveland is 18th against the pass allowing a 60.6 completion average. The run defense has been very good ranked 7th. Losing DE Jadeveon Clowney, then LB Anthony Walker and possibly DE Myles Garrett does not help. Too much youth and inexperience at the backup roles. Atlanta is a very good running club so they play into our strength. The Falcons are a middle of the pack passing offense but have a weapon in TE Kyle Pitts. At the beginning of the year this looked like a blowout, but now with the players possibly missing on defense with so much youth as backup, it should be closer than expected.” Browns 27, Falcons 24
rufio: “On paper, the Browns should win this one. However, The Falcons’ injury report is one player long, and he was rested. Meanwhile the Browns have had at least 8 starters as DNPs, including perhaps the best player on either team in Myles Garrett missing time due to his hospital stay.
The Falcons’ offensive threats are difficult to ignore, with Drake London, Kyle Pitts, and Cordarrelle Patterson leading the way. Patterson is averaging an eye-popping 6.2 yards per rush so far this season, over a fairly sizable volume of attempts. The Falcons seem weak on defense (outside of the underappreciated Grady Jarrett), and Marcus Mariota has been interception-prone this year, which are weaknesses the Browns will have to capitalize on in this one. Nick Chubb has a big day, but the injuries are too much to overcome the Falcons in Atlanta.” Falcons 21, Browns 17
Matt Wood: “The Browns are not losing to the Falcons. The main reason is the ground game. This is a Falcons defense that got touched up last week by Geno Smith and a weak Seahawks offense. So no, the Browns, even without Clowney, and possibly Myles, JOK and Walker, will not lose to the Falcons. Atlanta will make some plays, especially with Pitts, but not enough. Chubb and Hunt combine for 200 total yards, Cooper has a few big catches and the Browns pull away late.” Browns 30, Falcons 21
Jared Mueller: “This feels like a challenging game for the Browns with all their injuries on defense and the size of Kyle Pitts and Drake London. In the end, Cleveland is able to control the clock, force a fumble from Atlanta’s Marcus Mariota and make just enough plays to get a victory.
The most exciting part for Browns fans will be the play of the defense despite missing so many players. Greg Newsome II and John Johnson III play considerable roles in the secondary while Jacob Phillips and Tony Fields play better than expected in place of Anthony Walker despite Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah either not playing or being limited in the game.” Browns 27, Falcons 24
Ezweav: “These have both been surprisingly good offenses so far in 2022, with corresponding disappointment in the respective defensive units. That would suggest a shootout is in order for Sunday. It’s remarkable that the only teams to have scored 26 or more points in each of their first three games are these two.
Both teams are good at running the ball. Both teams have also had success in the passing game even though both are being piloted by less than remarkable quarterbacks. Where there is separation is in the turnover game, and the good guys have the decisive advantage there, so far.
We’re missing starters on defense but it’s a pretty deep unit. It’s probably going to come down to scheme on scheme (as it usually does) in particular when we’re on the field defensively. Joe Woods has not been stellar in that arena thus far in 2022.” Falcons 9, Browns 8
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.