The Cleveland Browns need to bounce-back after their loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The good news: head coach Kevin Stefanski is 13-3 after a loss. The Los Angeles Chargers are next on the schedule, and the Browns will need to shock just about everyone.
Now sitting at 2-2 on the season, the Browns realistically need to win five total over their first 11 to give them a shot at making the playoffs over the back six games. The good news is the rest of the AFC is beating up on each other, so a nine win team could potentially sneak in as well.
Before we turn the page to the Chargers, what are four takeaways from this bad loss to the Falcons?
1st Down: Up-and-down performances are to be expected out of a backup quarterback
Cleveland Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Up to this past Sunday, the play of Jacoby Brissett had exceeded expectations. However, his play returned back to earth as he managed to play about as you’d expect a backup quarterback sitting in as a starter to play.
His statline was fairly impressive, going 21-35 for 234 yards. However, Brissett missed a couple chunk plays, a crucial third down throw to tight end Harrison Bryant, and a screen play that would have found the endzone. He then took a horrendeous sack and threw a pick on the last drive of the game to cap off the Falcons’ win.
To Brissett’s credit, however, he moved the football into scoring position five times on the day and even found the endzone himself. However, this game was not one of his better ones. But this has to be expected.
Getting upset at a quarterback for not playing like a quality starter when we know he is not a quality starter is a sign that expectations need to be adjusted. For once, the defense put the Browns in position to win, but they could not manage more than 20 points against one of the league’s worst defenses.
2nd Down: On a positive note, the secondary has stacked games
Cleveland Browns secondary. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
For starters, that conversion by Marcus Mariota and the Falcons deep in their own territory was not a blown coverage. Linebacker Jacob Phillips got his eyes too far inside, but for the most part Falcons’ head coach Arthur Smith called a Cover-3 beater against Cover-3. That stuff happens in the NFL.
Other than that, the Browns’ secondary played lights out and even created a turnover on the day. They held Mariota to just seven completions on the game, strapping down both tight end Kyle Pitts and rookie wide receiver Drake London.
This came on the heels of a game where the secondary did not blow a coverage and played at least up to snuff against the Pittsburgh Steelers as well. With the high-flying Chargers’ passing attack next, the Browns will need their secondary to continue to stack games.
3rd Down: Sometimes the game comes down to who is on the field
Cleveland Browns allow touchdown. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Listen, there are plenty of arguments for firing defensive coordinator Joe Woods, but this week was not the game to choose. His unit gave up just 23 points to an offense that came in ranked as a top-10 unit in terms of both rushing and passing efficiency.
The defense got gashed on the ground, allowing 14 straight positive runs, but this comes down to personnel more than coaching at that point. Woods did what he could. He tried five-man fronts. He stayed in base to keep one of their better run defenders in Sione Takitaki on the field.
However, when you are out three of your four starting trench players and are forced to play rookies and practice squad guys along the interior (not to mention the loss of MIKE linebacker Anthony Walker), you are going to have to reep what you sow.
Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, and Taven Bryan should all return this next week, giving that unit a big boost.
4th Down: Browns' offense thrives on first downs, must improve in the redzone
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
For an offense that needs to stay in front of the sticks, the Browns are quite good at it. In fact, they even went 5-14 on third downs as well (putting them right around the league average). Going back to first downs, however, the Browns have kept defenses back on their heels with their balance.
Running the ball 13 times on first downs, the Browns predominantly hung with their strength. However, they also threw the ball nine times on first down, and did so with great success, to remain unpredictable. They have been good at this all season (the Browns were actually better at throwing the football on 1st down than running it against the Falcons).
If the Browns can continue to chunk out four yards on first downs, their offense will continue to remain among the top in Expected Points Added per game. Their undoing, however, was their redzone offense.
Stefanski remains a top-tier playcaller who had a bad game, especially in the redzone. You cannot come away with just 10 points on three redzone trips and expect to win. The decision to go for it on 4th down on the opening drive was fine, but the end of half drive that started with a 1st and goal on the one yard line that ended in just three points is not excusable.
The offense is doing all of the right things up until it matters most.
Extra Point: Now is no time to panic
Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski. Brownssteelers 16
Now sitting with a record of 2-2, the Cleveland Browns are forced to find a way to sneak out three more wins over the next seven games. Starting a backup quarterback gives the Browns a small margin for error, as they found out against the Falcons.
But the margin for error in the NFL as a whole is generally pretty small. It is a league of professional football players who get paid to win. Good teams have bad weeks, bad teams have good weeks. Sure, the Browns have to sneak out three wins over the next seven weeks against a tougher schedule, but the opportunity will be there.
Blowouts do not happen with a great deal of frequency in the NFL. The Chargers lost to the Jaguars a week ago and let up 24 points to an offense significantly worse than Cleveland’s this past weekend. A healthy Browns’ defensive line should give them issues, and the secondary has taken strides. They match up well.
The New England Patriots have a couple of head coaching burnouts calling plays offensively and it shows. This is just to say that every game is a winnable game. We are four weeks into the season; this is no time for the panic button to be pressed.