The Cleveland Browns suffered their second defeat of the 2022-23 NFL season on October 2, dropping a tight game against the Atlanta Falcons. The 23-20 loss didn’t hoist the Browns from their joint-top spot of the AFC North, but it did level out their record after four games in this campaign to 2-2.
That form is very much in line with how the NFL odds stacked up at the very beginning of the season. The Browns remain a solid outfit but are likely to prove themselves legitimate title contenders this year.
Despite some dominant play, the Browns weren’t able to fully stamp their authority against the Falcons and sacrificed points they probably should have picked up. Let’s have a look at five key takeaways from the game.
5: More focus needs to go on the run
Against Atlanta, the Browns failed to fully utilize one of their best weapons: the running game. They had an exact 50-50 split between runs and passing during the game, with a total of 35 runs. That sort of a balance might seem like good tactics at first glance, but the Browns have more talent on the run.
Plus, in Atlanta, they were up against a team who like to prioritize the run and the Falcons did just that in the later stages of the game, which helped them clinch victory.
On the ground, the Browns notched 177 total yards with Nick Chubb claiming 118 of those from 19 carries. The team’s average of 5.1 yards per carry in the game was a solid foundation on which they failed to build.
4: Run defense matters too
Focusing on the offensive running game is one thing, but the loss to Atlanta also showed that the Browns need to bolster their defense in the middle. Before the season got underway Cleveland brought in plenty of new blood but what they didn’t recruit was a solid defensive tackle who can consistently stuff runs.
Instead, the Browns have been relying on Jordan Elliott and Tommy Togiai to make up the difference and so far they’ve failed to do so.
As the game against Atlanta wore on, the Falcons were able to constantly gain ground on the Browns for a total of 202 yards. What’s more alarming is that Atlanta’s best runner, Cordarrell Patterson, didn’t even do most of the damage as he was nursing a knee injury.
Yes, the Browns were without key names like Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney but their other defensive tackles should have done more to stop the Falcons in their tracks.
3: Kevin Stefanski isn’t making the right calls
There’s a very possible reality in which the Browns went 4-0 at the start of this season. In that possibility, some crucial decisions would have been made differently to help the Browns claim sole ownership at the top spot of the AFC North.
Against the New York Jets, Stefanski chose not to run out the game and secure victory. Instead, Chubb was urged to complete a late touchdown which then gave the Jets the opportunity to claw their way back into the game. Had the Browns just held up the ball they could have run out the clock and won.
Similar mistakes were made against Atlanta. Stefanski opted not to take advantage of an easy field goal in the opening quarter. He also leaned far too heavily on passing. Jacoby Brissett was excellent against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2 but he isn’t able to sustain that level of quality every week.
Stefanski should never have focused so much on passing in this game.
2: Too many mistakes are costly
Overall the game between the Browns and the Falcons was fairly even. Neither dominated for long stretches and the statistics back this up. What cost Cleveland the game were some avoidable mistakes both in offense and defense.
By halftime, the Browns only had 10 points to show for their three trips to the red zone. Those red zone drives completely dried up in the second half, meaning the Browns had missed their opportunity to draw blood.
Then, late in the game, defensive errors like a David Njoku fumble and fractured coverage play allowed the Falcons to press the advantage. Cleveland need to tighten things up.
1: There’s still time to improve
The loss to Atlanta was a difficult one to swallow but it is by no means a death knell for Cleveland’s hopes of making the playoffs. Other teams in the division suffered equally – if not more – painful reverses while the Bengals found themselves in fourth place despite only having one win to their name.
The Browns have plenty of things to work on but there’s still time in the season, particularly in this division, for them to iron them out and make a serious run for the postseason.