The Browns are fresh off of their first victory of the season. A 23-20 win in a tight game against division and state rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals. Even in victory the Browns managed to give the entire fan base a heart attack in securing that victory, while also giving many a lot of happiness. With that however comes complaints and detractors pointing out the flaws that still exist. With reason, as the Browns are a flawed team. They have many holes and many areas in which they need to drastically improve in order to continue to win games. What the Browns are though, are a team that will fight and grind and never go down easy to any opponent, that much has been made clear through 4 games so far this year. The Browns face another really tough opponent (That line is already getting redundant) during this tough stretch of the season. They face the Atlanta Falcons this weekend, who have a victory over the New Orleans Saints under their belt. Last week we saw the Browns defense get wrecked for almost 400 yards passing, 10 catches and 222 yards to just one guy (T.O.) while shutting down the running game yet again. It made two weeks in a row in which one team’s big time receiver destroyed the Browns secondary while the Browns threw blitz after blitz at the QB only to come up empty. The one positive is that the defense has been stellar against the run, quite the opposite of the past few seasons. They will need it this weekend.
– Defensive Balance. The Browns have made it clear that they can stick with just about any team for 4 quarters. They have a solid defense against the run, but really fail when it comes to pressuring the passer. The Browns, as we all know, run a 3-4 defense with 3 down lineman and 4 linebackers. When running this sort of defensive scheme, it is necessary to have a front 3 that can eat up space while also effectively bothering the QB. In the last two weeks the team has had to focus so much man power on getting pressure on the QB that they are leaving their Defensive Backs out in man coverage and vulnerable. Sine the Browns blitz packages are not producing much pressure, the QB is finding plenty of time to find open receivers. The team needs to strike a balance between pass rushing and pass defending, without sacrificing too much of the run-stopping that they have been able to get from conjuring up blitz packages.
– Peyton Hillis. He is emerging as the team’s biggest offensive weapon. The ground and pound technique has been working for the last 2 weeks since he has established himself as the Browns featured back. He is unstoppable. He has just run over two really strong defenses in consecutive weeks, so the Falcons defense should be like a vacation for him. Get him going early and it will open things up and make the passing game more successful. Not to mention, it would eat up clock and keep Matt Ryan and the very productive Falcons offense off the field. Although, with the news this evening of a thigh injury, it might increase the importance of Jerome Harrison and James Davis. Either way, the running game is key to the Browns success.
-Speaking of dangerous Falcons. Keeping Michael Turner, if he plays, bottled up is the best way to slow dow this team. But at the same time, the team needs to keep that defensive balance in mind. If you put too many guys in the box to stop him, it will free up Roddy Whit and Tony Gonzalez and the day will get really long really quickly. They did put up 41 points on a pretty solid Cardinals defense in Week 2.
– Play like it is the playoffs. Bring the intensity of a big playoff or divisional game into this one. The Falcons are a top team in the NFC and this could be a trap game for them. The Browns might be able to catch them off guard with how competitive they are and steal a victory.
– The trenches. The most vital battle of a football game, which the Browns struggle with week in and week out. Defensively this is where the game is lost. If the Browns fail to get pressure on Matt Ryan he will pick them apart. Ryan is still young and still makes mistakes when the pressure is on. If they can get that pressure without having to rush 8 guys, than that is a huge step in the right direction for this team. Offensively as well this is a vital area. The Falcons have a very strong front 7, and it will be up to the O-Line and Lawrence Vickers to smash open holes and keep the QB upright. This is what the Browns do though; they have a very solid offensive line if you keep a certain turnstile out of it. Giving Wallace (or Delhomme) time to throw and Hillis space to run, making things much harder on the Atlanta defense.
– Penalties. They have been better about it as the weeks have passed, but there is nothing that chaps Mangini’s hide more than unnecessary and avoidable free yards. This is also one area in which the Browns typically excel but have had some untimely troubles with this season. If they can manage not to make mental mistakes and get penalty flags thrown then they don’t have to worry about giving anything up for free.
– Feel free to get creative. I say this week in and week out, it couldn’t hurt the Browns offense if they try to run the flash a little here or there, or throw a few more wrinkles in here or there. For the most part the Browns offense is and has been very predictable. Run the ball up the middle twice, try a 3rd and long and then punt. That is usually pretty easy to gameplan for in the NFL. We all know Rob Ryan likes to get creative with his defensive looks, maybe he can lend some of that creativity to the offensive coordinator. I like that the Browns are setting themselves up to be a defensive team first and a tough running team, that is ultimately what separates winners from losers, but it doesn’t hurt to have a fluid, well coached, offense that can beat teams at the simple stuff as well as the fancy stuff.
– Get receivers involved. If Jake Delhomme starts then this should get better. Seneca Wallace was doing a great job at not turning the ball over and keeping the ball moving, but he was having a tough time getting the ball down the field on deep passes, and he was always locked in on Josh Cribbs, and would check down way too often to Ben Watson and Peyton Hillis. Either way, the Browns need to get Mohammad Massaqoui and Brian Robiskie involved to open things up for other options.
The Cleveland Browns sit in last place, 1-3 going into this week 5 matchup. It, like any game of football, is winnable. Any given Sunday any one team can beat any other team. If you are a Browns fan you have to believe that statement with all your heart. This could be our Sunday once again, and those were just a few ideas on how it could be done.