CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – So much for the defense optional thought going into this one.
The second half turned into a running back slugfest, that was until Kevin Stefanski inexplicably decided not to run the ball in critical situations or use his two best backs.
And so the Browns fly home from Atlanta wondering what could’ve been at 2-2 and with a 23-20 loss to the Falcons.
Here are our Top Takeaways from a disappointing trip to Georgia.
1. The Browns could be 4-0 if it were not for the incompetence of the coaching staff. Joe Woods and Mike Priefer had to wear the dunce caps after the 31-30 loss to the Jets. Sunday, Stefanski gets to wear it all by himself.
2. Coaches coach and players play. Coaches look as good as their players make them look. Sunday was not a mark in the positive column for either Stefanski or the players.
3. There was no answer in the second half to Atlanta’s ground assault and had the Falcons figured that out in the first half, this game wouldn’t have been close. The Browns were gashed for 172 yards on the ground over the final two quarters. This after Cleveland out-gained Atlanta 245-120 and ran 18 more plays in the opening half, but the turnover and goal-to-go offense held them back on the scoreboard through 30 minutes.
4. Many will point to Jacoby Brissett being picked off for the second time in a last second desperation moment, but that’s what those were – last second desperation moments. Frankly, he should’ve never been in either situation with better coaching.
5. Brissett’s final numbers: 21 of 35 for 234 yards with an interception and a season-low rating of 68.0. The bottom line on Brissett is this: he’s been good enough to have this team unbeaten, but they are what their record says they are – 2-2.
6. Boy, could’ve really used those three points Stefanski passed on in the opening quarter. Stefanski's disdain for short field goals ends up being the difference between a loss and at least overtime on their opening drive. Brissett was forced to throw it away on fourth-and-3 from the 4. Nick Chubb got dropped for loss of 2 on third down when they tried to catch Atlanta sleeping – spoiler alert they weren’t – and went quick with a hurry up tempo.
7. You take the points.
8. Stefanski’s play calling inside the five Sunday deserves plenty of scrutiny. Same in the fourth quarter, especially the second to last offensive possession that saw Kareem Hunt and Chubb tearing up the Falcons in the quarter, so Stefanski elected to have Brissett throw the ball. That did not go well. Stefanski called for four passes in that seven-play stretch on that fateful fourth quarter possession.
9. Running back Nick Chubb was his usual fantastic self and deserved even more touches during his homecoming game. Chubb finished with 118 yards on 19 carries and a score. That’s a 6.2 yards per carry average. Not bad.
10. Kareem Hunt was a strong counterpunch once again doing the hard work to churn out another 49 on the ground for a 4.9 yards per carry average. He caught a pair of passes for 19 yards and was tossing Falcon defenders to the turf. Maybe he should’ve been used more in the passing game.
11. Tight end David Njoku picked up where he left off last week after he caught a career-high nine passes in the Thursday night win over the Steelers. Njoku had catches of 20 and 25 yards on the opening drive and finished with five for 73 yards. Unfortunately, his fumble ended the second possession when Falcons safety Jaylinn Hawkins lowered his head and punched the ball out with his helmet.
12. The Njoku fumble came on the heels of a flea flicker – Brissett handoff to Chubb, who tossed it back to Brissett for a checkdown to Njoku – that wouldn’t have counted anyway. A holding penalty would’ve wiped out the play and Atlanta turned the turnover into a quick seven on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 13-yard TD run for a 10-0 lead.
13. Safety Grant Delpit came up with a big pass breakup on a third down throw to the end zone from Mariota to Drake London with Martin Emerson Jr. coming over to help on the play as well. The PBU forced Younghoe Koo to kick a 30-yard field goal for a 3-0 Falcons lead. Delpit ended the Falcons third series with another pass break up on third down. Koo kicked and made three field goals in the win.
14. Credit the Browns for bouncing back from that early 10-0 deficit with a punishing 16-play, 75-yard drive that included another QB sneak by Brissett and a four-yard touchdown run by him that included a pair of pump fakes and a dive into the end zone to climb within 10-7 of Atlanta.
15. After a 42-yard bomb to Donovan Peoples-Jones that moved the ball to the 1, things fall apart inside the 5 again. Chubb was stopped short of the goal line; Wyatt teller was called for a hold and Cade York kicked a 30-yard field goal to tie the game at 10. Another one filed in the coaching, lack of execution column.
17. Without three of his starting teammates, defensive tackle Jordan Elliott picked up his first career solo sack in the third quarter when he took Mariota down on third down to force another Falcons punt. It was one of too few defensive highlights Sunday.
18. Denzel Ward, who had been criticized for not making enough big plays, made one Sunday when he stepped in front of London to wrestle the football away with just under seven minutes to play in the third quarter. Ward was also called for a facemask after giving up a 42-yard pass play that moved Atlanta into field goal range late in the fourth quarter.
19. Caleb Huntley, elevated from the practice squad by the Falcons, injected some life into their offense and gave the Browns a dose of their own medicine late in the third quarter with eight carries for 54 yards. Atlanta ran it 10 straight times on the drive for 75 yards that Huntley fittingly capped with a 5-yard TD run to give the home team a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
20. With a golden opportunity to give themselves breathing room at 3-1 blown, now the tough part of the season awaits with the Browns sitting at .500 starting next week with Justin Herbert and the Chargers.