The 24 points the Falcons put up on the scoreboard don't tell the full story of what happened in Atlanta on Sunday. The Browns defense brought intensity every single snap and it helped win the game.
"We didn't get into a very good rhythm offensively. It was kind of choppy the entire game," said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
The battered defensive line, which has dealt with injuries galore this season, was at the forefront of frustrating the Falcons for a good part of the afternoon. Cleveland made Atlanta one-dimensional on offense. Running back Steven Jackson led the Falcons in rushing (13 carries for 34 yards) and all together Atlanta only averaged 2.7 yards per carry.
For a run defense that has openly admitted to its struggles, the surge up front was essential in bringing home the victory. Ahtyba Rubin added a sack on Ryan that nearly went for a safety. Desmond Bryant was everywhere, securing four tackles and one for a loss.
"We went out there, and each and every one of our guys fought to the very end," said Billy Winn, who finished with two tackles.
From a pass-rushing standpoint, where else could we begin with other than Paul Kruger. The 28-year-old outside linebacker racked up two sacks – one included a forced fumble on Ryan – upping his total to eight on the season. Browns fans in attendance could be heard affectionately cheering "KRUUUGERR" after the many big plays he made.
From a pass-rushing standpoint, who else could we begin with other than Paul Kruger. The 28-year-old outside linebacker racked up two sacks – one included a forced fumble on Ryan – upping his total to eight on the season. Browns fans in attendance could be heard affectionately cheering "KRUUUGERR" after the many big plays he made.
Kruger's been relentless all season in the Browns' defensive scheme. Now that his primary duty is to drop quarterbacks to the turf, he's been literally impossible to fully contain. Young players have also commended his leadership and wherewithal to focus on the task at hand. Kruger's four successful seasons in Baltimore are now having an impact in the Cleveland locker room.
"We expect to win every game," Kruger said moments after the win. "You can see what we can do if we put our minds to it. To bounce back after the Texans loss, it was just huge."
Without Karlos Dansby (knee injury) quarterbacking the defense in the middle, the big question all week was how Craig Robertson would fill-in.
All Robertson wound up doing was leading the Browns with nine tackles while also instilling fear into Atlanta's ball carriers. Pull up the film and see how brutal some of Robertson's tackles were. Alongside his mentee Chris Kirksey, the pair of linebackers held Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo to two catches for 17 yards.
Not only was he a leader for Cleveland's defense in the Georgia Dome; Robertson was an enforcer.
"It doesn't matter how it happens: at the end of the day, nothing is sweeter than a win," Robertson said in the locker room.
The Browns' secondary was tasked with possibly their toughest challenge of the year: Atlanta's aerial attack Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White.
There were some rough patches for the defensive backs. Julio Jones found himself wide open in the end zone during a 24-yard first quarter touchdown. Roddy White was finding openings in the middle of the field – he caught nine passes for 96 yards.
Haden did prevail later, leaping in the air for a terrific interception on Ryan – plus Jones was limited to just five catches. K'Waun Williams played his role at the nickel cornerback to perfection, again, posting six tackles and playing physical football.
In the end, when the game was on the line, the Browns' defense forced the Falcons into a 52-yard field goal instead of what could've been a touchdown that secured an Atlanta win. Ryan made a poor pass attempt to Devin Hester on third-down and Justin Gilbert was right there for the coverage.
The defense gave Brian Hoyer and the offense 44 seconds to go out and get the victory. As clutch as Hoyer was; as eye-opening as Isaiah Crowell ran the ball; as strong as Josh Gordon looked in his return – this Browns defense proved again it's the backbone to success in Cleveland.