By Ed Meyer
It appears almost a certainty that Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield will have a new bodyguard in today’s home game.
Former first-round draft pick Greg Robinson, who was the second overall draft choice by the Rams in 2014, is ready to go at left tackle as the Browns (2-6-1) play their last game before the bye week against the Falcons. (4-4)
Coaches have said it. Players have said it. The Browns’ new offensive guru has said it.
If Robinson plays the blind-side tackle position as he did in last week’s 37-21 loss to the Chiefs, “he will make us better,” offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens said when asked about Robinson’s performance during practice last week.
Mayfield had his best game during the team’s four-game losing streak, completing 29-of-42 passes for 297 yards, two touchdowns and one interception with a QB rating of 95.0 against the Chiefs.
He was named the NFL’s Pepsi Rookie of the Week for the third time this season.
One of the better indicators of Robinson’s emergence as the team’s new left tackle was that he played on the first-team practice unit opposite the right defensive end Myles Garrett, who already is drawing notice as a potential Pro Bowl pick.
The Browns’ starting left guard, Joel Bitonio, likes what he sees as Robinson attempts to salvage his career.
“I think just making sure that he knows the playbook, making sure that he knows every play. Making sure that we have good communication if we make a check from a run to a pass or a pass to a run, just things like that. Little things where if you do not practice together,” Bitonio said, “you do not have as much communication time.”
SERIES HISTORY: This is the 15th regular season meeting between the two teams. Browns lead series, 11-3. The Browns have won three of the four games they’ve played with the Falcons since 1999. Their 26-24 win in Atlanta on Nov. 23, 2014, was a watershed moment for the Browns.
From that point on, however, the floodgates opened and the Browns are 6-55-1.
BY THE NUMBERS: 134 - Points allowed by the Browns in their current four-game losing streak.
--It's too soon to know if it will be a trend, but running back Duke Johnson Jr., with only 20 catches through the first eight games, caught nine passes against the Chiefs with Freddie Kitchens, previously the running backs coach, calling plays as offensive coordinator. There is no reason to think Kitchens wouldn't make Johnson a focal point of the offense in the game plan for the Falcons.
"I think it's possible," Johnson said. "Just going out there and showing what I'm capable of doing. Basically, just showing the reason why I'm here. It was a great showing for myself, but not so much for the team, and we're about team here. That's what's most important."
Johnson led the Browns with 74 catches last season.
--The Browns' Baker Mayfield, the first pick of the 2018 draft, has the highest passer rating (81.5) among rookie quarterbacks. Josh Rosen of the Cardinals has a 69.9 rating. Sam Darnold of the Jets a 68.3 rating and Josh Allen of the Bills a 61.8 rating. Mayfield, with 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, is the only one among the rookies with more TD passes than interceptions.
--Interim head coach/defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been defending linebacker Jamie Collins a lot recently. Collins led the Browns with seven tackles against the Chiefs last week, but he is not making impact plays and seems to disappear at critical times. Collins played all 64 snaps against the Chiefs.
"It's not him," Williams said. "All of us have to play better on defense. When we understand that, then you understand the importance of playing as a team. We have to tackle better. Not just him. We all do. Those things are addressed daily, and we have to practice better in those kinds of things and we've talked about it. As a team on defense - not just one guy - we have to play better. I have to coach better."
Collins was held out of practice Wednesday with an ankle injury.
--Cornerback E.J. Gaines is done for the season. Gaines missed the games against the Buccaneers and Steelers with a concussion and was concussed again in his first game back when the Browns played the Chiefs.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--CB Denzel Ward (hip) did not practice Wednesday. He was injured playing the Chiefs last Sunday, but is expected to play today against the Falcons.
--Center JC Tretter (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. Tretter has been held out from midweek practices the last four weeks but he starts every Sunday.
--LB Jamie Collins (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. Interim head coach Gregg Williams is confident he will play against the Falcons.
--LB Christian Kirksey (hamstring) was placed on injured reserve Wednesday and is out for the season. He was injured playing the Chiefs.
--CB E.J. Gaines (concussion) was placed on injured reserve and is out for the season. He was injured playing the Chiefs.
--CB Juston Burris was signed off the Jets practice squad.
The Browns are dealing with multiple injuries in their secondary. That is going to make playing man-to-man defense against the talented Falcons receivers difficult, so the Browns will be forced to play more zone defense than usual. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has completed only six passes of 40 or more yards, but he has 34 completions of 20 or more yards. The Browns' defensive backs will have to react quickly, so that number for Ryan could increase.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
--Browns DE Myles Garrett vs. Falcons LT Jake Matthews. Garrett is third in the NFL with nine sacks. Pressuring Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is essential to any chance the Browns have of winning. The Browns need Garrett to be active in the run defense, too.
--Browns RB Nick Chubb vs. Falcons LB De'Vondre Campbell. Chubb has improved steadily since taking over as the starting running back after Carlos Hyde was traded to the Jaguars on Oct. 19. Chubb picks up steam when he turns the corner and will look to keep that running style going against the Falcons.