Make no mistake: What Cleveland and Atlanta manage on the ground this weekend will be vital to the outcome of the game ahead.
Just last week, the Texans destroyed a porous Browns run defense without Arian Foster, with rookie Alfred Blue gashing Cleveland for 150-plus yards. They rank 30th in yards allowed, allowing a robust 4.6 yards per carry. It's safe to say that the Falcons will be getting Devonta Freeman more touches and Steven Jackson will still lead the backfield in carries, and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Falcons attempt to exploit this glaring weakness by giving the trio of running backs a ton of touches.
The Falcons, of course, also have an exploitable run defense. They're ranked 23rd in yardage allowed, and they're tied for the most rushing touchdowns allowed, with 13. The Browns have promising rookie backs Terrance West and Isiah Crowell and can't just fling it at Josh Gordon all day long, so expect them to run right out of the gate and attempt to bludgeon the Falcons' front seven into submission. This plan, unfortunately, has frequently worked in 2014.
Even with the return of Gordon, neither of these teams are going to suddenly light it up in the passing game. Brian Hoyer is a useful but limited quarterback, while the Falcons have been largely mediocre for weeks now when they attack teams through the air. In light of that, you have to expect this to be a more ground-centric attack than usual.
Project both teams' rushing stats for this game, if you would.