FLOWERY BRANCH — Cornerback Desmond Trufant knows the Atlanta Falcons' secondary faces a major challenge as Josh Gordon returns this week for Cleveland.
With Gordon's 10-game suspension lifted, the Falcons must prepare for an elite receiver who last year led the NFL in total yards and yards per catch.
Trufant and his teammates are having a tough time scouting Gordon. There's no film of the second-year star playing in the new offense designed by first-year coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
"You have to look at the scheme and the concepts that they do and what role he can play," Trufant said on Thursday. "There's a lot of film from last year that shows what he's capable of, which is a lot."
Trufant, a first-round pick in 2013, is the best player in Atlanta's defensive backfield. He's likely to draw the most assignments against Gordon.
But even without Gordon, the Browns (6-4) lead the NFL with over 70 percent of their catches going for first downs.
Overall, with quarterback Brian Hoyer at the helm, Cleveland has the fourth-most catches for 20 yards or more despite leading wideouts Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin ranking 28th and 47th in receptions.
"Those numbers aren't all that important, especially this week," Trufant said. "With Josh back, their other receivers are going to have more chances to make plays. We know they'll be ready to play with him coming back to prove himself again."
The Falcons (4-6) will counter with a defense that ranks last in the league against the pass, second-fewest in sacks and fourth-worst in third-down percentage. Even so, coach Mike Smith is encouraged that the secondary has shown recent improvement.
Strong safety Kemal Ishmael had a pick in each of the consecutive wins at Tampa Bay and Carolina. Free safety Dwight Lowery had one in the end zone on the Buccaneers' final drive. Trufant intercepted Panthers quarterback Cam Newton early in the third quarter.
"You win the turnover battle in this league and you're going to win 80 percent of the time," Smith said. "We've improved over the last four or five weeks as a defense."
Atlanta is without cornerback Robert Alford, who broke his wrist last week, so Robert McClain moves into a starting spot opposite Trufant. Josh Wilson will take over McClain's role as the nickel back.
"We want to hold them to zero explosives because they're one of the most explosive teams in the NFL," McClain said. "We've got to keep the ball in front of us and don't let it go over our heads. If we do that, we'll be fine."
That won't be easy, particularly against the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon.
"He's obviously going to be a mismatch on a couple of guys," Ishmael said. "He's a big receiver. That's what you have to deal with in this league."
Notes: Smith said WR Julio Jones will play against Cleveland even if he doesn't practice on Friday. Jones, who ranks fourth in the league with 67 catches, has missed the last two days with an illness. ... RB Steven Jackson and FB Patrick DiMarco practiced Wednesday, but both were out Thursday with an illness. ... LB James Anderson, a ninth-year veteran, was signed to the 53-man roster. Anderson made 16 starts for Chicago last year and played in seven games with the Tennessee this year.