clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Falcons vs. Browns: 4 Key Matchups for Week 12

The Falcons return home in search of their third straight win. The Browns, meanwhile, are in search of their first playoff berth since 2002.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The 4-6 Falcons are in first place in the NFC South. The 6-4 Browns are in last place in the AFC North. On Sunday, these two teams will face off with major playoff implications on the line. Much like the ending of Interstellar, nothing about this makes sense, and thinking about it makes my brain hurt.

Confusion aside, a win this week would be huge for both clubs. The Falcons are going for three in a row and could gain some separation between them and the Saints. The Browns, despite their current placement, could jump up the standings with a much-needed victory.

Here are four matchups to watch during this inter-conference bout.

Josh Gordon vs. Atlanta's secondary

Josh Gordon hasn't played since last winter, but that doesn't mean he can't set opposing defenses ablaze. Remember, he led the league in receiving yards in 2013 (1,646), and remains Cleveland's most potent offensive threat. Stopping Gordon, or at least slowing him down, will be crucial for Atlanta.

Desmond Trufant should be up to the task. The second-year cornerback ranks eighth in pass coverage on PFF and has been one of Atlanta's best players of late.

Trufant can't do it alone, though. Stopping Gordon will have to be a joint effort. Free safety Dwight Lowery could be tested, alongside the promising Kemal Ishmael, who has had his fair share of struggles in coverage.

Atlanta's offensive line vs. Cleveland's pass rush

There are very, very few NFL teams that employ worse pass rushes than Atlanta. Cleveland may be one of them -- particularly now that Phil Taylor is on the shelf.

Linebacker Paul Kruger has six sacks for Cleveland, but none of his teammates have more than three. Currently, seven of the Browns' defensive linemen have pass rush ratings below -1.0 on PFF. Not a single one of their regular DEs is in the black.

Matt Ryan vs. Cleveland's pass defense

The Browns front seven may not be lethal, but they do have one of the best secondaries in the NFL. Their defense has 14 combined interceptions thus far in 2014, good for third in the league; additionally, they're second in pass deflections (75) and seventh in points allowed per game (19.5). Moving the ball against this unit will be no easy task.

The trio of K'Waun Williams, Buster Skrine and Tashaun Gipson is worth monitoring. Gipson, a third-year free safety out of Wyoming, has a team-high six picks. Williams, a talented rookie, has been solid in coverage.

Skrine could have a big impact, as well, though it may not be a positive one: The veteran CB has four interceptions on the year along with a low pass coverage rating on PFF (-0.3).

Paul Soliai vs. Nick MacDonald

The Browns' offensive line took a major hit when center Alex Mack was placed on IR. This bodes well for the Falcons -- especially nose tackle Paul Soliai, who is coming off a strong performance in Carolina.

Soliai has had an up-and-down campaign, but this matchup should work in his favor. Mack's replacement Nick MacDonald was overwhelmed by Houston last Sunday and is a weak link on an otherwise stout O-line. Soliai may not do much in passing situations, but he can certainly disrupt Cleveland's running game.

What matchups will you be paying attention to?