Almost any Falcons fan will tell you they feel confident that the offense will find a way to score against the Browns defense. You’ll probably find more disagreement on whether the defense can slow down the Browns offense. While confident is high in the Falcons offense, many are taking a justifiable wait-and-see approach to a defense that has played decently in recent weeks. Here’s how these two units match up on paper.
Note: Assessments based off of PFF scores
In the trenches
The Browns offensive line is a fairly decent one. In the middle, J.C. Tretter is playing well. He’s particularly good in pass blocking. At the guard positions, left guard Joel Bitonio has been a solid starter since coming into the league while Kevin Zeitler has played at a high level for years. Both guys are very good pass blocker. The biggest weakness on this line is at tackle. Greg Robinson is now starting at left tackle, and his career has never lived up to his early first round draft status. Chris Hubbard has been ok at right tackle, if not exactly inspiring in his play. Overall, this unit is better at pass blocking than run blocking on whole.
The Falcons defensive front is a mixed bag. In the middle, Grady Jarrett is a bonafide star who is great against the run and as an interior pass rusher. Rookie Deadrin Senat has been great in his first year, though he’s mostly a run stuffer while on the field. Jack Crawford has really come along as a nickel interior pass rusher and his 4.5 sacks on the year are evidence of his effectiveness. On the edges, Takk McKinley is coming along as a pass rusher - his 5.5 sacks lead the team - but he’s still somewhat inconsistent. Vic Beasley has been a major letdown this year, netting only one sack through eight games. The hope is that newly signed Bruce Irvin can make a difference here, as he’s been a good pass rusher in the past, though not as much this year with Oakland.
The Falcons defensive front isn’t going to overwhelm anybody, but the hope is that guys like Jarrett, McKinley and Irvin can do just enough to force some key fourth downs. Otherwise, this is not a match up that favors Atlanta.
The skill positions
Rookie QB Baker Mayfield is a fun and exciting player to watch. His athleticism is obvious and he’s already playing at a good level in his first year. Rookie running back (out of UGA) Nick Chubb has looked like the real deal as well. The receivers are a mixed bag, though. Jarvis Landry is very good out of the slot. Rookie WR Antonio Callaway is clearly still getting used to the NFL while Rashard Higgins isn’t scaring many corners on the other side either. Tight end Darren Fells is a decent player and David Njoku is loaded with talent, even if he hasn’t consistently delivered on it yet. This is a unit full of potential and one that could be very dangerous given enough time, but they aren’t quite there yet.
In the middle, the Falcons clearly miss Deion Jones, who may be returning in the next few weeks. However, rookie Foye Oluokun has improved with each game and has looked more and more competent with each snap. Devondre Campbell is not playing as well as last year, but he’s capable of covering tight ends and is a generally solid linebacker. Duke Riley is a big liability on this defense, but he did play his best game (with limited snaps) against Washington. On the corners, Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant are normally very good corners who have both struggled this year. Brian Poole is a decent corner in the nickel sets, but can struggle against fast receivers. At safety, Demontae Kazee has been phenomenal playing in the place of injured starter Ricardo Allen. He leads the team with four interceptions in just 8 games. Next to him, Sharrod Neasman has played well at the strong safety position but is definitely not Keanu Neal.
If guys like Trufant and Alford play to their capabilities, this is a match up that should favor the Falcons. There are some gaps in this defensive secondary, but this is also not the Saints offense they’re going up against. As it stands, it probably washes out in the end.
We all know that the Falcons are going to go as the offense goes. Once the team gets Deion Jones back, they may be able to field a significantly better defense. However, until that happens, match ups like these are going to be borderline, even with a unit like what the Browns will field on Sunday.