The Falcons put the NFL on notice this past weekend, when they dropped 38 points - on the road - against a Washington defense that many considered to be one of the better units in the league. The passing game was phenomenal, but more importantly, the offensive line played lights out and spearheaded a rushing attack that averaged over 6 yards per carry. Here’s how this rejuvenated unit matches up with their next opponent, the Cleveland Browns.
In the trenches
As mentioned, the Falcons offensive line put in their best performance against a strong Washington defensive front. Jake Matthews has been the best offensive lineman all year and Alex Mack has started to bounce back from his slow start to the year. Wes Schweitzer has gradually improved at left guard and had a great game Sunday, while Ben Garland has now had two straight very good games. Ryan Schraeder still isn’t playing up to his standards, but he’s playing well enough for now. This unit - despite the injuries to their two starting guards - is hitting it’s stride at the right time.
The Browns defensive front is a mixed bag. Myles Garrett is a nightmare on wheels with nine sacks already for the year. On the other side, though, Emmanuel Ogbah has not been playing well so far this year. In the middle, Larry Ogunjobi and Trevon Coley don’t offer much as pass rushers and are only marginally better as run stoppers, though Ogunjobi has a lot of talent.
With the way the Falcons offensive line came together over the bye, there’s reason to be optimistic they can win this match up. Garrett is scary, but the rest of the unit is not anything the Falcons haven’t faced before.
The skill positions
The list of names for the Falcons should be a nightmare for defensive coordinators. Former MVP QB Matt Ryan is putting up numbers that rivals his 2016 MVP season as he leads a unit that is deadly efficient in the red zone now. Julio Jones is still one of the most dominant receivers in the league. Mohamed Sanu is a great possession receiver who wins in traffic and plays physically. Rookie WR Calvin Ridley leads the team with 7 touchdowns and is incredibly refined as a route runner with top-end speed. Austin Hooper has really come alive as a receiver this season. Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith have helped make the loss of Devonta Freeman an after thought, as both have played well in all facets of the offense. This is a unit built to score and they’ve been doing it incredibly well this year.
The linebackers for the Browns are not bad. Jamie Collins isn’t playing to the same level he held in New England, but he’s still a good talent. Joe Schobert is fantastic in coverage, but struggles in run defense. Genard Avery is good against the run and has some talent as a pass rusher as well. At safety, the Browns have some decent guys too. If he plays, Damarious Randall has played well at free safety while Jabrill Peppers has improved a good bit from his first year in the league. At corner, Denzel Ward is a legitimate defensive rookie of the year candidate. T.J. Carrie has been up and down through his career and is a so-so player at this point. Briean Boddy-Calhoun could be someone the team looks to pick on in nickel sets.
The Browns defense looks far better here than they do up front, but there are still some weaknesses to be exploited. If Ryan stays clean in the pocket, this match-up will go well for the Falcons as well.
The Browns are giving up a league worst 138.9 yards per game at a 4.7 yards per carry average. Their passing defense has been better, giving up an average QB rating of 81.7, but giving up a ton of yards in the process. That said, good QBs have had big games against this unit. The Chargers scored 38, the Steelers 33 and the Chiefs 37. This is a great match-up for the Falcons and one they should take advantage of.