Every week, there is a litany of Atlanta Falcons players that could elicit intrigue but naming them all would be an impossible task. The Football Gods decree that only five can be named, however, as we scour the Falcons roster for which players will stand out when the team faces the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
QB Marcus Mariota
The Falcons’ game plan may revolve around running the football and controlling the clock, but their quarterback should still be integral to that plan. Mariota’s running ability certainly can be featured as part of that strategy, but more importantly, his ability to protect the football will be critical.
Not all six of the turnovers credited to Mariota’s account are on him, but each game thus far this year for the Falcons has featured at least one play where it was. Hopefully, that streak will end this Sunday. If so, then the Falcons stand a better chance of winning the time of possession battle.
RB Tyler Allgeier
With Cordarrelle Patterson nursing a knee injury, there’s a good chance that the Falcons’ run game will lean more on their rookie in Allgeier this week. That may carry over for a significant part of the year, since the Falcons may push more for trying to keep the 31-year-old Patterson on a pitch count moving forward.
Allgeier has been solid thus far this year, but fairly nondescript in terms of production, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. This Sunday against the Browns would be a perfect opportunity to change the narrative with a few more explosive runs and yards after contact to propel the fifth-round draft selection to a more prominent role this season.
DT Ta’Quon Graham
Defensively, the focus of the Falcons will be slowing down the Browns’ league-leading rushing attack. Of course, we’re all well aware of Grady Jarrett’s disruptive capabilities, but he needs a Robin to his Batman and there’s probably no better candidate than Graham.
Graham has been solid thus far this year both as a run defender and pass-rusher, but there’s room for improvement. For the most part, Graham has been a nice supplemental player, a cog in the machine if you will, rather than a playmaker himself. This weekend would be an opportune time to break out of that role, especially since he may find himself facing up against arguably the lone weak link on the Browns offensive line: left tackle Jedrick Wills.
Wills is the Browns’ lowest graded starter per Pro Football Focus and is ripe to be bullied given his penchant for not sustaining blocks. Graham and any other Falcons defensive linemen that find themselves lined up against Wills should have ample opportunities to make an impact up front.
CB A.J. Terrell
Terrell had a nice bounce-back performance, keeping Seattle Seahawks wideout D.K. Metcalf in check for most of the game after a rough two-week start to the season. But his job won’t get any easier this week facing Browns’ top wideout Amari Cooper.
Cooper has posted consecutive 101-yard efforts with a touchdown in each of the past two weeks as he also seems to be returning to his former glory as one of the league’s premier wideouts. Terrell will be tasked with knocking him down a peg, and his ability to do so will go a long way to slowing down the Browns through the air.
S Jaylinn Hawkins
Joining Cooper as a featured player in the Browns’ passing attack is tight end David Njoku, who is second on the team in receiving and is coming off a career-high nine catches against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Falcons lack a defender who is a designated “tight-end eraser,” but the player that drew the bulk of those assignments in the first week of the year and handled those responsibilities well was Hawkins.
If anybody is going to keep the physical Njoku in check on Sunday, Hawkins is the player best positioned to do so. And that will be especially true in the red zone, where Njoku has been Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s preferred target through three games. If the Falcons want to improve a 23rd-ranked red-zone defense, Hawkins keeping Njoku in check will be essential in achieving that goal.
Who else is worth keeping an eye on? Can you name other Falcons?