While the Atlanta Falcons offense has shown a level of consistency in all three games to begin the season, the defense has been a roller coaster of a ride. There have been some positives and flashes from the pass rush and young talent, yet also some head scratching moments in coverage and stopping the run.
After blowing a lead in the season opener, what’s notable is that in the games against the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks, the defense showed an ability to adjust and play much better in the second half. Even more notable, the defense rose to the occasion when they were needed to close out the game due to a Marcus Mariota fumble on a botched handoff to Tyler Allgeier in Seahawks territory. Will it be a spark that ultimately turns the unit around? We will certainly see when they play the Cleveland Browns.
How does this very young defense match up against the Browns?
In the trenches
The Cleveland Browns, led by center Ethan Pocic, have one of the better offensive lines in the league when completely healthy. A balanced group, the Browns are productive in the run game as well as the passing game. As it sits now, even though the Falcons rank fifth in rushing yards, the Browns rank first.
While Grady Jarrett has been phenomenal to start the season and Ta’Quon Graham has shown flashes, other players like Anthony Rush, Ade Ogundeji, and Lorenzo Carter will have to show well and maintain gap integrity to be a factor against this Browns offensive against the run. They must also be very active and able to bring the pain against the passing game.
The Skill Positions
When I think of the skill positions on this Cleveland Browns squad, there’s only one that immediately comes to mind: running back Nick Chubb. Chubb has come into the league and put a massive stamp on it. A former University of Georgia standout, Chubb has undoubtedly outplayed his draft position and is an absolute force in the running game.
It really doesn’t get much easier behind him either. Kareem Hunt is a versatile back who actually led the NFL in rushing back in 2017 for the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that originally drafted him. From a receiving standpoint, tight end David Njoku has certainly flashed, and he’s becoming a favorite target of QB Jacoby Brissett. Oh, and let us not forget Amari Cooper, who has had a very solid start to the season. There are weapons here.
While AJ Terrell had a much better game against Seattle after a rocky start to the season, this linebacker corps and secondary unit is still a young group that has given up quite a bit of ground in the passing game. This will be one of those games where the back end will have to play disciplined and fundamental ball to have a chance.
This matchup is a really challenging one for the Falcons as a whole. For Coach Dean Pees, stopping the run has to be at the top of the list to give this defense a chance to make a mark in stopping the Browns. Even though Deshaun Watson is serving out his suspension, this offense is built for a capable quarterback like Jacoby Brissett to come in and keep the engine running. When facing a team that scoring an average of 28 points a game, there has to be an effort to make this Browns offense one dimensional. With players like Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt running the rock, stopping the run will be quite a tall order for this Falcons defense.
Given that every team Cleveland has faced, with better overall talent than the Falcons mind you, has had loads of trouble stopping this unit, this will be a very steep hill to climb for a team that’s still in the process of a rebuild.