The Atlanta Falcons began the 2018 season by losing four of their first five games; including an overtime loss to the New Orlean Saints. The past three weeks though have seen the team defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins to put themselves squarely back into the NFL Playoff picture.
In that timeframe, Matt Ryan has compensated for a leaky defense as he now has 19 touchdowns to just three interceptoins on the season. His 70% completion rate and 115.1 quarterback rating make him one of the best quarterbacks this season.
The Browns look to slow down their attack and take advantage of their defense to return the Falcons to their early season struggles. Can they?
Let’s dive in:
Quarterbacks such as Phillip Rivers have easily dissected the blitz-heavy schemes of Gregg Williams. Will Matt Ryan be able to continue that trend?
Gilbert: Yes. The Browns defense is in shambles because of injuries. The Chiefs tore right through them and the Falcons passing game may do the same. Blitzing and putting the injured secondary on an island would be a bad idea. Hopefully, the Browns get linebacker Joe Schobert, corner Denzel Ward and safety Damarious Randall back to better be suited to stop the high-powered Falcons offense. I will have a lot more confidence it they do come back because without them it will be tough to stop Matt Ryan.
Bode: Ryan has no issues taking what the defense gives him and putting an accurate ball to anywhere on the field. Gregg Williams better mix up the looks or it will be a long day of long drives for the defense.
Poloha: Sunday’s game could get ugly unless someone not named Denzel Ward steps in the secondary. Dealing with so many injuries, it could be tough to stop Ryan and company.
Colosimo: Between the overtime games, offensive inefficiencies, and injuries, the sheer number of snaps has taken a toll on Browns defense and it’s shown over the last 3 games. Even if this was early in this season, Atlanta would be a tough matchup to deal with. The Browns may start well, but in the end Ryan will likely have big day as the defense wears down.
The Falcons rushing attack has only broken 100 yards twice in 2018, but both of those times it has exploded for huge totals. Which output should we expect against the Browns front?
Gilbert: I think the Browns will be all right versus the run simply because I think the Falcons will look to hurt the Browns defense more through the air. With the injuries at corner and linebacker, the Browns defense is vulnerable as ever against the pass. Atlanta will likely turn to the passing game to threaten the Browns defense. The run game will likely not be their main focus to beat the Browns.
Bode: The Browns can contain the Falcons rushing attack, but the ultimate tally for Atlanta will depend on how close the game stays. If the Browns get blown out, then the runs will come. Otherwise, expect Ryan to use short passes as their running plays on early downs.
Poloha: The front seven will do fine against the run. It’s the pass defense that I’m worried about. Unless the Falcons get out to a huge lead, I don’t see them really running the ball too much for them to reach 100 yards on the ground.
Colosimo: While I don’t see the Falcons getting much done on the ground early, success in the passing game will eventually loosen up the defense and allow Atlanta to run effectively when they want to. I don’t expect big rushing numbers for Atlanta, but I don’t think it will matter much.
Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have a worse defense than the one Atlanta puts on the field. This time around, can the Browns offense take advantage of their opponent’s weakness? If so, how should they attack it?
Gilbert: After watching the Browns offense against Kansas City, I am more confident then ever that the Browns offense can take advantage of the Atlanta offense. Offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens called a nice game last week and I believe they will build off of that. I think the Browns passing game will be the way to go at Atlanta. Baker Mayfield could have his best game of his rookie season against the Falcons.
Bode: Kitchens needs to help Mayfield out by creating sets for him to determine the defensive coverage and giving him easy reads; especially on early downs. If he can manage that much, then Mayfield is setup to have some big-time numbers against a porous secondary.
Poloha: I have faith that Baker can. Only question is whether Kitchens and his wide receivers allow him to do so. Oh, and the offensive line has to give him some time in the pocket as well.
Colosimo: This should be a game where the Browns offense can build some confidence if Kitchens can expand on what we saw last week. I’d like to see more early down passes to Duke to stay ahead of the sticks and allow Kitchens to open up the playbook in favorable down/distance situations. For me this is all about doing things that make it easier for the players to execute. Moving the pocket and getting the ball out quickly should help Baker avoid taking hits by hiding the tackles in the pass game.
Against the Kansas City Chiefs, Baker Mayfield’s yards per attempt (YPA) was above seven yards for the first time since the Baltimore Ravens game in Week 5. What is the key to obtaining that mark for Mayfield? Is it important?
Gilbert: The key is utilizing play action more and not putting all the pressure on the Browns offensive line. With deeper passes comes a longer time to have to block. So, utilizing play action can help the blocking and give Mayfield more time for his routes to develop. The Browns could also bring in extra blockers to help block during this longer plays. But, I don’t think it is the most important to get that mark. Quick passes to players like Jarvis Landry and Duke Johnson are ways to get the ball in the hands of the Browns playmakers to possible create big plays without it having to come on deeper passes.
Bode: The mark is important because it is an indication Mayfield is using all of the levels of the field. He actually hasn’t been completion rate dependent on the statistic, which means that he will sacrifice some potential incompletions for big plays. If Johnson remains as involved in the passing game though, then he needs to find a way to get him just a smidge further down the field. Wheel routes don’t have to be caught in the backfield, after all.
Poloha: My last answer still applies here. It all just comes down to which plays are called, if his receivers can get open, and if the offensive line gives him some time to find open players down field.
Colosimo: Yards per attempt matters but that doesn’t mean it is a goal in and of itself. Its more of an indicator that the Browns are doing the right things on offense from a scheme and execution standpoint. We haven’t seen much evidence this season that Baker is being allowed make changes at the line, but that’s something that could help create quick throws to open receivers. Incorperating more presnap motion would help Baker identify coverage and if Kitchens allows him to, adjust the plays to what he sees on the field. That should allow for gimme yards and opportunities for yac.
Do you expect the coaching staff to continue to make adjustments in the post-Hue era? If so, what alterations do you expect them to make? If not, are there any already made you expect to continue?
Gilbert: The defense will not change because Gregg Williams is still here. But, the offense can definitely still see some more change. The Browns will be more aggressive on decision making under Williams. But scheme-wise, I think the Browns will get to more play calling that is best for Baker Mayfield. Play action passes and run/pass options would be a smart move to implement in order to make Mayfield even more comfortable. The offense is not done changing under Freddie Kitchens.
Bode: The defense keeps losing defensive backs. At some point, one would hope there is a compensation on the amount of blitzing to help them out, but Williams tends to go all-in there. The offense looked a bit different last week. It would be nice to see them expand out now to start allowing Mayfield to rotate through all his possible weapons. Maybe start with a focus on Njoku, then work some packages in that will free up Johnson. Whatever is done, giving more line responsibilities to Mayfield to determine the best route will be beneficial to his development.
Poloha: I’m going to have to watch the film. But seriously, I do. Defensively, Williams will continue to find the best fit for who’s healthy and (hopefully) put his players in the best position to succeed. Whether it’s expanding the playbook on both sides of the ball or switching it up at times, some things need to change and adjustments need to be made. Offensively, I just hope they utilize their best playmakers more often, such as Duke Johnson, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and David Njoku. They did a great job getting the ball to Chubb and Johnson last week, hopefully that continues this week.
Colosimo: Defensively, I think we know what we are getting at this point. Offensively, we saw some evidence last week that Kitchens understands his personnel better than his predecessors in Duke Johnson’s involvement and offensive line movement. If he continues to adapt, we should see Seth Devalve finally being worked into the gameplan and more focus on Njoku in the red zone.