I don't know much about the Browns, but I do know a little about the Falcons. Here are (imho) the Falcons' strengths and weaknesses. How do they stack up against the Browns?
The Falcons are a Tampa-2 defense. Undersized 4-3 defense line, fast linebackers, big physical DBs.
The Falcons d-line is weak against the power run up the middle because of the size of their DTs. They rotate their DTs a lot, consequently they are fresher in the 4th quarter than most d-lines.
The Falcons pass rush is mediocre. DE Abraham though is a holy terror when he is on. The jury is still out on whether he is back to form this year.
The Falcons have been blitzing a lot this year (much more than last year). It isn't unusual to see the Falcons drop a DE into pass coverage and blitz a linebacker.
Linebackers are the strength of the defense. LB Weatherspoon was drafted for his speed and ability to cover TEs and RBs out of the backfield (think Saints here), and he has been everything the Falcons hoped for. ILB Lofton is very, very, very good (and underated). I've heard at least one commentator say he was the best middle linebacker against the run in the league (he is avg against the pass, imho). He is the leading tacker on the team. Very active and always seems to be around the play. You're going to have to account for Lofton if you plan on running on the Falcons.
The Falcons DBs sucked last year; there's no other way to put it. They don't suck this year. They are a long way from great, but they are also a long way from sucks. The Falcons seriously upgraded the defensive backfield this year by adding Dunta Robinson and getting back a starting safety that was injured in preseason last year (they also replaced their DB coach with a guy that actually knows what he is doing). The reason the Falcons are blitzing more this year is they have more confidence in the DBs this year than they did last year. They are one of the more physical defensive backfields. They are also leading the league in interceptions.
If Jake D. is the QB, I expect the Falcons to blitz a lot, as that was effective against him at Carolina.
The Falcons run what could be called a Steelers power offense. The Falcons OC, Mike Mularky, was the Steelers OC for a long time. If you remember what the Steelers offense was when Mularkey was OC, you know what to expect out of the Falcons. It is a 50/50 balance between passing and power running.
Blitzing QB Ryan doesn't work. He is one of the better QBs in the league at picking up the blitz and dumping the ball off to TE Gonzo, a RB out of the backfield, or whoever the hot read is.
What does work is "coverage sacks". The Falcons o-line is built for run blocking, not pass blocking. The Falcons offense relys on Ryan making quick reads and getting the ball off quickly (which Ryan is good at). If you can generate a pass rush with your front line, while maintaining coverage on the receivers (thus forcing Ryan to stay in the pocket longer than he wants) you have a good chance of getting to Ryan.
Ryan has not been as good against 3-4 defenses as 4-3 defenses.
The Falcons o-line is physical and good at run blocking. They also have a reputation for playing dirty. Dahl particularly. At least twice this year they have gotten into the heads of the other team. As I said, they are not a good pass blocking group. Ryan make them look better than they are, because he is very good at making quick reads and getting rid of the ball quickly. The key to "putting pressure" on Ryan isn't bringing the house, it is making him stay in the pocket longer than he wants. He will make a mistake and try and force something if it takes him too long to find an open receiver.
You probably know about Turner, but the guy you should focus on is Snelling. Snelling has really come into his own this year, giving the Falcons a solid rotation of power backs (consequently they are both fresh in the 4th quarter, which allowed the Falcons to grind down the Saints and 49ers late in the game). Snelling isn't great at anything, but he is outstanding at everything--power running, pass blocking, and receiving. The Falcons are using Snelling a lot on 3rd down, because he gives Ryan a passing option out of the backfield.
Interesting note about Snelling: he has epilepsy. Story here: http://www.everydayh...ng/landing.aspx .
FB Muhelli is the best FB in the league--period (per Bryan Billick, former Ravens head coach). Physical run blocker, the Falcons have also been using him to carry the ball some and as a receiver out of the backfield.
From top to bottom, the Falcons receivers aren't that great (imho), but there are a couple of bright spots. TE Gonzolez and WR White. Gonzolez is as good as he ever was, and is a favorite target of Ryans. You'll have to account for Gonzo.
Falcons' fans argue about how good WR Roddy White really is, but one thing you can't argue--he has become a clutch, big play WR. When a big play is needed, White is the guy they go to (and he always seems to make it). Whe he stripped the ball after the interception last week (and saved the game for the Falcons) the reaction was "of course it was Roddy White that made the big play."
The Falcons will work to establish the running game even if it doesn't work early. Look for a lot of power runs up the middle, screens and dump off passes to the RBs, crossing routes to Gonzo, and sideline routes to White (the Falcons throw this a lot).
The Falcons get WR Jenkins back this week, it will be interesting to see how it affects the passing game. He has been a dissapointment to Falcons fans because he hasn't lived up to his 1st round draft status, but he does cause defenses problems. He is a tall, long-striding, physical receiver, with legit 4.3 speed. Not a lot of moves, but he can get behind DBs quickly. If the Browns try to sneak up their safeties to play the run, don't be surprised to see the Falcons send Jenkins on a straight post route for a quick score (which, btw, was Ryans 1st NFL pass--for a touchdown).
That's it. The Falcons have a good team, but I'm not sure they are as good as the hype they are getting. They have developed a tough, never say die attitue though. They will give you everything they've got.
Couple of things I forgot:
The Falcons run a no huddle offense often. Whenever a defense starts to get some momentum going, the Falcons will go to a no huddle offense to break the momentum. Ryan is comfortable running it.
The Falcons have an excellent punter, an average place kicker, and above average kick returner. Their punt & kickoff coverage has been awful. The Browns will have at least one big kick return/special teams play unless the Falcons improve in this area.
Red RainMember Since 06 Oct 2010
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