Overview: Matt Ryan and the Falcons were stifled in week one by the Pittsburgh Steelers in an ugly 15-9 loss. Since, they have run off three straight with the highlight coming against the Saints in a thrilling overtime victory 27-24. Most recently, they rattled off 16 unanswered points after going down 14-0 to the 49ers in Atlanta.
It wasn’t pretty, but the bottom line is that Atlanta is coming in with a three game winning streak. They might not have impressed anyone outside of their own locker room defeating Frisco, but you have to give these Falcons credit. They faced adversity going down 14-0 in the first quarter and they responded. Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and the surprisingly good Atlanta defense come into Browns-town with some confidence.
Airing it Out: Obviously the passing game starts and ends with Matt Ryan. The 25 year-old comes into Cleveland with an impressive 62.4% completion rate to go along with 6 TDs, 3 INTs and an 86.5 QB rating. Matt Ryan is good, but he is also lucky to have two pass-catchers like Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, who have caught 32 and 19 passes respectively. They are also responsible for catching three of Ryan’s TD passes. They were also targeted 79 times out of 149 total targets.
Gonzalez worries me the most against the Browns. The Browns have given up a lot of plays to tight ends so far this year including Todd Heap and Tony Moeaki. If the Browns try to go crazy with the blitzes again this week, I have no doubt that Gonzalez will be a frequent target for Matt Ryan on the checkdown. Obviously Roddy White is still scary, but hopefully the Browns have a plan to neutralize him like they did Chad Ochocinco.
Running it Down: Michael Turner is the name to know here. He has been splitting some of the carries with Jason Snelling, but Turner will get the opportunity first. It isn’t the norm for him or anything, but against the Saints, Turner carried the ball 30 times. Even in Peyton Hillis’ dominant performance a week ago, he only carried it 27 times. So make no mistake, Michael Turner is not a young 28, but this season is still young and if things are going well, the Browns could see him frequently. He is a load and can really wear a defense down.
In the Trenches: The key to this game for the Browns, regardless of who plays quarterback will be running the ball first and foremost. Peyton Hillis is a little banged up, but is expected to play. He will be running against a defense that has given up 4.6 yards per carry this season and 96.3 yards per game on the ground.
The Falcons play a 4-3 defense featuring two 300 pounders at defensive tackle in Peria Jerry and Trey Lewis. They are flanked by veteran John Abraham and Kroy Bierman.
Special Teams: Until Josh Cribbs does something this season, I am going to stop talking special teams. (Reverse psychology.)
Prediction: I am now 2-2 picking the Browns games. I was thankfully wrong a week ago as the Browns beat the Bengals 23-20. Again this week the Browns are three point underdogs at home.
This week, I am taking the Browns. I think the Falcons are a solid team, but I don’t think they have been really impressive except for beating the Saints. I think the return of Jake Delhomme will spark the Browns’ passing game, especially because they have now established the running game with Peyton Hillis.
In Delhomme’s first game the Browns didn’t run a lot. Harrison led the way with just over 50 yards rushing. Hillis followed closely with 41 yards, but they only ran it about 20 times that game. I expect Delhomme to upgrade the offensive attack with his passing and also with his reads at the line.
They will catch the Falcons napping and win 31-27 as they hold on to win.