The Falcons have a completely new identity this season — running the football. In Arthur Smith’s first year as head coach, the offense averaged a measly 85.4 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. Through a couple of personnel changes along the offensive line and the switch to a mobile quarterback, the Falcons look like a much different squad in 2022 — averaging 156.7 yards per game (5th in the league) on the ground and 4.9 yards per carry. But the daunting task this week won’t be on offense; it’ll be up to Atlanta’s defense to stop Nick Chubb and the Browns’ rushing attack.
Not only is Chubb the best pure runner in the league, but Cleveland’s offensive line is just as menacing. Kevin Stefanski’s offense ranks first in the league in rush yards per game (190.7), with Chubb being the individual league leader, who is one of the toughest ball carriers to bring down — leading the league in broken tackles. But at least the Falcons know what the Browns will try to do to them.
“It’ll be a really physical game on Sunday,” Arthur Smith said. “They’re going to try to run Nick Chubb 500 times, and we’ve got to stop him.”
The Falcons’ defense has to improve because the showing against the Seahawks in Week 3 was incredibly uninspiring. Geno Smith looked like prime Peyton Manning, picking apart Atlanta’s secondary — completing 32-of-44 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns. Seattle’s run game was also effective, despite being far less talented along the offensive line and in the backfield compared to Cleveland. The Seahawks had 112 rush yards on 23 carries, a 4.9-yard per carry average. And the leader on the Falcons defense — Grady Jarrett — knows that’s not going to cut it in Week 4.
“(The Seahawks) got a little too much on the ground,” Jarrett said. “We’ve got to be better, definitely, across the board against the run.”
Dean Pees has to get things cleaned up. Atlanta is in the bottom third in opponent yards per rush, rushing first downs per game, and in the middle of the pack in rushing yards per game. While Rashaad Penny is a more than decent running back, he’s no Nick Chubb. The Browns present a much more difficult challenge for the Falcons’ defense than the Seahawks. It’s going to be a classic ’90s, fullback-involved matchup this Sunday.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire