Coming off of their first win of the regular season, the Cleveland Browns will go for two wins in a row Sunday as they battle the Atlanta Falcons. The big story to follow heading into this game is the return of quarterback Jake Delhomme to the starting lineup. Delhomme only played in the first game of the season before suffering a high ankle sprain, and he'll return to a team that has found a rhythm offensively on the ground.
Here are some notes heading into the game, followed by my positional breakdown and prediction for the game:
- Could we see the return of the Cyclone formation this week? Maybe it's too early to bring the formation up again given the fact that Delhomme is just getting back, but I think it's better to use it now more than ever. Seneca Wallace is already comfortable with the first-string offense, has shown chemistry with several receivers, and could even confuse opponents further by doing a normal handoff to Peyton Hillis.
- It looks like Shawn Lauvao will finally be active this week after suffering an injury before the start of the regular season. With Floyd Womack and the offensive line performing well though, Lauvao isn't going to be unseating the veteran any time soon. With that said, Lauvao saw reps at center with the first-team offense this week, and if Alex Mack is a late scratch, then Lauvao probably will start at center.
- I'm very interested in seeing if the newly-acquired Jayme Mitchell will play this week. You might think, "how could a new guy be active right away?" Well, the team has had Sam Aiken active the past two weeks, and if Mitchell was talented enough to be active for the Minnesota Vikings and the Browns went out of their way to trade for him, maybe the question should be, "why would he be inactive?"
- I think the key receivers this week will be...everybody. If Delhomme ends up throwing for a decent percentage (i.e. 18-of-26), then I wouldn't be surprised to see Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Chansi Stuckey, Ben Watson, Evan Moore, Joshua Cribbs, Peyton Hillis, and Jerome Harrison each with 2-3 receptions. Either way, the key for Delhomme should be to manage the game wisely and make the smart throws, but he's going to have a tough time staying away from his gunslinger mentality if he sees a potential opening down the field.
- I know Rob Ryan has loved bringing the all-out blitz often the past couple of weeks while leaving our cornerbacks in man coverage, but I think he needs to mix it up a bit more this week. We have enough pass rushers now (Roth, Rogers, Benard) that we should be able to get creative with those three guys without having to bring the entire house.
Matt Ryan loves going to Roddy White, so I think it's imperative that the Browns rotate either T.J. Ward or Abram Elam over to his side, depending on where he lines up, for the double team. Early on, I'm compelled to not double team Tony Gonzalez to see just how well Matt Roth can defend him.
- If you haven't heard, the weather in Cleveland is expected to shoot back up to about 78 degrees in Cleveland. That'll feel hotter than it has been lately, but overall it's a nice temperature to play early Fall football in. Earlier in the week, the forecast called for a chance of rain. As of this post, the forecast shows that there is no chance for rain during the game.
- Remember, this game will be on FOX. I'm not used to hearing Chris Myers do play-by-play on television, so we'll see how he does. I'm not sure if I've ever heard Charles Davis call a game either.
|QB||Matt Ryan has been a solid, but not elite, quarterback since being drafted a few years ago. His two favorite targets are clearly Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, but he has struggled a bit on the road in the past (a 78.5 QB rating vs. a 93.4 QB rating at home).
The Browns are expected to turn back to Jake Delhomme, who has actually had some pretty good games against Atlanta's defense in the past. He'll have to be careful with the football though, because Atlanta has been an interception-happy team.
|RB||I don't expect Peyton Hillis' thigh injury to hamper him too much, but if it does, I still have faith in Jerome Harrison since he'll be running behind an offensive line that is blocking much better now. Michael Turner hasn't gotten off to a great start to the season, and since the Browns have been tackling well I don't anticipate him breaking too many tackles. It'd be nice to see the Falcons turn to Jason Snelling for a few carries since I think it'd make it difficult for either back to get into a rhythm.
There seems to be some dispute as to how good of a receiver Roddy White is, but all I care about is that he is a legitimate No. 1 receiver who can give our secondary some problems. They also feature tight end Tony Gonzalez, although our difficulty in covering tight ends has been replaced with our difficulty in covering receivers. With Delhomme returning this week, I am expecting some more catches for Mohamed Massaquoi, particularly early in the game.
|OL||I don't know much about the Falcons' offensive line, but I do know that Matt Ryan is getting sacked an average of two times per game. Center Alex Mack was listed on the injury report this week, and while he is expected to play, I'm still hoping that it doesn't turn out to be a late scratch or something. The Browns seriously do not have anyone else at center.
|DL||Veteran defensive end John Abraham is no slouch when it comes to pass rushing: just two years ago, he notched an impressive 16.5 sacks! His production went down a bit last year with 5.5 sacks, but he has two sacks this season. The Falcons also feature up-and-coming defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux.
Kenyon Coleman had a big game last week with a sack and two forced fumbles. I'm interested in seeing Shaun Rogers in the rotation a little more often. For as dominant as he is, unless I just don't realize he's out there, he hasn't been playing. Maybe last week's win, coupled with a tough Atlanta matchup this week, will provide him with some extra motivation.
|LB||I think our linebackers are starting to settle in better. Scott Fujita made several key plays last week, as did Matt Roth on the bull rush. Marcus Benard was a little quiet last week but still poses a threat as a pass rusher. Atlanta hopes to have outside linebacker Sean Weatherspoon back this week, but either way their top player is middle linebacker Curtis Lofton who will have the responsibility of trying to take down Peyton Hillis.
|DB||It's going to be tough for Delhomme to beat cornerback Dunta Robinson, a solid cornerback who came to Atlanta this offseason. Since Delhomme didn't face him last year, he can't expect to automatically just take advantage of the Falcons' secondary.
Cleveland's secondary has had a miserable past couple of games, so it'd be nice to see them put their struggles aside. The Browns have gone without an interception the past two weeks too; an early one of those could give the secondary some confidence. For some reason, I could see Abram Elam getting one this week.
|ST||The Browns continue to do well on covering kicks and punts. Falcons fans have complained about the performance of their punter and their punt return coverage, so Joshua Cribbs might have some opportunities there if the defense can get some stops. Atlanta had a punt blocked last week for a touchdown too. Their kicker, veteran Matt Bryant, has made game-winning kicks in the team's past two contests.
I picked the Browns to come up with a win last week and that prediction paid dividends. I think the Falcons feature a much better team than Cincinnati does though, meaning the Browns will have to play even better than they did last week. I still have some concerns about our secondary, and since Ryan isn't afraid to target White 10+ times per game, I think Atlanta will be able to build enough confidence to hold on for a victory.
FINAL PREDICTION: Atlanta Falcons 26, Cleveland Browns 21.
CHRIS' RECORD IN PICKING BROWNS GAMES: 2-2
CHRIS' OVERALL NFL PREDICTIONS RECORD: 37-25