Atlanta Falcons-Cleveland Browns: Breaking Down the Week 5 Matchup
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As the Falcons look for their fourth win of the season, they will attempt to win four straight games for the first time since 2004, a year in which they won the NFC South and made the NFC Championship Game.
These two teams, of course, are not the same as they were four seasons ago, with this current incarnation of the Falcons with Matt Ryan and Mike Smith not at all resembling the teams that were led by Michael Vick and Jim Mora, Jr.
(If anyone is interested, here is a link to a recent interview between Mora and Vick where they discuss, among other things, the years they shared in Atlanta.)
It's not clear right now who will be starting at quarterback for Cleveland, but both Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace have had success against the Falcons in the past.
Delhomme is a familiar foe due to his time with Carolina. In 12 career games versus the Falcons, the former Panthers signal caller has a 90.1 quarterback rating, completing 61.5 percent of his passes for 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
He is 6-6 in his starts against the Falcons.
It is of note that if he does start, Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad will be nowhere to be found.
Wallace played the second half of what was basically a meaningless Week 17 game in 2007 against Atlanta, completing 17-of-22 passes for 206 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He ended the game with a quarterback rating of 116.9, as the Falcons won 44-41.
Wallace was then with Seattle, a team who had already locked up a playoff berth. The Falcons were merely playing for pride in a 4-12 season that led to the hiring of Smith and the drafting of Ryan.
Since being handed the keys this year in Cleveland while Delhomme nurses an ankle injury, Wallace has thrown three touchdowns and two interceptions while completing 61.2 percent of his passes, giving him a rating of 82.2, which is right around his career number.
While the Browns' record stands at 1-3, that is not necessarily indicative of the quality of the team. Their three losses were by a combined score of 12 points.
A close contest would seem to favor Atlanta, which has shown the ability to come away with wins late in games the past two weeks, although relying on fourth-quarter heroics week after week is a difficult road to go down. If they have the opportunity, one would think they would like to put this one to bed early and save themselves from the added stress of last minute drives.
It could work in Atlanta's favor that Cleveland won last week. While the win is sure to give the team a boost of confidence, they may not have the same desperation and sense of urgency as when they were trying to avoid an 0-4 start.
The Falcons got a taste of what it's like to face a team on the brink against San Francisco a week ago.
Among the surprise players in the league has been Browns running back Peyton Hillis. On the season, he has 322 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Those numbers are a bit misleading as to how well he has actually played, though.
In Cleveland's first two games against the Buccaneers and the Chiefs, Hillis carried the ball just 17 times, gaining 76 yards. In their next two contests against the Ravens and the Bengals, the back had 49 rushing attempts and gained 246 yards, showing that a recently increased role has resulted in more production.
He has scored a touchdown in each of Cleveland's four games.
In 2008, while with Denver, Hillis faced the Falcons and gained 44 yards on 10 carries, a 4.4 yards-per-rush average. A variety of injuries forced the Broncos to use several backs that year, with five different players having a rushing attempt in the game against Atlanta alone.
Hillis, who is expected to start despite missing practice on Friday, was originally drafted as a fullback, and has proven that he is not a one-dimensional player. He is also a solid receiver out of the backfield.
Atlanta fans may see similarities between him and Mike Alstott, formerly of the Buccaneers, who routinely made timely plays against the Falcons.
Atlanta is favored in this game, and it looks like a matchup the team should win. In order to do that, their great defensive play of late must continue.
While Delhomme and Wallace have had success against the team in the past, Atlanta should focus on containing Hillis, forcing the Browns to pass.
The Falcons' defense is tops in the NFL with eight interceptions, and if they can force some early mistakes, they could put the game away quickly against a defense that is in the bottom half of the league in terms of yards allowed and in the middle of the pack regarding points allowed.
As the saying goes, anything can happen on any given Sunday, and Atlanta needs to keep their intensity up if they wish to avoid a letdown.
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