The Atlanta Falcons head into Cleveland to face the Browns in Week 2 of NFL preseason action on Thursday night.
The Falcons were victorious in game one, while the Browns dropped their contest against the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers. Regardless of outcomes, both teams have much they need to work on as they prepare for regular season play.
Now, many fans are excited for every game, no matter the occasion. That being said, this article can show why a preseason Falcons vs Browns game is a little more appetizing for even the most casual of followers.
What to Watch for in Falcons vs Browns Preseason Game
When Josh Gordon returned to the field in 2014 after a year long suspension, he returned against the Atlanta Falcons and posted eight catches for 120 yards. On Thursday night, somebody else is going to have to do that because Gordon likely won’t be in uniform against the Dirty Birds, as he just returned to practice on Monday after a lengthy absence from the NFL gridiron.
Dwight Freeney, on the other hand, will be in uniform for the Falcons. The 15-year veteran won’t play much, but he still needs to get some snaps to be in top shape for Week 1.
Robert Griffin III didn’t exactly inspire confidence in his inaugural start with the Browns. He did connect with converted wide receiver Terrelle Pryor on a 49-yard bomb, but also only completed three other passes on seven more attempts. To top it off, one of the passes was an ill-advised throw to the middle of the Packers goal line that was easily picked off by Micah Hyde. He’ll have to show that he’s more comfortable in the pocket in game two of Hue Jackson’s reign as head coach.
On the other side, Matt Ryan didn’t fair much better, going zero for four in his first outing of the preseason. Fans will scream about an uncalled pass interference on newly-signed receiver Mohamed Sanu to feel better, but the fact is Ryan didn’t execute well.
Matt Schaub, on the other hand, looked terrific running Kyle Shanahan‘s zone scheme. However, that makes sense because he ran it well during their Houston days together. Schaub came in, rolled out, closed his eyes. and chucked the pigskin as deep as he could on two occasions that were hauled in by former Redskins wide receiver Aldrick Robinson. Robinson himself knows the offense from his days with Shanahan in Washington, while he and Schaub both spent training camp with the Baltimore Ravens a year ago.
Sure Robinson is fast, and made great efforts on both bombs, but the difference between players who know the system as opposed to those who aren’t as comfortable is night and day. Most importantly, it calls for confidence in the scheme. You can see Ryan debate letting the ball rip from time to time, as opposed to Schaub’s blind faith. Timing is everything in this concept, so any hesitation and the wheels come off the rails pretty quickly.
If the 35-year-old Schaub, whose arm was thought to have been worn out, can come in and make the offense look dynamic, Ryan has to be able to do it.
The Pass Catchers
Ryan going 0 for 4 implies that wide receiver Julio Jones scored doughnuts across the board. It may only have been one week of the preseason, but it’s always a good thing when your All-Pro receiver makes a play. He’s a leader and it will inspire team confidence, and perhaps most importantly help get Ryan back on course.
Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy need to start this game the way they finished against the Redskins. Both were ineffective on the opening drives, though Sanu worked hard and made a couple of catches for 18 yards, and Hardy came up with a nice 17-yard reception in traffic.
Aldrick Robinson will look to have another strong game after recording three catches for 118 yards. He is close to officially locking down the fourth receiver spot.
Eric Weems, Nick Williams, and Devin Fuller continue to compete for the final two wide receiver jobs for Atlanta. Jordan Leslie had a solid game, followed by an impressive week of practice, so he could press the issue with a strong performance on Thursday.
While Gordon works himself into game shape, Terrelle Pryor and recent first-round pick Corey Coleman are listed as Cleveland’s starters. Emphasis on listed, because Coleman missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury, and may not dress against the Falcons.
Fifth-round pick Rashard Higgins caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from fellow freshman Cody Kessler versus Green Bay last week. Higgins is very talented, so watch for him to get more opportunities and quickly climb the depth chart.
Tight end Gary Barnidge returns as the Browns top pass catcher, while Jacob Tamme provides a veteran presence for Atlanta. There are high expectations for Falcons rookie Austin Hooper, so look for him to get involved with the starters for a couple of snaps, possibly in the red zone.
Devonta Freeman looked good in the run game, but dropped an easy touchdown pass from Schaub on his last series. Look for Ryan to target him early.
Tevin Coleman didn’t see many snaps, so five-plus carries and a target could be in the works for Week Two of the preseason.
South Carolina undrafted free agent signing Brandon Wilds will try to hold off Gus Johnson for the role of third running back while Terron Ward is out (ankle). Wilds showed good quickness and punched in a touchdown, but he did put the ball on the ground against the Redskins.
Dan Quinn‘s rookie linebacking pair of Deion Jones (five tackles, one pass deflection) and De’Vondre Campbell (three tackles) proved the hype was real in their first auditions as professionals. Jones flashed that sideline to sideline speed that made him such a highly coveted prospect coming out of LSU, while Campbell proved his versatility making plays in the open field and down inside the trenches. More time with the starters would be no surprise.
Falcons first-round pick Keanu Neal will make his pro debut on Thursday. The strong safety will start and get ample playing time for two reasons: He missed the preseason opener with a “trunk” injury, and backup strong safety Kemal Ishmael will miss the competition with a shoulder injury. Aspiring to emulate Seahawks All-Pro Kam Chancellor, watch for Neal to make a point of establishing himself as an enforcer in the secondary.
Hue Jackson may not have to worry about his defense as much as he thought this year if rookies Emmanuel Ogbah (six tackles, one sack) and Carl Nassib (three tackles, one sack) continue to wreak havoc in the backfield. If they can prove to be legitimate threats it will go a long way in masking the many holes the Browns have everywhere else.