Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hands off the ball against the Washington Redskins in the second quarter on November 4 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. Photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo
Cleveland's beleaguered secondary gets a taste of another elite quarterback when the Browns host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns, on a four-game skid, are 2-6-1 and spiraling toward their 11th straight losing season when Matt Ryan and the Falcons come to town.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes against the Browns on Oct. 28. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes directed an offense that put up 499 yards of offense last Sunday in a 37-21 romp. He threw three touchdown passes and passed for 375 yards.
Ryan is on fire for the Falcons. He threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-14 victory over the Redskins last week.
Facing Ryan and dangerous Falcons receivers Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley plus Mohamed Sanu would be a task under normal circumstances, but the Browns are decimated with injuries.
Linebacker Christian Kirksey (hamstring) and cornerback E.J. Gaines (concussion) were placed on injured reserve Wednesday with injuries incurred against the Chiefs last week. Starting cornerback Denzel Ward (hip) was injured playing the Chiefs.
Safety Damarious Randall was inactive against Kansas City because of a groin injury, linebacker Joe Schobert missed his third straight game with a hamstring injury and starting cornerback Terrance Mitchell, on injured reserve (wrist), will miss his sixth straight game Sunday.
Schobert and Randall practiced Wednesday. Ward and linebacker Jamie Collins (ankle) did not practice Wednesday, but interim head coach Gregg Williams is confident both will practice Thursday. Getting Schobert and Randall back should at least slow the bleeding.
"We have another explosive offense coming in here this Sunday," Randall said Wednesday in the locker room after practice. "They have explosive weapons with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley and Sanu. They have a nice little running game and a former MVP at quarterback."
That, coupled with the injuries, is going to make playing man-to-man defense against the talented Falcons receivers difficult, so the Browns will be forced to play more zone defense than usual. Ryan has completions of only six passes of 40 or more yards, but he has 34 completions of 20 or more yards. The Browns' defensive backs will have to react quickly Sunday or that number for Ryan could increase by five or more.
To make matters worse for the Browns, the Falcons' beleaguered defense is about to get a boost.
The Falcons signed veteran defensive end Bruce Irvin to boost the team's waning pass rush and announced that middle linebacker Deion Jones has returned to the practice field.
Irvin signed with the team after being released by the Raiders. He reported to camp and will start on Sunday. Jones isn't ready for game action, but he's getting closer.
Quinn was an assistant coach at Seattle when he worked with Irvin and was happy to be reunited with the Georgia native.
"No. 1, it was an opportunity for us to add another pass rusher into our group," he said. "I've had experience with him and (it's great) to have that familiarity with the scheme and how we want him to play and the style and attitude that we love to rush with."
Quinn said Irvin would be featured as a pass rusher within the group. The Falcons have only 17 sacks, with Takk McKinley (six) and Jack Crawford (four) the team leaders. Vic Beasley Jr., who led the league in 2016, has one.
Irvin has three sacks this season. He had a career-high eight last year.
"We know the groups that we're facing and every single chance that we have to add to our pass rush, we certainly are going to," Quinn said. "We are at our best when we have a big number of guys that we're going to try to feature in a number of ways like we've done over a few years. We're really pumped to have him here with us."
Jones was hurt near the end of the season opener, a game that saw him have nine tackles and an interception. The foot injury required surgery and forced him to the injured reserve list.
"We're really pumped because he's worked extremely hard to get back, so this is the next step for him, beginning the practice portion of his recovery," Quinn said. "We're really fired up to have No. 45 back on the field."
After scheming for a stationary quarterback in Washington's Alex Smith, the Falcons face another young mobile guy in Cleveland's Baker Mayfield. The No. 1 draft pick has started three games and has thrown for 1,768 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He's been sacked 22 times but rushed for 91 yards when scrambling. In last week's loss to Kansas City, Mayfield threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns.
"He throws a really good deep ball and he has the confidence to throw it into tight windows," Quinn said. "He has a quick release. When there is pressure there, it does not take a long time for the ball to get out."
The Falcons will want to negate the running game, led by former University of Georgia star Nick Chubb, and apply heat to Mayfield.