Falcons hoping to spoil Nick Chubb’s homecoming Sunday

FLOWERY BRANCH – The Falcons’ defense will have a major challenge when they face the Cleveland Browns, who feature running back Nick Chubb, at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Chubb, a Cedartown native who leads the NFL in rushing, is set to face the Falcons for the second time in his NFL career, but the first time in Georgia.

“It will be great,” Chubb told the Cleveland media. “I get a chance to go home and see a lot of familiar faces. I played in that stadium before, so I am excited about going back and playing at home.”

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Chubb starred at Georgia before the Browns selected him in the second round (35th overall) of the 2018 draft.

He’s looking forward to returning to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It is great,” Chubb said. “It is a very nice stadium. I had a lot of wins and losses in there. It is going to be great to be back.”

Chubb played against the Falcons as a rookie and rushed 20 times for 176 yards and a touchdown, a 92-yarder, which was a franchise record.

He is backed by Kareem Hunt, who was the league’s rushing champ in 2017.

“Their tandem of backs, either one of them could be starters probably on every team in the league,” Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Chubb and Hunt; when 24 goes out and 27 comes in, there is not a whole lot of drop-off. It’s the best tandem of two backs that I’ve ever been around. Combined together … these two guys are special.”

Pees, an Ohio native who grew up watching the Browns and Ohio State, may have slighted Kevin Mack and Ernest Byner, who each rushed for 1,000 yards in the same season in 1985.

With quarterback Deshaun Watson suspended for violating the league’s player-conduct policy, the Browns are leaning on Chubb and their rushing attack. Jacoby Brissett is the quarterback until Watson returns.

Chubb rushed for 113 yards in his most recent outing, against the Steelers, whiled facing a stacked box on 60.9% of his snaps, according to Next Gen Stats.

Falcons linebackers Mykal Walker and Rashaad Evans will have the main task of keeping track of Chubb.

“They’ve got a good (offensive) line,” Walker said. “They want to run the rock. That’s our challenge this week. Stop the run.”

Walker believes the Falcons’ defense is ready for the task.

“I see these boys work out each and every day,” Walker said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in them. Everybody will step up to the challenge. It’s a big challenge. They have a really good run game with some great backs.”

Evans recognizes the challenge and contends that addressing the matter is rather simple.

“Really for us, we have to be really great tacklers,” Evans said. “They were telling me about how many yards they get after (contact). So, we see things like that on film.”

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Chubb will power through arm tackles.

“We have to make sure that we are sound fundamentally in our gaps,” Evans said. “Make sure our communication is right.”

The Browns are not shy about what they want to do.

“They are not too much of a team that is going to try do a lot of (fake things),” Evans said. “They are going to run straight to you, and that’s what it’s going to be.”

The Falcons’ defense is hoping to build off of their performance Sunday against Seattle. With the game in the balance, the unit had two sacks and an interception to preserve a four-point lead.

“I think it was big because it solidified all of the work that we put in,” Evans said. “It was big for us to get another win just because we have to continue to get on a roll and get in a rhythm where everybody understands that we can win. All of the stuff that we do during the week, it works.”

The Seattle stop has helped the defense’s morale, even though they yielded 420 total yards.

“It was huge,” Walker said. “It was a confidence booster. When you got those stops, it’s something where you believe in yourself. We always believe in ourselves in this room, but when you start getting those stops, it becomes contagious.”

The Falcons (1-2) have been in three one-score games.

“We expected to be 3-0 at this point,” Walker said. “We knew we had to get a breakthrough. We just knew we had to get a breakthrough. We just have to build on this and keep going.”

The Browns have additional weapons to go along with Chubb.

“Really good skill guys,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “(Wide receiver) Amari (Cooper), really good route runner, really polished, really smart player, knows how to find the voids if you’re playing in zone.”

Cooper, a four-time Pro Bowler who played at Alabama, is in his first season with the Browns after he was traded by the Cowboys.

“He’s been a problem in this league,” Smith said. “He has had a lot of really good productivity when he was out in Oakland and obviously in Dallas.”

Wide receivers Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz make for a deep unit.

“Their tight end, (David) Njoku, he’s a threat, (a) really good vertical route runner,” Smith said. “He can be a problem if he gets going. They do a really good job matching their tight ends, whether they get in their extra lineman package and with Harrison Bryant, they’re very productive.”

Bryant, of Macon, played at John Milledge Academy and is in his third season with Browns.

“They use their tight ends very well,” Smith said. “Like I said, they shift in motion, and they do it with purpose. They don’t just do it because somebody said it looks cool, and that’s the trend. ... They do it with a purpose.”

But this one is going to start, and likely end, with Chubb and, to a lesser degree, Hunt.

“They are real-deal running backs,” Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “Nick Chubb has been strong for a long time. Kareem Hunt has been strong for a long time. They have a great offensive line to run behind. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 NFL schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 vs. Cleveland, 1 p.m.

Oct. 9 at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.

Oct. 16 vs. San Francisco, 1 p.m.

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.

BYE WEEK

Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD