Bengals Preview, Week Two: Atlanta
After watching the first game of the Atlanta Falcons season, it's hard to discern what they do well on defense. The Falcon defensive line appeared extra soft last week as they got nowhere near sacking Drew Brees on the day.
On top of that, Saints running backs consistently had decent running lanes to plow through. If pressed, perhaps one may point to their ability to get to the flats in a hurry, but the Bengals offense should be licking their chops when watching film of their next opponent.
Because of that, one might suspect Cincinnati putting up over 30 points on the day and rolling to a win. This may prove to be the case, but because Atlanta drops their linebackers and safeties on pretty much every play, coupled with the fact the Bengals continue to talk about how important running the ball is to their offense, I could see them settling for decent yards on runs for most of the day with the idea of dominating time of possession and keeping Matt Ryan and company off the field.
It's true that the deep ball was the savior a week ago in Baltimore (and a nicely thrown one at that), but that element of attack is not the strong suit of the Cincinnati offense. They are an offense made of screens and draws and quick outs and crossing patterns. They would rather see yards gained after the catch than a multitude of majestically thrown bombs to the end zone.
If the run game is working the way it should on Sunday, Andy Dalton may end up with modest statistics, but points should still show up on the scoreboard. If they can avoid hurting themselves with turnovers and penalties again, there is no reason they shouldn't march down the field on a regular basis yet again this week. Only this time, they can't settle for field goals on five of their six scoring drives.
Defensively, the Bengals must tackle well in the open field on dump off throws and rely on their depth along the front four to get pressure on their own without blitzing defensive backs or linebackers. This is the formula used successfully for years under Mike Zimmer, and new coordinator Paul Guenther has been in Cincinnati long enough to know his personnel still thrives under these conditions.
The Falcons have a lot of explosiveness and veteran experience in their wide-receiver ranks. Headlining this group is Julio Jones, who is essentially the other great receiver to come out of A.J. Green's draft class. While Green is the graceful technician, Jones is a wild horse at the position, galloping over smaller cornerbacks or roasting safeties with his impressive speed. Jones is deadly on the screen pass because of these characteristics, but his mates are more of the deep-threat variety.
The Falcons are not a grind-it-out variety of an offense they way Cincinnati is. Their run game is average at best as the aged Steven Jackson is only useful between the tackles these days. Get him moving laterally and his effectiveness dries up almost immediately. Complimentary back Antone Smith showed some big-play ability last week when he got the ball in the flats, but the Atlanta run game is not a fearsome one.
Instead, Ryan seeks the gouging play that eats up big yardage all at once. Roddy White still displays the polished skills of a multiple pro-bowler, but he has been firmly rendered second-fiddle to Jones these days. He became a little banged up last week that required him to sit some, and one has to wonder how much he still has in that proverbial gas tank. Harry Douglas and kick-return star Devin Hester complete the veteran core of pass-catchers, but neither are what you might call possession guys and are more known for their speed.
Because of all of this, I would be surprised if the Bengals got too greedy on blitz packages. If Atlanta can only get 10 to 12 yards on successful plays, unlike the five to six the Bengals seem to get regularly on their drives, it doesn't make sense to create a vulnerability on the back end and get beat over the top by loading up the box to stop the run. With a third-string left tackle expected to start this week for the Falcons, Bengals defensive ends should be able to get their hands on Ryan without needing to send other blitzers.
The Falcons can score points, but only in a few select ways. Cincinnati, on the other hand, is far more adaptable with adjusting to the opposing defensive scheme and scoring with a variety of methods by mixing and matching their many weapons against whatever they face. In short, they are a more complete team with better depth and that should prove the difference in getting the win this Sunday.
Bengals 27, Falcons 23
Written by Bryan Burke, Associate Editor
Photo via Cincinnati Bengals Facebook