The Falcons won last Sunday via a couple of well-timed turnovers and an offensive performance that turned the Saints defense into a particularly soft jelly. This week, the gameplan changes.
Yesterday we took a look at how the offense can excel by spreading the ball around, getting the running backs involved in the passing game and not going one-dimensional against a very good Bengals defense. Today, we're going to look at how a Falcons defense that needed turnovers to stop the Saints can slow down a less dynamic Bengals offense, putting the team in a position to win.
Once more, we'll take a look at how the Falcons can stop the Bengals, reasons to be optimistic that they'll do so and reasons to doubt they'll be able to.
How The Falcons Can Stop The Bengals
It's simple enough. You pressure Andy Dalton, you take away A.J. Green and you slow down the ground attack, which hopefully leads to bad Andy Dalton passes, which leads to turnovers, which leads to a win.
A formula is one thing. Executing on it is another entirely, and that's where the Falcons have many question marks. It'd be great to get some pass rush going against a merely so-so interior Bengals line, but barring that, the Falcons will need to play steady, fundamentally sound defense and hope to snatch a couple of game-changing turnovers. The Bengals offense isn't on the same level as the Saints, or close to it, but they have legitimate weapons and can still make this a deeply unpleasant day for the Falcons.
If you can't get pressure, though, you can still limit this offense by taking away Bernard and Green, Dalton's two favorite targets. The Falcons will take their chances against the likes of Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert and Mohammed Sanu if it means they don't get burned by Green or constantly see Bernard turning short catches into long gainers, and I expect that will be Mike Nolan's focus.
UPDATE: You won't be seeing Eifert. I missed his injury, and the Bengals have just shelved him for a while.
Bengals placed TE Tyler Eifert on IR designated to return with his elbow injury.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 10, 2014
Reasons To Believe
- The Bengals have options in the passing game, but it's not the league's best group. They can put Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham on the field at the same time, giving them two big targets, but Marvin Jones is out and Andrew Hawkins is gone. That leaves A.J. Green and the dynamic running back Giovanni Bernard as arguably the team's top two options in terms of targets. Bernard is a nuisance and can be a problem if you can't tackle him in space—uh oh—while Green is one of the league's best receivers and will likely demand some safety help at times.
The Falcons are, in other words, in much better shape against this passing attack than the Saints', which offered up Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, Pierre Thomas, and Jimmy Graham as truly frustrating players to stop for much of the game. The Bengals have turnover-prone Andy Dalton behind center instead of Drew Brees, which plays into this team's strength given their stable of cornerbacks and reasonably strong safety play. The Falcons just have to be able to keep an eye on Bernard, do their best to lock down Green and not let Eifert or Gresham beat them consistently. Given some of the team's limitations outside the secondary, that may be difficult, but it's far from impossible.
- Oh, and that secondary is pretty sharp, which should be noted. The Falcons could leave Trufant on an island against Green or put Dwight Lowery and Robert Alford on him, freeing up Trufant to take on Sanu. Robert McClain can actually help out with tight ends, given the way the Bengals' receiver depth chart thins out after those two guys. William Moore remains a potential force of nature.
- The Bengals have a superior ground attack, but I'm also not convinced we saw the best this front seven has to offer in that regard last weekend. If the team can clamp down a bit harder as they did throughout most of the second half, Bernard and bruising rookie Jeremy Hill shouldn't kill them, even if they're likely to put up quality numbers.
- The Bengals are starting rookie Russell Bodine at center, and while Kevin Zeitler is one of the league's better right guards, I'm not particularly enamored with Clint Boling on the right side. The Falcons should try to dial up interior pressure in this one, because chances are they'll be more successful there than off the edges.
Reasons To Doubt
- Dalton goes to absolute pieces under pressure. The Falcons don't appear particularly likely to summon consistent pressure, and when Dalton's able to sit back and scan the field, he's generally an above average quarterback. The Falcons don't appear equipped to take advantage of that great weakness, so unless they can generate something they couldn't against Brees, Dalton isn't likely to single-handedly kill the Bengals by tossing a couple of picks. That's the easiest road to victory for Atlanta, unfortunately, and I doubt they capitalize on it.
- Hill and Bernard could kill the Falcons. The Saints' running backs compiled over 100 yards and averaged over 4.5 yards doing so, and I think the Bernard/Hill combination offers the kind of Thunder/Lightning attack the Saints no longer really well. If the Falcons can't corral these two backs, it takes a ton of pressure off a largely average passing attack and put Atlanta back on their heels throughout the entire game. Bernard has the ability to reel off some long plays, which make for long days.
- I haven't had a chance to watch their first game so I can't confirm this, but Cincy Jungle readers are telling me to look out for new wrinkles in the Bengals' offense. The numbers don't point to a particular great offensive performance in Week 1 against the Ravens, but the Ravens usually have a tough defense and we all know how the Falcons react to surprise wrinkles. Keep an eye out for this.