With a 1-2 record, the Falcons are now in a situation where the margin for error is getting perilously thin. The injuries to the defense have been significant, though the offense has not been immune. However, this unit has weathered the storm fairly well so far, scoring over 30 points in the last two games in spite of the injuries. Here’s how the offense matches up with the Bengals defense.
Note: Assessments based off of PFF scoring
In the trenches
The Falcons offensive line has had ups and downs this year, but is still a solid unit overall. Alex Mack and Jake Matthews are the anchors of this unit. Ryan Schraeder hasn’t been as good as in previous years but is still solid. On the interior, losing Andy Levitre has hurt, but Wes Schweitzer has filled in decently for him. He’s not great, but he’s not nearly as bad as he was at RG last year, and he did have an excellent game against the Panthers. Brandon Fusco has been solid at right guard as well. This unit has faced some fierce competition the last couple of weeks, so there’s reason to believe they will settle in and help this offense stay on track.
The Bengals have some good players on their defensive line. Geno Atkins is still one of the best defensive tackles in the league and could be a problem for the Falcons line up the middle. Second year tackle Andrew Billings is off to a good start this year as well. Carlos Dunlap is a good player who has consistently played at a high level through his career. Jordan Willis looked really good as a rookie, but has been quiet so far in 2018. DT Ryan Glasgow can also do a great job of shutting down the run. Carl Lawson also offers them some pass rushing prowess on the end.
This is a closer match-up than it may seem. I don’t expect either unit to dominate, but each will get their shots.
The skill positions
The Falcons offense has bounced back considerably since their week one debacle. Matt Ryan now has 897 yards with 7 TDs (plus 2 rushing!) and only 2 INTs for a passer rating of 106.5. Julio Jones had a “quiet” week against the Saints, only amassing 96 yards. However, his presence on the field opened up opportunities for Calvin Ridley, who went off for 7 catches for 146 yards and 3 TDs. The youngster looks like the real deal. Mohamed Sanu has been quiet so far this year, but he’s been reliable and is always a solid option if Julio and Ridley are covered. Austin Hooper has been good this year and looks like he’s finally growing into that receiving tight end role. The running backs have looked great, with Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith filling in admirably with Devonta Freeman on the mend. This is an incredibly talented and dangerous unit.
The Bengals linebacking corps could be the big weakness for this defensive unit. In the middle, Hardy Nickerson has struggled against the run and the pass. Jordan Evans is good against the run but a liability in coverage. Nick Vigil is the best of this unit and is mostly average against both the run and pass. It’s clear they’re missing Vontaze Burfict. The safeties for Cincinatti are not bad. Shawn Williams is not having his best year but has shown to be capable in the past. Rookie second rounder Jessie Bates has looked good at free safety so far. Second year corner William Jackson looked great last year and has played mostly well so far in 2018. Dre Kirkpatrick has been solid but not spectacular, which is the definition of his career so far. In nickel sets, Darqueze Dennard is not off to a great start and could be someone the Falcons look to target if he gets matched up one-on-one with Calvin Ridley.
The Bengals have some issues in this part of the defense and this is a match-up that strongly favors the Falcons.
The best hope for the Bengals will be to pressure Matt Ryan early and often. If they don’t, there’s no reason to think the Falcons rejuvenated offense can’t put points on the board against this unit. This defensive line is good, but isn’t considerably better than what the team has faced the past two games.