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Falcons vs. Bengals: This week’s big question revolves around the safeties

It could hardly be anything but.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

For all the questions facing the Falcons both now and in the future, few loom large than safety play. Atlanta has significant room for improvement in terms of their pass rush, need to figure out if Wes Schweitzer can hold up all year at left guard, and will keep a watchful eye on Duke Riley’s development, but the hits have been heaviest at a position that just four weeks ago featured Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen.

With both of those high-end players lost for the year, the Falcons will turn to Damontae Kazee and Jordan Richards to start, with Keith Tandy and Sharrod Neasman waiting in the wings in case they’re needed. There is no universe in which this isn’t a real downgrade, even if Kazee has shown real promise and quality play through 2.25 weeks thus far, and those safeties will be tested almost immediately this week against Cincinnati.

Why? Cincinnati’s set to be minus A.J. Green, potentially, but have solid tight ends and a capable receiving back in Giovanni Bernard. Those TEs and Bernard figure to see plenty of Kazee and Richards, and Richards in particular is a well-known liability in coverage the Bengals will be keen to exploit.

Again, Kazee should be fine. There are hiccups to be expected with a young player, but my concern is with how Richards will hold up. Chances are he won’t get too many weeks as a starter if he can’t hold steady early on, so this will be a pivotal game for him. If he falters and falters badly—and if Neasman and/or Tandy do the same if they get into the game—the Falcons are in trouble again on defense, and will likely have to face more uncomfortable questions about their unwillingness to try to substantially upgrade the position.

So watch those safeties, is what I’m saying, and Jordan Richards in particular.