The Falcons defense is, well, broken. Missing three (!!!) key starters and lacking production from other significant players, Atlanta is looking more and more like a 2013 Falcons unit than the fast, physical group Dan Quinn is known for.
After getting worked by Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints offense and giving up 43 points, Atlanta must try and stop the sixth-best scoring offense in the National Football League: the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are averaging 29.7 points per game, and have done so through some pretty consistent play from Andy Dalton.
This test won’t be easy but with questions surrounding the status of A.J. Green, Atlanta may have a slightly easier task than initially expected. Let’s dive a little deeper and see how these two units match up.
In the trenches
Good news: Takkarist McKinley is set to play this Sunday. Bad news: The rest of the Falcons defensive line has really struggled to get to the quarterback, while also leaving something to be desired when it comes to the run game. I think we see a better defensive line than last week, but I just don’t know how much better they can get from week to week.
More good news: The Bengals offensive line is not performing very well so far this season — Clint Boling is the only offensive lineman with a Pro Football Focus grade higher than a 60. Despite that, Cincinnati has only given up four sacks this season, but these ratings are the result of the run blocking ability of the Bengals offensive line — they have the 22nd-ranked rushing offense this season.
Neither one of these position groups is performing at a stellar clip thus far this season, so this will really come down to whether or not the impact players for either team can push the line of scrimmage in favor of their squad. Can Grady Jarrett, Takk McKinley, and the rest of the Falcons defensive line make that happen? I think they make some plays, but I don’t think they make enough to swing this matchup in Atlanta’s favor.
Woof. It feels like this defensive backfield is hanging on for dear life. Keanu Neal? Nope —DeMontae Kazee. Ricardo Allen? Nah — Jordan Richards. Deion Jones? No chance — Duke Riley. Atlanta is going to struggle no matter who they play and no matter the circumstance — they will never truly shut a team down, I don’t think. However, if the offense can continue to play well and score around 30 points a game, the defense should be able to do enough to keep Atlanta in most games.
As for Cincinnati, it will look very similar to last week: a great wideout on the outside, a speedy receiver, a solid slot guy, and a tough combo at tight end and running back. A.J. Green, even if he is only at 75 percent, is someone that teams have to pay attention to, so when you add in the rest of the Bengals skill position players it becomes tough for a defense. The key matchups will be John Ross and Robert Alford, as well as De’Vondre Campbell/Kazee guarding Tyler Eifert.
If those guys can limit the big plays by both of those Bengals, the Falcons defense should have a shot to get the stops necessary to win the game. More than the individual matchups, the Falcons simply have to tackle well. Last week it seemed as though they had completely forgotten how to perform that simple task and it cost them dearly. Tackle well, limit big plays. Giovani Bernard is a very skilled back who can make defenders looks silly if they aren’t sound in their technique when trying to bring him down.
Once again, I’m skeptical. They can definitely win one play every now and then, but I’m not sure that they can do it consistently, especially if there is no pressure on Dalton. This matchup is very nearly a push, but the lack of depth and the adjustments as a result of that swing things in favor of the Bengals.
Advantage: Cincinnati Bengals
This team is still well coached. This team is still talented. However, they are not as experienced and not as talented as they could be. Jordan Richards looked pretty bad last week and Duke Riley is still incredibly inconsistent — not to mention the disappearance of Vic Beasley this season.
For Atlanta’s defense to win the day this week, Takk will need to have a career day and the Falcons will need to keep the Bengals from taking the top off the defense. Limit the damage Bernard does out of the back field, keep Eifert from killing you across the middle, and try and keep John Ross from creating explosive plays.
Atlanta does better than last week since Takk is back in the lineup, but I think they still struggle to slow down the Bengals. Each team makes some big plays and it comes down to the Atlanta offense. Check out DW’s breakdown of the Atlanta offense vs. Cincinnati defense here.