I think it’s about time that we give long time defensive coordinator Dean Pees loads of credit for how this defense has performed up to this point. All defenses in the league give up yards and points on any given Sunday, but what’s most important for teams in the NFL is in-game adjustments.
The 49er offense, with Kyle Shanahan as the play caller, tied the game at 14-all with approximately seven minutes left in the second quarter. They didn’t score again. The fact that this defense has found ways to keep this team in games when the offense isn’t performing well (not many instances of that up to this point, to be fair ) is something I haven’t witnessed in years.
This team had a stack of injuries in the second half, only to keep the pressure on the 49ers and shut the offense down. The tide is turning for this Falcons defense. This coming Sunday, the Falcons face the high octane offense of the Cincinnati Bengals on their home turf.
I’m starting to gain some faith in this defense, but facing the Bengals will be a different challenge altogether. How will the Falcons stack up?
In the trenches
The offensive line for the Bengals was a sore spot last season for them. As a result, they really invested in the position group this past offseason with the addition of free agents Ted Karras, La’El Collins, and Alex Kappa. Given all the different pieces, it normally takes a little time to gain some chemistry and cohesion. While this group is a work in progress, they did well to keep the Saints defensive front at bay this past Sunday, as they put up 30 points against New Orleans on their turf.
In many ways, the Falcons defensive is also a work in progress. Grady Jarrett is the leader, and you can expect greatness from him week in and week out. Ta’Quon Graham is emerging as a budding star alongside Jarrett, but he did end up leaving the game against the 49ers with a knee injury, only to return later in the game. We’ll have to see whether he’s 100% Sunday.
After seeing Abdullah Anderson, I fully understand why he got the starting spot up front. He plays with excellent pad level, has some serious pop in his hands and is freakishly strong. I’m certainly liking what I’m seeing so far for this group, but this will be one of those games where they’ll be tested in a major way, and they can’t afford injuries.
The Skill Positions
This group by the Bengals is certainly a very talented one. They’re built to have an aerial attack that can sink a team in seconds and force opposing offenses to play catch up. Led by quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase, this group is explosive and can put up points in a hurry. It’s going to be a tall order for the defensive backfield of the Falcons to contain them.
The Falcons defensive backfield got a bit banged up against the 49ers this past Sunday. AJ Terrell left with a hamstring injury against the 49ers, but it’s been stated that he was kept out of the game as a precaution. The Falcons placed Casey Hayward on injured reserve Tuesday, which is a major blow to the secondary. Darren Hall is expected to be the next man up in this scenario, and while he played well against the 49ers with the snaps he was given, he’ll definitely be tested against this Bengals passing attack.
While the Falcons defense has shown great resilience and toughness, this Bengals offense is a different monster, especially in the air. You better believe that Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan will test this secondary early and often. Seeing Burrow in shotgun formation should be the norm against the Falcons, as I expect the Bengals to dare the Falcons to stop their aerial attack.
This will be one of those games that, while I do expect Pees to dial up specific pressure packages as he’s done all season, I don’t expect him to be overly aggressive. This is instead one of those games where the ability to limit the big play will be paramount.
The 49ers had their shots to do exactly that, but there were some crucial drops by their receiving corps. I certainly love what I’ve been seeing from this defense, especially to close out games, but again, they will have their hands completely full against this offense.