Falcons vs. Bengals
September 30th, 2018
Line: ATL -6
Saying it lightly, these next couple of weeks are going to be pretty important for the Falcons. They cannot afford to dwell on injuries or use them as excuses as Dan Quinn has stated. Falling into that trap will allow this season to spiral out of control very quickly. Atlanta currently stands at 1-2, last place in the NFC South. Their whole focus needs to be on what’s in front of them, and right now, that’s the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati comes into this one week removed from reality hitting them right in the face. After beginning the year 2-0 with wins over the Colts and Ravens, the Bengals were clobbered by Cam Newton and the Panthers on the road. Carolina ran all over the Cincy defense, that allowed 184 yards on 28 carries to Christian McCaffrey alone. Newton tacked on 36 more yards and two touchdowns in a 31-21 win.
That is where the Falcons should look to make their mark offensively. Cincinnati was able to mask their poor run defense against the Colts and Ravens, two teams with poor offensive lines and no-name running backs. But when facing the likes of Newton and McCaffery, the Bengals looked absolutely hopeless, and the Dirty Birds are going to need that be the case again this week. With the Atlanta defense battling all sorts of injuries, it’s imperative the offense can control the game clock and keep their defense well-rested and in manageable situations.
Now, Atlanta’s run game may be different. For one, they don’t have a 250-pound quarterback that can pull the ball out at any given time and take off. However, they do have a significantly better offensive line that will be looking to enforce their will after a lackluster showing versus the Saints. The Falcons are also hoping to get their Pro-Bowl running back, Devonta Freeman, back from injury. Even though Tevin Coleman is still available, the combination of both these running backs is what makes Atlanta’s running game so deadly.
It goes without saying the Falcons are going to need another A+ performance out of Matt Ryan. The former MVP has nine total touchdowns (7 through the air, 2 on the ground) over the last two weeks, yet the Falcons only have a point differential of +1 over that span. That is how bad the defense has been without several key pieces. Luckily, the Bengals defense has not been much better, allowing at least 23 points to every opponent thus far. With the way Steve Sarkisian is feeling it with his play calling, I wouldn’t expect anything short of another MVP-type performance from Ryan.
Defensively, it’s a whole different story, as we get our first look at how the Falcons new safety group looks. Damontae Kazee will start at free safety, as a combination of guys, beginning with Jordan Richards will get their shot at the strong safety position. Last week was a mess for the replacements, and the only positive heading into this week, is they are not up against Drew Brees again.
With that being said, the Bengals offense has been no slouch this season. Andy Dalton is averaging close to 300 yards a game through the air and thrown for 8 touchdown passes. Unfortunately for them, they have been without starting running back Joe Mixon. But like Freeman, the Bengals think he could be back as early as this week. That would be yet another weapon for a quarterback that certainly isn’t lacking any.
The Bengals will line up A.J Green outside as their main receiving target. Across from him will be Tyler Boyd, who is putting up nice numbers in his third NFL season. However, the receivers aren’t the players who have given the Falcons fits. It’s been running backs catching the ball out of the backfield, and the Bengals have one of those guys too.
You can bet Giovani Bernard will be a focal point of Cincinnati’s game plan. They are well aware of McCaffrey and Kamara combining for nearly 30 receptions the last two weeks against Atlanta. The Falcons have to be actively working on adjustments to fix this problem, but until they show a way to stop it, every team will be trying to get their athletes in space and force Atlanta to make a tackle.
Even with all the injuries, the Dirty Birds are a better football team and playing at home. Don’t be surprised if this is a double-digit game by halftime, but like they Falcons always do, they will find a way to make it interesting. Late in the third quarter, Atlanta will sag off in zone coverage, allowing the Bengals to work their way back into the game. And of course, it will come down to the final possession, where the Falcons defense makes a stop in the final two minutes.
Falcons 30, Bengals 23