Tyler Eifert/Giovani Bernard
I put them together here because these are the problem areas with the Falcons missing Deion Jones and Keanu Neal. It’s been said 1,000 times how bad Atlanta has been at guarding backs out of the backfield. They also have not been great against tight ends, allowing 88 yards to the position last Sunday versus the Saints.
Like New Orleans, the Bengals have a dynamic combination at both positions. Bernard may not be a starting running back, but he’s an elite pass catcher out of the backfield and tough to bring down in space. Tyler Eifert is, without a doubt, one of the most talented tight ends in football. Unfortunately, injuries have slowed down his progression into the elite status of tight ends, but he’s back healthy and could be a huge problem for the Falcons defense this weekend.
Jordan Richards, or whoever gets the majority of snaps at strong safety
This has to be the most intriguing thing for Falcons fans to observe on Sunday. Quinn has stated he will use a combination of players at the strong safety spot starting with Jordan Richards. That doesn’t really give me much confidence, especially since Richards, a former second-round pick of the Patriots, hasn’t been very effective when on the field over his career.
After Richards, Atlanta could turn to Keith Tandy, who was surprisingly cut by the Bucs this offseason. Or perhaps even Kemal Ishmael, a safety turned linebacker that could probably go back to playing some safety. Even starting nickel corner, Brian Poole, has been mentioned in the conversation. I trust Dan Quinn as much as anyone, but there’s a chance this turns out terribly.
Star interior defensive lineman have given Atlanta fits over the last two seasons. That statement is even more factual without Andy Levitre, who is out for the season with torn triceps. Wes Schweitzer has struggled at times as a starter, which can’t happen against a loaded Cincinnati defensive front.
Lining up across from him will be an incredibly underrated superstar, Geno Atkins. There’s no reason Atkins shouldn’t be receiving double teams for the majority of the contest, but he’s gifted with the capability to fight through those and still make a play. Pro Football Focus currently has Atkins rated 89.6 through three weeks. If Atlanta can’t minimize his impact on the game, they could hit the road with a 1-3 record.
I don’t think Poole will be playing much safety unless rookie corner Isaiah Oliver is ready to start. That means he will occupy his typical nickel-corner sport where he will see a lot of Bengals receiver, Tyler Boyd. The third-year receiver is showing signs of turning the corner, recording 15 catches for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first three weeks.
To put it mildly, Poole was not at his best against the Saints, but I like his odds to bounce back this weekend. This is a player who has faced adversity since the day he walked in as an undrafted free agent and overcome all expectations. Now, with so many key losses, Atlanta needs him to become a leader on the defense. I’d bet on him to surprise us some more, and that needs to start on Sunday.
Grady Jarrett said it himself, “We’ve got to stand up” regarding the Falcons decimated defensive core. Jarrett is one of the few remaining leaders on the defense not on injured reserve. He’s also by far the best the Falcons have across the defensive line.
The Bengals o-line has been better this season but is still one of the weaker ones around the league. They are there to be taken advantage of this week. Atlanta got virtually no pressure on Drew Brees a week ago, allowing him to shred the secondary. Somebody on the defensive line has to change that, and with the Falcons possibly missing Takk McKinley again, Grady Jarrett has to be relied on to make some plays.