Reggie Nelson & Leon Hall, defensive backs
The Falcons are a rare team that uses 4 receiver sets regularly. This comes as a result of having no great receiving tight ends (Levine Toilolo is the starter), perhaps the best 4-deep receiving corps in the league (Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, & Devin Hester), and a quarterback that needs no introduction, Matt Ryan.
According to ESPN's Falcons writer Vaughn McClure, the Falcons used four receiver sets for 19 snaps against the Saints last week. McClure notes that the Falcons averaged 13.8 yards per play on seven first down plays in this formation.
The Bengals rarely go with six defensive backs. They did so on only 16 plays in 2012, and there's no data available on 2013. What they normally do against four receiver sets is bring down Reggie Nelson to play cornerback in the slot. That would mean Nelson and Leon Hall cover the two slot receivers, while Terence Newman and Adam Jones cover the outside receivers.
I could also see the Bengals going to a dime package with Darqueze Dennard covering the other slot receiver since he is now healthy. But then, Guenther would have to take Emmanuel Lamur or a defensive lineman off the field.
Against the Saints, Julio Jones primarily stayed outside, while the other three worked the slot. Roddy White and Harry Douglas combined for 9 catches and 136 yards from the slot. Devin Hester only played 18 snaps, 13 of them in the slot. On those 18 snaps, he was targeted 6 times. That 33% target rate was the highest among all four receivers, so watch out for Hester when he comes onto the field.
However, the Falcons will be starting two backup tackles this week in Gabe Carimi and Lamar Holmes. If the Bengals defensive ends can wreak havoc on the offensive line, the Falcons will have no choice but to leave a tight end in to help with pass protection, thereby preventing four receiver sets.
In any case, the Falcons will heavily utilize three receiver sets. Their three receivers were all on the field for at least 69 of the offense's 75 snaps last week. All five defensive backs will need to cover well this week to slow down Matt Ryan, who is playing at an elite level. If the defensive backs can give Dunlap, Gilberry, Atkins, and Hunt enough time to disrupt Ryan, we could see a vastly different offensive performance from the Falcons than their 37-point showing in week 1.
Mohamed Sanu, wide receiver
Sanu played 93% of the offense's snaps in week 1, and was targeted only five times. All of his targets were on short throws, mostly on screens or comeback routes. His longest catch went for 13 yards. Sanu did make a great leaping catch on the successful two point conversion in the 4th quarter.
Sanu also lined up in the backfield on one occasion, when Hue Jackson called a triple option and Dalton passed on some easy yards to flip it to Sanu.
In week two, I think we see even more Mohamed Sanu in crazy formations. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg in Hue Jackson's unpredictable offense.
Maybe it's a fake screen to Sanu, where he actually ends up throwing deep to Green. Maybe it's Sanu in the wildcat. Maybe it's another option to Sanu out of the backfield. We'll definitely see more of those outside screens. .
Since the Bengals are down two of their top playmakers in Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones, Sanu and Jermaine Gresham are the next two pass catchers that will be called on to make some plays. You can certainly count on Hue Jackson getting solid production out of these two by catering the play calling to their abilities.
Giovani Bernard & Jeremy Hill, running backs
When facing a swiss cheese defense as bad as the Atlanta Falcons unit, one has the luxury of being able to pick how to beat them. In this case, the Bengals will certainly choose to run the ball down their throats.
The Falcons allowed 34 points and 472 yards to the New Orleans Saints last week, and it could have been easily been much worse if not for a forced fumble on Marques Colston in OT and a rare interception of Drew Brees in the red zone.
Not to discredit their turnovers, but the point is- they weren't going to stop the Saints otherwise.
The Falcons allowed 139 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns from the Saints last week. In fact, Atlanta has allowed at least 100 rushing yards in 14 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Don't expect that streak to break against the Bengals.
Last week, against the Ravens' physical front seven, the Bengals game plan was to spread them wide and confuse them with screen passes and zone read plays.
Against the Falcons, it should be to run the ball all over them. This keeps Matt Ryan on the sidelines and provides fewer chances to turn the ball over. Again, the Falcons defense is leaky and opportunistic, while their offense is one of the best in the league. The Saints learned firsthand that the you cannot give extra opportunities to Matt Ryan's offense.
Despite Jeremy Hill's four carry game last week, I think he bursts onto the NFL scene in week two.
Hue Jackson even stated publicly that Jeremy Hill will be playing more than his ten snaps last game. If the Bengals go to a more power-running style against the weak Falcons defense, Hill will could be looking at the 12-15 carries per game that some beat writers had mentioned at the start of the season.
If Hill breaks one long, then both running backs could finish with over 100 all purpose yards and a touchdown. The Bengals may choose to use more two running back sets (with Bernard lined up outside and Hill in the backfield) to get their playmakers on the field.