Everyone who goes into Atlanta should expect a shootout. The Falcon’s high-powered offense combined with their banged-up defense makes for a Big 12-like matchup. Only a team with a defense as bad as the Falcons’ can score at least 36 points in two straight games and lose them both.
If you like defense, look away. Andy Dalton and Matt Ryan combined for nearly 750 passing yards and six touchdowns, while each earning a passer rating well over 100. There were six receivers with over 50 yards and three with over 100. Two-thirds of all third down and fourth down attempts were converted.
Pretty much any way you look at it, it was by far the most offense-heavy game the Bengals have played, and probably will play, all season.
Which leads us to the first thing we learned from the Bengals win over the Falcons:
The pass defense needs help
It is a tall order to ask any defense to cover Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Austin Hooper, and Tevin Coleman out of the backfield. Imagine what this offense will look like once they get Devonta Freeman back.
That being said, Jones and Sanu combined for nearly 300 yards of offense, part of Ryan’s 409-yard passing day. The defensive backs and linebackers couldn’t cover anyone if their lives depended on it.
The other problem with the pass coverage is the turnover margin. In the first two games, the defense forced five turnovers and kept opposing offenses to only 23 points. In the last two weeks, the Bengals defense has forced no turnovers and given up over 30 points in both games. Teryl Austin has been all about takeaways, and his defense is proving that it is much more difficult to win games without them.
The defensive line wins games.
The defensive line proved that the only way to stop Ryan was to sack him.
Geno Atkins sacked Ryan on fourth-and-five in the first quarter, giving the offense a short field and setting up Giovani Bernard’s first touchdown.
Carlos Dunlap sacked Ryan in the red zone on the Falcons’ possession ensuing a blocked punt. The Falcons could have easily scored a touchdown, starting their drive on the eight-yard line. But the Falcons lost two yards on the drive and had to settle for three points instead of six.
Carl Lawson sacked Ryan to force a third-and-goal on the 19-yard line in the fourth quarter. On the ensuing play, Ryan overthrew Hooper in the end zone, making the Falcons settle for three once again.
In a game where both teams combined for nine touchdowns, every stop was important. Instead of ending possessions with touchdowns, the defensive line single-handedly stopped the Falcons from scoring touchdowns three times. In a one-point game, even allowing a touchdown on one of those drives probably would have changed the outcome.
The Bengals’ offense is dangerous
The Falcons probably planned on double-covering Green for most of the game, but that proved to be an ineffective strategy.
First of all, this led to Tyler Boyd being the most targeted receiver in the game. Boyd’s 15 targets and 11 receptions netted him exactly 100 yards, which makes this the second 100-yard game in a row for Boyd. In fact, Dalton connected with Boyd four times in the game-winning drive five times before finding Green for the last score of the game. It’s not that Boyd’s chemistry with Dalton is better than Green’s; the Falcons were doing a better job of covering Green, but Boyd kept getting favorable matchups.
Boyd wasn’t the only beneficiary of Greens’ prowess. Tyler Eifert was left one-on-one against strong safety Brian Poole when the free safety Damontae Kazee was drawn towards Green and Boyd’s side of the field. You never want to leave a defensive back one-on-one against Eifert.
A. J. Green and Tyler Boyd draw the attention of the free safety on the right side, leaving Tyler Eifert wide open on the left side pic.twitter.com/OqZtOtMgNG— Nick Manchester (@NickManchester9) October 1, 2018
Later on, Green and Boyd drew Kazee to their side of the field, leaving the speedster Ross alone against cornerback Isaiah Oliver, who only ran a paltry 4.5 in the 40-yard dash at the combine.
Here, Green and Eifert draw the safety to get John Ross in single coverage pic.twitter.com/jDuu1ECZ9N— Nick Manchester (@NickManchester9) October 1, 2018
The Bengals offense, much like the Falcons, has become too potent for defenses to cover. As long as Dalton takes care of the ball, the Bengals should have no problem putting up points.
John Ross is not busted
A week ago, many were already calling Ross a bust after having only 16 receiving yards and allowing two picks to be thrown when he was targeted. Boyd and Green said after the game that Ross needed some work, but they were sure that he could overcome whatever problems he was facing.
There were also those on Twitter that were clamoring for Ross’ head, calling him a “bust” three games into his second season.
Then Ross torched the Falcon’s secondary for a 39-yard touchdown, exceeding his second-longest catch of the season by 30 yards. He might have had more, too, if he could have played through his injury.
Was Ross going through some issues? Clearly. But was nothing to get worked up over.
Boyd had similar problems at the beginning of last season, yet the Bengals stuck with him, and he is now 11th in the NFL in receiving yards and leading the team in receptions and yards.
Even Chad Johnson had to go through a similar struggle before he could become the Bengals all-time leader in every statistical category.
So, while Ross was struggling, he had the mental toughness to get through it.
He’s not out of the woods yet, and still has to work on his game every single week. But there is a reason the Bengals drafted Ross. Expect more touchdowns out of him as the year goes on.
Joe Mixon is the Bengals’ best cheerleader
The Bengals’ second-year running back was expected to have a huge impact this year, but he has been sidelined for at least two games with a knee injury. Even though he clearly wants to play, he is forced to stand on the sidelines wearing a t-shirt.
It must be killing him to not play, but that hasn’t stopped him from cheering on his team.
On almost every touchdown, the first person to greet the scoring player on the sidelines is Mixon. He helped encourage Dalton while they were waiting for the officials to review and overturn his fumble. He even helped pump up the crowd after the final whistle blew.
Joe Mixon is the Bengals' #1 cheerleader but hopefully back to #1 RB next week. pic.twitter.com/U561l16MqH— Rebecca Toback (@Rebecca_Toback) September 30, 2018
No one was rooting harder for the Bengals last week than Mixon. Hopefully, he will be able to switch out his t-shirt for a jersey and help his team win from the field instead of the sideline.