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The 5 Bengals to watch against the Falcons

Alex Erickson needs to reaffirm why the Bengals extended him, while Jordan Evans could make a statement before Vontaze Burfict returns.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

You gotta love watching a team’s first game coming off of a loss, because losing streaks in a season that’s only 16 games long can be deadly down the road.

In the case of the Bengals, a losing streak to close out the month of September would negate an impressive 2-0 start and would likely knock them off the AFC North pedestal. To prevent that from happening, a couple veterans and a couple second-year players need to do well in Atlanta to come back home 3-1.

Andy Dalton

For all intents and purposes, the Bengals starting quarterback could be forecasted pretty successfully based on who the Bengals are playing. For so long, we could expect great statistical performances from Dalton when the Bengals were playing teams they haven’t faced in a while, and the opposite for teams they’ve met more recently. Under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, that narrative has seemed to flip on its head.

In years past, Dalton has had ample success against NFC teams because they’re all uncommon. Now, the expectations have been switched, and there is added pressure for him to succeed, especially when it’ll likely be the difference between the Bengals being a comfortable 3-1 and a reserved 2-2.

Looking at more conventional metrics, the Falcons’ pass defense has taken a multitude of hits since the beginning of the season and aren’t the unit they hoped to be as a result. Their defense as a whole is allowing the 10th most points per play, and outside of stud defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, their pass rush hasn’t been otherworldly. Coming off a four-interception game, this can be a nice bounce-back game for Dalton.

Despite the new narrative that’s forming around Dalton, he’ll be counted on to match Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan every drive to keep the Bengals in what looks to be a shootout.

Alex Erickson

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the importance of the kickoff is diminishing in football, but returning kickoffs aren’t the only reason the Bengals signed Erickson to a two-year extension before the start of the regular season.

Erickson has taken back only three kickoffs, which are all of the ones that actually reached the end zone, and has split punt return duties with rookie Darius Phillips. His production in this regard (two returns, eight yards, four fair catches) aren’t too appealing compared to Phillips (two returns, 24 yards, no fair catches).

The third-year player has seen just as little time in the offense as a return man, only logging eight total snaps at receiver with no targets coming his way yet. The Bengals believe in his ability as a slot receiver, he just hasn’t gotten the opportunity yet after signing his new deal. That probably isn’t changing any time soon unless injuries at the receiver position really start to stack up, but all we’re asking for is a spark in the return game. If it doesn’t come soon from Erickson, perhaps putting Phillips back to take them full-time is the appropriate move.

Tyler Eifert

Last Sunday’s game against the Panthers felt like a trip back to a couple years ago when the ball came Eifert’s way. The 6-6 ball magnet hauled in six catches for 74 yards, with usage in the form of slant routes on run-pass options, and contested seam routes down the middle of the field. The best news: he got up after every tackle.

Through three games, head coach Marvin Lewis has kept his word about Eifert not reaching 50 snaps in a game. Eifert’s also been taking the majority of his snaps from the slot instead of a traditional inline alignment. He’s basically a big slot receiver at this point, and last Sunday really showed how good that can be. When will he find the end zone for the first time in two years though? Going against an Atlanta defense playing two backup safeties and without their best coverage linebacker, Deion Jones, gives Eifert a favorable matchup.

Jordan Evans

This will be the final game linebacker Vontaze Burfict will have to miss due to suspension, and starting next week, he’ll take his place at outside linebacker. That all means this is Evans’ last start at Burfict’s position until another opening pops up.

Tackling has been a rough spot for the Bengals linebackers in Burfict’s absence, but this hasn’t been an issue for Evans. His main deficiencies involve getting off blocks and play recognition. Coverage for all Bengals linebackers can be classified as a weakness as well, but this still seems like a scheme issue than anything.

Sunday will surely not be the last time we see Evans on the field for the defense with the way injuries have plagued the linebacking corps thus far. But hopefully, Evans returns to the special teams only brigade following a solid performance against Atlanta’s run game.

William Jackson

While Dre Kirkpatrick has been getting a lot of (deserving) heat to start the season, Jackson has watched him from the other side of the field get targeted nearly twice as much. Jackson’s production in coverage hasn’t exactly been at the all-world level he was at last year, but aside from a few missed tackles, he’s been solid.

Ryan and the Falcons offense will no doubt test Kirkpatrick like the three teams before them did so often, but Jackson is likely to face his toughest matchup yet in wide receiver Julio Jones. After a relatively quiet start for the budding superstar, this game has the makings of a breakout game for him. Conversely, he could be torched multiple times by the All-Pro receiver. We hope it’s the former.

Who are the players you’re watching for this Sunday?