This is the second time an Andy Dalton led Bengals team has played the Falcons in a regular season game, as well as first visit for the Bengals inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which happens to be where this year’s Super Bowl will be held.
To get prepped for Sunday’s game, we caught up with David Choate of The Falcoholic to get his thoughts on the inter-conference matchup.
Patrick Judis: Your rookie wide receiver (Calvin Ridley) had a coming out party with three touchdowns last week. Was that a matter of the Saints paying too much attention to Julio Jones or is he already become one of the Falcons’ top targets?
David Choate: Really, it was a combination of both. Calvin Ridley is an unusually gifted route runner for a rookie receiver, and that combined with some slick moves and excellent speed made him hard to cover for a bunch of decent Saints cornerbacks.
But it’s also true that especially early on, the Saints were putting a lot of focus on stopping Julio, and Ridley was able to work against favorable one-on-one matchups. He was still a factor after the Saints started paying more attention to him, though, including a huge pass interference call that came when he was dragged to the two by a pair of defenders on a ball that bounced off his helmet.
I was wary about Ridley’s immediate impact heading into the year, but the last two weeks have shown he can be a huge factor for this passing game on a weekly basis. As long as teams have to account for Julio Jones, he should have his opportunities to eat, and his early rapport with Matt Ryan is encouraging.
PJ: Two weeks in a row Atlanta has allowed a quarterback to throw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns. Do you think they will be able to stop that trend with Andy Dalton coming to town?
DC: If they do, it won’t be by much. Atlanta’s defense is in rough shape right now, with both starting safeties down for the year and star middle linebacker Deion Jones out for several weeks. The Falcons may get their best pass rusher, Takkarist McKinley, back for this one. They are still dealing with a front four that hasn’t applied much pressure, at least one shaky safety option, a diminished group of linebackers and cornerbacks who are great on paper but have had some missed tackles and coverage miscues early on.
This should still be a decent defense, but it’s not a great one, and if Cincinnati is smart enough to attack mismatches with Giovani Bernard and their tight ends against safety Jordan Richards and middle linebacker Duke Riley, they should have no trouble piling up the passing yards.
PJ: Who is an underrated player on either side of the ball that you think isn’t getting enough national attention?
DC: On offense, it’s Ito Smith. The rookie has been insanely impressive over the last two weeks for a fourth round running back who did absolutely nothing in preseason and during the first week. He’s shown excellent hands, shiftiness and speed, parlaying those into consistent yardage against the Panthers and Saints. He has to be accounted for, and teams that underestimate him might find him rumbling through the middle of the defense.
On defense, it’s Damontae Kazee. He’ll be filling in for free safety Ricardo Allen, who went on injured reserve this week, and offers the kind of physicality and playmaking ability at the position that the Falcons are lucky to have in the face of the injuries they’re dealing with. I’m very worried about Richards next to him, but Kazee is a good player who should only get better with more playing time. He just needs to be careful about how he tackles.
PJ: Could you please introduce Bengals fans to the players who will be going against the right side of the offensive line, so they know who will be in Dalton’s face all game.
DC: On the right side, you’ll be facing off against Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett quite a bit. Beasley has been beyond disappointing thus far in 2018, with one sack and very few pressures in three games. He’s always been quick, but his development has stagnated and we keep waiting for him to improve and become the fearsome edge presence the team figured they were drafting in the top ten. Maybe this is the week he gets it going, but I’m wary about that.
Jarrett’s much more of a threat. He’s leading the team in pressures and is a terrific run defender, and he often winds up in the backfield. I’d be worried he’ll be taking Dalton’s lunch a couple of times this game.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game?
DC: At the risk of sounding like a homer, the Falcons should win this. Their defense scraped bottom at week ago, but they’re getting their top pass rusher McKinley back by the sounds of it, and the offense is terrific. At home, where they’ll be capable of hanging 30+ points on the Bengals, I think they pull off something nail-bitingly close like 31-27.
Special thanks to Choate again for taking the time out to answer these questions. You can check out more of his stuff at The Falcoholic.