Last week, we saw the two best quarterbacks from the 2011 NFL Draft face off against one another in Andy Dalton and Cam Newton.
This week, we get to see the two best receivers from that class play on opposite sides in A.J. Green and Julio Jones. In terms of actual matchups, there’s a plethora to focus in one between the Bengals and Falcons. Here are some of the best.
RB Giovani Bernard vs. LB De’Vondre Campbell
Things haven’t been easy for the Falcons linebacking corps since standout MIKE linebacker Deion Jones went down in Week 1 against the Eagles. They’ve faced running backs Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers and then Alvin Kamara of the Saints in Jones’ absence and allowed a combined 29 catches for 226 yards and 11 first downs.
Admittedly, Bernard isn’t quite at either McCaffery or Kamara’s level as a receiver, and that’s not an indictment on Bernard at all. Regardless, the Falcons have relied mostly on Campbell to matchup with McCaffery and Kamara out of the backfield and he’s been serviceable at best in the role.
Bernard is still going to be the lead back with Joe Mixon unlikely to play for the second straight week, and the Bengals offense can take advantage.
WR Tyler Boyd vs. DB Brian Poole
The Bengals brightest young star at the moment is Boyd, who has put up 24 more receiving yards and the same number of touchdowns in three games as he did all last year. On the other hand, the biggest question mark on the Falcons defense is where Poole will play on Sunday. An admirable talent defending the slot, Poole may end up taking snaps at safety with how banged up the Falcons are at that position.
Outside of Poole, the options behind him are pretty slim, so perhaps Poole will stick where he’s best at when the Falcons are in nickel. When these two face off, it should be a back and forth battle. Bill Lazor has done a great job of getting Boyd in opportune situations over the middle and on corner routes. He has fellow receiver John Ross to thank as well for clearing out space for a good chunk of his yards as well.
Poole is an even match for him in the slot and it should get a lot of attention with Boyd being Andy Dalton’s second favorite target thus far.
NT Andrew Billings vs. C Alex Mack
The Bengals had a scare when their starting nose tackle left last week’s game temporarily. Fortunately, Billings returned to the game and they were only down one defensive tackle in Ryan Glasgow, who will now miss the rest of the year with a torn ACL. Even when Billings was in the game, the Bengals got gashed up the middle in run defense facing a good center in Ryan Kalil.
This week, Billings is going up against another brawler in the run game in Mack, whom the Bengals are somewhat familiar with when Mack played in Cleveland a little while back. There should be an obvious emphasis on improving the run defense after the Panthers ran for over two football fields against them last week.
The Bengals linebackers have an obvious role in that, but the defensive line has to make more impact plays on the line of scrimmage as well. Billings quickly getting off blocks from Mack is going to be a crucial part in that.
CB William Jackson vs. WR Julio Jones
Perhaps the marquee matchup of the game, one of the game’s best pass-catchers in Jones will likely be face to face with one of the best upcoming corners in Jackson sporadically throughout the game.
Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has continually struggled to get Jones the ball in the end zone. But at the very least, he’s deployed him on the line of scrimmage (split-end) in the slot and at flanker (off the line of scrimmage) on both the right and left side of the formation all pretty equally. He’s been targeted more when he has ran routes from the left side of the offense, which is where Jackson always is defending whether it’s zone or man coverage.
When he’s been in pure man-to-man coverage, Jackson hasn’t been picked on that much through three games, especially compared to his counterpart Dre Kirkpatrick. But the Falcons, despite having a plethora of weapons, run through Jones as their No. 1 receiver and he still dominates in target share in the offense. Jackson should have plenty of work in front of him.