In their season opener against the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals undoubtedly had a checklist of items that they wanted to accomplish in order to get an important divisional win. We outlined our own steps toward a victory and it's safe to say that the Bengals did most of what was on that list.
Now, it's on to the home opener against the Atlanta Falcons. They looked scary in Week One, particularly on the offense, where they had a record-setting day. To say that the orange and black will have their hands full with what looks like a resurgent Atlanta squad is an understatement. The team will need to play clean football once again this Sunday because the Falcons can score at the drop of a hat.
Here are our five keys to a Bengals victory against the Falcons.
1) More Jeremy Hill, Please:
Inexplicably, the rookie running back was only on the field for 10 snaps and had four touches against the Ravens. Hill had a 4.8 yards per carry average on those four carries, but the staff opted for a light workload, regardless. It was reported that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson promised Hill more work going forward, but how much remains to be seen.
Obviously, Giovani Bernard is critical to what this team does on offense. His 100-plus total yards from scrimmage on Sunday were a Godsend and the team loves his versatility. However, the team drafted Hill and released BenJarvus Green-Ellis for a reason: they feel that they have made an upgrade at the "power back" position. Using Hill can hog the ball and wear down a somewhat-suspect Atlanta defense. The less that Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Co. are on the field, the better it is for the Bengals.
2) Go Turnover-Less... Again:
Really, this could be a key every week. Some might be fine with simply "winning the turnover battle", but I feel that this is critical this Sunday against this offense. Giving the ball, particularly if it's in a short field, to Ryan and his crew will spell doom for the Bengals' defense. Cincinnati did a great job of playing clean football in a hostile environment last Sunday and they will want to do it again this week.
Turnovers also could take the home crowd out of it and that makes life easier for Atlanta's offense with less noise. Andy Dalton should have a decent day against the Falcons' defense, but playing keep away is the key this week. Maybe just winning the turnover battle will be enough against a less formidable defense than they faced last week, but not turning it over at all almost always guarantees a win in the NFL.
3) Jermaine Gresham, Come On Down:
Wide receiver Marvin Jones likely won't be back until Week Five and now it appears that tight end Tyler Eifert will miss at least a little bit of time with what sounded and looked like a dislocated elbow. Someone besides A.J. Green will need to step up as another big target in the offense--hopefully it's the team's first tight end that they drafted in the first round.
Gresham's 2014 debut was rocky. He had only two catches for 16 yards, but had his patented false start and a dropped pass that would have been a first down. Eifert had a solid start to the game before the injury, racking up three catches for 37 yards. If Eifert is out on Sunday, as many expect him to be, Gresham will need to pick up the slack, big time. Be it in the red zone or converting first downs, the offense will need him in this new, controlled attack.
4) If You Can't Stop Them, Contain Them:
In short, it's asking a lot of the Bengals' defense to shut down the Falcons' wide receivers (I touched on that in my mailbag on Thursday). With five former first round corners and another former first round safety roaming the secondary, there is talent on the back end of Cincinnati's defense.
But, Jones, White and Harry Douglas are talented. They are difficult to cover for a variety of reasons: Douglas works the chains, White will run by a defense and Jones will do both. The Bengals' corners aren't overly huge, but they will need to play bigger than their size, by knocking them at the line and vying for contested catches.
Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has a huge task ahead this week and will need to make sure that the secondary is on their "A Game"--especially with Vontaze Burfict nursing a concussion and Geno Atkins getting his legs back under him after rehabbing all offseason.
5) Better Production On Third Down And In Red Zone:
If there were any areas that brought grimaces to Bengals fans faces against the Ravens, it was their performances in some of the most critical areas on offense. The Bengals were 4/14 (29 percent) on third down conversions and notoriously settled for five field goals against Baltimore, keeping the Ravens hanging around. Sunday could/should/would have been much more lopsided in the Bengals' favor had they been even just a little better in these areas.
They will need to be better against Atlanta. Not scoring points against a team with a potent offense usually isn't a big formula for success. A Gresham with his head on straight in-game and the utilization of Hill could help remedy the issues that plagued them last week. Hopefully the message was received on Sunday that once you have an opponent against the ropes, you have to put them away. Settling for field goals because you didn't convert opportunities won't put the Falcons away. Get each of those numbers near 40-50 percent and now you're talking.
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