Week 2 in the NFL is filled with good matchups and the Bengals vs Falcons may be the best of those matchups. With two high-powered offenses, this should be an entertaining game and has the potential to be a shootout that comes down to the last possession.
So, here is what to look for during Cincinnati's home opener...
When the Falcons Run the Ball:
Falcons Running Attack: 14th -123.0 YPG
Bengals Run Defense: 13th - 94.0 YPG
At 31 years old with a lot of yards, carries and injuries built up, Steven Jackson is no longer the dominant rusher he once was, but he is still a solid option for 10-15 carries a game. Combined with some younger speed guys like Rogers, Smith and Freeman (10 rushes for 56 yards in week 1), the Falcons should have a respectable running game so long as the line does their part. However, the Bengals defense is not a favorable matchup for the Falcons run game. With one of the better defensive lines in the NFL and arguably the best LB in the game, the Bengals are tough to run against. The Ravens had little success running the ball against the Bengals until Burfict left with a concussion. Burfict looks to be back this week, meaning the Falcons may have a difficult time running the ball and will need to rely on Ryan's arm.
When the Falcons Throw the Ball:
Falcons Passing Attack: 1st - 445.0 YPG
Bengals Pass Defense: 26th - 329.0 YPG
The passing game is the Falcons bread and butter and they have a collection of receivers and receiving backs that can, and will, cause issues for any defense. After injuries depleted his receiving corps in 2013, Matt Ryan has all his guys back and healthy and it showed. In week 1, Ryan torched the Saints for 448 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs on 31/43 passing. They Falcons will go 4 deep at the receiver position and will cause matchup issues for the Bengals with Jones, White, Douglas and Hester. Julio Jones is one of the best receivers in the game and the Bengals do not have a CB that can matchup one-on-one with him, so look for Jones to be doubled all day. That leaves White, Douglas and Hester in single coverage and all three are good enough to take advantage of single coverage. White, Douglas and Hester combined for 16 receptions for 240 yards and 1 TD in week one. The Falcons also have 4 RBs that can catch the ball out of the backfield which will keep the Bengals LBs busy. The one weakness in the Falcons passing attack is the lack of a great TE. For the Bengals, the key will be pressure on Ryan. The Bengals CBs will be outmatched by the Falcons receivers, but they can mask the issue by getting pressure on Ryan with their dominant front 7. While the Falcons O-Line played better than expected in week 1 (1 sack), this is not a upper echelon line and they will be without their starting LT, 1st round pick Jake Matthews. Look for the Bengals to bring a lot of pressure on Ryan to force him to get rid of the ball sooner than he would like. If the Bengals cannot get to Ryan, I am concerned for the Bengals secondary.
When the Bengals Run the Ball:
Bengals Running Attack: 24th -79.0 YPG
Falcons Run Defense: 24th -139.0 YPG
The Bengals were not impressive running the football in week one, but the Ravens have a very good front seven and few teams will find success running the ball against Baltimore. That is not the case with Atlanta. The Saints, not known for an impressive running attack, gashed the Falcons for 139 yards on 28 carries (5.0 YPC). The Bengals will look to run the ball a lot and control the clock and keep the Falcons high powered offense off the field. Hue Jackson said earlier in the week that rookie Jeremy Hill will get more touches and I agree. With a porous Falcons run defense, look for the Bengals to give Hill 15-20 touches to wear the defense down and use Bernard more in the passing game in an effort to get the Falcons LBs in space and help fill the void of Jones and Eifert. If the Bengals commit to the run, the Falcons defense will struggle slowing them down.
When the Bengals Throw the Ball:
Bengals Passing Attack: 6th - 301.0 YPG
Falcons Pass Defense: 27th - 333.0 YPG
The injuries to Jones and EIfert certainly weaken the Bengals passing game, but look for the Bengals to use Bernard more in the passing game until one or both return. Bernard is a matchup nightmare and can help take some of the defense's focus off AJ Green. With Bernard splitting out wide, the will open up running lanes for Hill and open up the middle of the field for Sanu and Sanzenbacher. The Bengals will attack the Falcons with their running game in an effort to pull the defense in and then take some strikes downfield. The Falcons were one of just 2 teams to not have a sack in week one. The other? The Ravens - who played the Bengals. The Bengals line should be able to provide Dalton plenty of time in the pocket and I expect Dalton to capitalize by putting together another efficient day at the office.
Kickoff Returns: Falcons -17th (21.0 avg); Bengals - n/a (0.0 avg)
Punt Returns: Falcons - 25th (1.0 avg); Bengals - 1st (45.0 avg)
Kickers: Matt Bryant 3/3 (100.0%; t-1st) Long 52
Nugent - 5/6 (1 blocked; 83.3%; t-21st) Long 49
Punters: Falcons - Net 52.3 - 1st; Bengals - Net 37.3 25th; Punts inside the 20: Falcons t-28th (0); Bengals t-3rd (3).
Kick Coverage: Falcons - 32nd (34.0 avg); Bengals 27th (27.0 avg)
Punt Coverage: Falcons - n/a (0.0 avg); Bengals - t-7th (1.0 avg)
Adam Jones says he is a better returner than Devin Hester. I say check Adam Jones for concussion symptoms. While Jones had an impressive 45 yard return in his one attempt in week one, Devin Hester has had a historic career and it arguably the best returner of all time. With the special teams issues the Bengals have shown up to this point, they would be well served kicking away from Hester.
Mike Smith has a playoff victory and Marvin Lewis does not, however, I actually give Lewis the advantage here. Smith has twice been the number one seed in the NFC yet he has only won a game once. Plus, Lewis has managed to build a very well rounded team in his time with the Bengals, something Mike Smith has not done.
Key to the Game:
Turnovers. The Bengals have the better all-around team and have a defense that should at least be able to slow the Falcons offensive attack. But, what they cannot afford is to give the Falcons a few extra possessions. If that happens, they could be in trouble.
The Bengals will slow the Falcons passing attack by putting Matt Ryan under a lot of pressure and the Falcons defense will not be able to contain the Bengals balanced attack.
Bengals 34, Falcons 27