As we are aware, the Atlanta Falcons will take on the Cincinnati Bengals in the second week of preseason play tonight in the Georgia Dome. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Jason Marcum, the Editor for Stripe Hype, Fansided’s Bengals blog. I posed a series of questions to him about the matchup tonight between the Falcons and Bengals, and he graciously obliged with answers. Check out the questions below:
Blogging Dirty– The Bengals are a young, up-and-coming team. Do you think the 2012 Draft additions and a year of growth for the other players will be enough to win the ultra-physical AFC North?
Stripe Hype– The Bengals were by far one of the biggest surprises in the entire NFL last season. The rookies came in and matured quickly and played with a poise not seen in teams consummated of so much youth. Of all of their Pro Bowlers, Geno Atkins, Jermaine Gresham, And Dalton, and A.J. Green all had less than two full seasons in the NFL. Its very rare to see a team with so much youth win enough games to go to the playoffs, but the Bengals proved everyone wrong.
With that same core group of players retuning this year, the Bengals should at the very least expect to contend for the AFC North title and be in the hunt until the final weeks of the season. Whether or not they will be able to win the division will depend on if the defense can carry the team and improve their run defense. Late last season, the Bengals were repeatedly gashed up the middle and it ultimately was their demise. They’ve shored up the front seven through the draft with Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, and should be ready to hold up in the physical AFC North.
BD– In our matchup tonight, what matchups will you be focused on the most? Any holes you think the Bengals could expose, or any units/individuals you think the Falcons will consistently beat?
SH– The first matchup I will be looking at is how the Bengals corners do against Roddy White and Julio Jones. Leon Hall and Terrence Newman will be matched up against the two Pro Bowl receivers, and I am very interested to see how they hold up in coverage.
The second matchup I’ll be watching is Asante Samuel and/or Dunta Robinson vs. A.J. Green. Robinson and Samuel are two Pro Bowl caliber corners, and I’m interested to see how Green does against them after failing to make an impact in last weeks’ game, as well as if Atlanta tries to single-cover Green, ort they opt for double-teams.
The third one I’ll be paying attention to is right defensive-end John Abraham vs. left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Whitworth is the Bengals best lineman, and Abraham is arguably the Falcons’ best defensive player. This should be a war in the trenches throughout the game that I am very excited to watch unfold.
BD– We are both biased for our own guys, but between Julio Jones and A.J. Green, who do you think is the better receiver? Will these two players be compared throughout their careers as early 1st round picks?
SH– I believe as of now, its Green by a hair, and that could easily change this season. Green was a more featured offense in the Bengals’ offense last season, while the Falcons had Pro Bowlers Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, and Michael Turner to turn to, so Jones was always the #1 option on offense. I will say I’d draft Jones in a fantasy draft over Green, as I believe Green will face many more double-teams this year, whereas its nearly impossible to double-team Jones with the wealth of other options the Falcons have.
I believe Green’s speed and catch radius is better, while Jones’ size make him a slightly better red-zone target, as well as a better receiver in traffic. The Falcons were also better at utilizing Jones in the run game, as they would line Jones up in the slot or on the wing and run toss sweeps to Jones effectively, and his size and build allow him to hold up better in the run game. I’m very excited to watch these two players tonight, and will enjoy watching their careers progress in the coming years, as I believe they’ll be top-5 receivers eventually in their careers.
BD– How unexpectedly good was Andy Dalton in 2011? Do you think he can continue that success? Can he improve greatly? What do you think his ceiling is?
SH– I believe withDalton’s work ethic, I have no doubt he’s improved significantly over the offseason. The question is will he have enough players around him to allow him to be successful? He lost his #2 and #3 wide receivers, and their replacements are unknown to this point. Journeyman Brandon Tate is currently penciled in as the #2 WR. Armon Binns is also vying for that position, but he has yet to play in a regular season game. Rookie receivers Mohamed Sanu and/or Marvin Jones are competing to occupy one of those spots, but can any of these options be consistent enough to keep other teams from double-teaming Green on a regular basis? The Bengals also have lost one starting offensive lineman in Travelle Wharton, and are starting a rookie in right-guard Kevin Zeitler on the offensive line. Can they be more consistent this year and protectDaltonbetter? Last year Jay Gruden ran a lot of plays that were 3-5 step drops and got the ball out quickly in order to protectDaltonand not overload him with too much. Gruden will undoubtedly open up the playbook more this year. CanDaltonhandle the added responsibilities?
I believe given all of the above,Daltonwill post similar stats as what we saw last season, while slightly cutting down on his interceptions.
I’ve said for awhile that I think Dalton’s ceiling is, surprise surprise: Matt Ryan. I believe their skill sets, strengths(decision-making, poise, ability to make plays out of the pocket), and weaknesses(arm strength, slightly above-average accuracy) are similar, andDalton’s ceiling as an NFL QB will be on the same level as Matt Ryan. I believe his floor is Chad Pennington, a good starter but would never “wow” anybody and whose weak arm strength always limited his teams’ offense.
BD– How do you think Matt Ryan and the passing game will measure up against this Cincinnati defense?
SH– I think the Bengals front-seven will dictate the game and control the Falcons offense. I foresee them stopping the run, while giving up a few big pass-plays while the starters are in. The Falcons won’t go up and down the field in the same manner they did against the Ravens last week. I think the front-four of the Bengals and how much pressure they get will keep Matt Ryan from making enough plays to get more than two scores on the Bengals starting defense, assuming they play most of the first-half.
I definitely respect what Jason had to say, and I will agree with him on just about everything he had to say– save for two. I think the Falcons offensive line, while not outstanding by any means, will be enough to prevent the Bengals defense from getting to Matt Ryan very much. DE Carlos Dunlap will miss this preseason game, so the Falcons will be able to prevent pressure from the other players. Cincinnati’s front seven is pretty strong, but the great push they got last week against the New York Jets was more of an indication that New York’s offensive line was bad than Cincinnati’s defensive front was outstanding. I could be wrong, but those are my observations.
The second is arm strength. I couldn’t argue that Matt Ryan’s arm strength is among the league leaders– that would be foolish. However, he does have the arm to make all of the throws: deep outs, comeback routes, corner routes, 9-routes, everything. His arm strength has progressed annually, and he certainly has the arm to make all the throws. When he was a rookie, the Falcons did the same thing the Bengals did with Dalton last season: allow him to make short to intermediate throws between the numbers. Dalton’s arm isn’t as strong as Ryan’s, but I know he can make all the throws necessary on the field as well. Every year, Dalton will get bigger and stronger, and will be able to more easily make the more challenging throws the offense will require him to. Neither guy has the arm of a Matthew Stafford or a Jay Cutler, but they can make every throw necessary, and are improving. Tom Brady had a very weak arm when he first came into the league. He worked hard to strengthen it, and he is a more complete player because of it. Ryan has been adding arm strength every year, and I am confident Dalton will do the same.
I’d like to thank Jason and Stripe Hype for participating in this short Q&A session. It’s always great to get a view of your team through the eyes of the opposition