Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
The Cincinnati Bengals are a much changed team since last year when they were knocked out of the playoffs by the San Diego Chargers. With new offensive and defensive coordinators in place and only one game into the season it’s impossible to know exactly what to expect when the Falcons take the field with the Bengals Sunday. Despite only having played one game under their new regime the Bengals did give us some clues as to their tendencies in their victory over the Baltimore Ravens and below are my observations of the new look Bengals and the possible gameplan they will employ vs the Falcons.
Cincinnati’s New Look Offense:
Hue Jackson has been promoted from running backs coach to offensive coordinator this year and although he is only one game into his tenure he seems to have rejuvenated the Bengals offence. In Week 1 the Bengals offense was centered around the quick passing game. Jackson gave Andy Dalton a lot of quick read plays that seemed to take a lot of the decision making away from Dalton. For the most part this gameplan worked very well as the Bengals were able to routinely gain easy yards on short passes. The Falcons will have to do a lot better job in the short passing game vs the Bengals than they did vs the Saints if they hope to slow this Bengals offence.
Hue Jackson had Andy Dalton run the read option on occasion vs the Ravens and while he wasn’t overly successful Dalton is definitely athletic enough to be respected as a ball carrier. As we know the Falcons have struggled defending the read option so it wouldn’t be a shock to see Jackson and the Bengals employ the read option again Sunday.
The Bengals didn’t run the ball a whole lot vs the Ravens, perhaps because they were having so much success in the short passing game (which is arguably just an extension of the running game). The Bengals have two young backs in second year man Giovanni Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill, in Week 1 it was Bernard who was given the majority of the snaps. Bernard is an extremely elusive back in space and so the Bengals gameplan often revolves around getting him the ball in situations where he can put his speed and elusiveness to good use. The Falcons need to make sure their tackling is on point Sunday as Bernard is masterful at getting the first tackler to miss. Hill is that prototypical bigger back who can come in and gain those tough yards if necessary. The Falcons will have to be very wary of Bernard Sunday as he is a threat to take it the distance either carrying or catching the ball, any sign of a mismatch will most likely be targeted by Hue Jackson and Andy Dalton.
Tyler Eifert was potentially in for a breakout year this year but he was injured early in the Baltimore game. While this is hugely disappointing for Eifert it is a big bullet dodged for the Falcons as Eifert presents a big match up problem. The Bengals still have Jermaine Gresham at the TE position and while he has seemingly never lived up to his potential Gresham is still capable of making plays due to his huge size and frame.
AJ Green is one of the premiere wide receivers in the game and it should be fascinating watching him and Julio try and out duel each other this week. Before Green caught a 77 yard TD in the 4th quarter the Ravens had done a good job of limiting Green. Like last week with Jimmy Graham it’s impossible to ‘shut down’ players like Green, all the Falcons can do is hope to limit his catches and yards.
As to the gameplan the Falcons employ vs Green it remains to be seen. Desmond Trufant is the obvious option to cover Green as he is the Falcons best corner and Trufant will relish a battle against such an elite player in Green. The Falcons could potentially have Trufant trail Green around the field but this hasn’t really been Nolan’s style during his time in Atlanta. I would expect Nolan to show Green a lot of different coverage’s but I would be surprised if the Falcons chose to leave a corner on an island opposite Green on too many occasions as this is a favorable matchup for the Bengals no matter who is lined up opposite Green.
While for the most part the Bengals offense was impressive in Week 1 they did struggle to score touchdowns. While they were moving the ball very well vs the Ravens the Bengals had a lot of trouble on third down where they only converted 4 of 14 third down opportunities. The Falcons struggled to get off the field on third downs vs the Saints and so this battle could well end up being the key to the game.
Overall the Bengals new look offense made a lot of good impressions as they look like a fun exciting unit that will employ a lot of interesting concepts throughout games, there is no doubt the Falcons will have their hands full Sunday containing this offensive unit.
Bengals D Missing Mike Zimmer?
Paul Guenther is not in an enviable position this year as he has to fill the shoes left by departed defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Zimmer was one of the league’s best defensive coordinators and so it was always going to hurt the Bengals losing such a talented and important personality.
It was hard what to make of the Bengals defense in week 1 as for the most part it was the Ravens ineptitude on offence that killed drives not the Bengals defense. It was only in the second half that we saw the Bengals D really challenged and this is where a few weaknesses began to emerge.
The Bengals defense biggest strength is its defensive line which boats a lot of talent and depth. Carlos Dunlap, Domata Peko and Wallace Gilberry are all very solid starters while Geno Atkins is one of the leagues superstar defensive lineman. The Bengals also have second year man Margus Hunt waiting in the wings. Hunt had a phenomenal preseason and it’s only a matter of time until he starts sacking QB’s on a regular basis. Vs the Ravens the Bengals line struggled to stop the run with any consistency as Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett were able to run for a respectable 87 yards from 17 carries. The line was however much more effective rushing the passer as they routinely got pressure on Joe Flacco.
The Falcons will be without Jake Matthews this week so the Bengals could have a lot of success getting to Matt Ryan as journeyman tackle Gabe Carimi looks poised to start at one of the tackle spots. After Carimi’s outing last week many seem convinced that losing Matthews won’t be such a big loss but the film on Carimi vs the Saints wasn’t pretty. He got beat numerous times and unless the Falcons can get him some help the Bengals talented pass rushers will have a field day.
Vontaze Burfict is the unquestionable leader of the Bengals defense and when he went down in Baltimore the play of the defense suffered hugely. Burfict is the emotional heart of the Bengals team and he is by far the team’s best linebacker both vs the pass and the run. Burfict has good instincts, a relentless motor and he relishes contact. If Burfict is a no go this week then it’s a huge scalp for the Falcons.
Elsewhere at linebacker the Bengals have Rey Maualuga who is a one dimensional run stuffing, tackling machine. Vincent Rey didn’t have his best game vs the Ravens but he is a steady player. The player to keep an eye on is Emmanuel Lamur who at 6’4 240lbs has very nice size and length for the position. If Burfict doesn’t play expect Lamur to be used as the three down linebacker as he has the best coverage ability of any other linebacker.
The Bengals secondary is as solid as they come. At cornerback the Bengals have a lot of depth as they have Leon Hall, Terrence Newman, Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones, Dre Kitzpatrick and the rookie Darqueze Dennard. Leon Hall has arguably been one of the most underrated corners in the league the last few years but he is now coming off his second Achilles injury in the last couple of years so it wouldn’t be a shock if he struggles to ever get back to 100%. Terrence Newman on the other hand is 36 years old and definitely in the twilight of his career.
The Bengals secondary didn’t have its best day vs the Ravens. While they limited Torrey Smith to 3 catches for 50 yards Steve Smith was able to put some early drops behind him and catch 7 balls for 118 yards. Smith beat Pacman Jones for the long touchdown late in the game. The Bengals secondary were also let off a lot of plays as for the first 30 minutes of the game the Ravens receivers were seemingly unable to hang onto the ball.
The Bengals have two if unspectacular safeties in Reggie Nelson and George Iloka. Both players were fairly quiet in Week 1 but it would surprise me if they aren’t tested a lot more during Week 2.
The Bengals are a very good team at home and we should be careful of underrating just how good and talented this team is. With this being said the Bengals have a lot of injuries to a lot of key players, Burfict, Atkins and Green have all missed portions of practice this week and it sounds as though they could all potentially be walking into Sunday’s game less than 100%. The Falcons have one major injury with Jake Matthews being absent but apart from that this team rolls into Cincinnati with a fairly clean bill of health.
From a Falcons point of view the keys to the game on offense will mainly rest with the offensive line. If Gabe Carimi and Co can keep Matt Ryan upright then the Falcons should have some success putting points on the board. Defensively the Falcons will have to find a way to stop this new looks Bengals offense. Hopefully Mike Nolan will dial up a more aggressive gameplan in an effort to get some pressure on Andy Dalton.
Perhaps the biggest thing for the Falcons this week will be their ability to put the euphoria of last week behind them. Often after coming off an emotionally draining victory a team can appear flat and lethargic the next game, especially if that game is on the road. Hopefully for the second week in a row the Falcons can put the doubters to shame and defy the odds.