Falcons vs Bengals: Breaking Down Cincy’s Offense


An NFC vs AFC matchup at the Jungle this time with the Falcons and Bengals setting their sights on a 2-0 record. The two teams are coming off tough divisional wins where the Falcons toppled the Saints 37-34 in OT while the Bengals held off the Ravens 23-16. In the past 5 regular season home games, the Bengals have averaged an outstanding 42 points per game. Extend that for the entire 2013 season at home and it was a very healthy 33 points per game. When you look at the offensive firepower at disposal with the support from a very solid offensive line and the red rifle Andy Dalton, it becomes less of a shock of the team’s offensive prowess.

Scheme and Philosophy

The Bengals come into the season with new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson who ran an interesting gameplan week 1, featuring a good deal of read option and wide formations spreading out the field. Jackson is a well-known believer in the run game but the Bengals only got 18 rush attempts from their running backs as opposed to 38 pass attempts from Dalton. This is probably due to the perceived weakness in the Ravens secondary, and the overall slowness of the team. I expect the run/pass ratio to be more equal this Sunday.

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In the aforementioned plays, there appeared to be multiple options for Dalton. One side of the field might be running a screen, the other side could be running a quick-hitting throw such as a slant or speed out, and the running back and the offensive line were running the play as if it was a read option. That gives Dalton 4 options for what he decides is best. Screen, quick throw, handoff to RB or QB keeper. These plays don’t look too dissimilar from trailblazer Chip Kelly’s scheme.

I didn’t jot down what the Bengals did play-by-play but it became apparent to me that they were overly conservative on 3rd down. Too many times they were deploying a screen or settling for a dumpoff. Rarely did they look to push the ball downfield and as a result, the Bengals went only 4/14 on 3rd down conversions. With this live-to-fight-another-day mantra, it looked like head coach Marvin Lewis was very trusting in his defense and more concerned about the field position battle.


The Bengals offense is led by Andy Dalton who has had his fair share of criticism, mostly for the team’s playoff failures. Nevertheless, he is a good quarterback but his main problem is consistency. He is capable of having some excellent games but also capable of having some poor ones. It is the poor games he must eliminate to be considered as one of the top quarterbacks in this league .

He isn’t the most talented quarterback around, not possessing outstanding arm strength or accuracy. He isn’t the most skilled quarterback either, as his high INT numbers (36 in the last 2 seasons) indicate less than stellar decision making. Talent is something he is unlikely to improve but the mental area of the position is something he can continue to get better at. Other quarterbacks with average arm strength like Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers are still dominating the league, thanks to being exceptionally skilled.

Dalton is good at a lot of stuff but not great at much. A classic “jack of all trades, master of none” example. As to how it relates to the Falcons game, I don’t see a clear weakness of his we can try to exploit. He’s smart enough pre-snap to find the single covered receiver and will take his chances deep. I think we will see the promised exotic pressure packages this game. Nolan did mention about being fearful with the blitz vs Brees but he could use it to a greater effect against Dalton who has seen a whole lot less looks in his NFL career. Speeding up Dalton’s internal clock could be key for the Falcons’ opportunistic secondary.

Running Back

He’s blessed with high level lateral agility and can make defenders look foolish on tackle attempts.

The two running backs likely to get significant touches are Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Bernard is someone the Bengals aim to get 20+ touches for. He’s more than adept at catching passes from the backfield and is electric in space. He’s blessed with high level lateral agility and can make defenders look foolish on tackle attempts. He is like a more explosive Jacquizz Rodgers, even to the same faults. Sometimes he tries too much dancing between the tackles rather than sticking his foot down and getting upfield. I think it is his impatience trying to break the big play that’s his biggest weakness right now.

The Bengals have high hopes for 2nd round rookie Jeremy Hill as a complementary power back to beat down defenses and covert short yardage. He didn’t play much against the Ravens but the coaching staff have assured that it’s because they felt Bernard’s talents fit their gameplan better. Hill is a one-cut and go runner that is difficult to bring down. When he makes his cut, he explodes through the line of scrimmage and the Falcons better bring the correct tackling techniques otherwise it spells danger for them. He tends to fall forward which makes things even more problematic. However, he doesn’t create or improvise much when the called run direction isn’t there so it’s imperative the Falcons can disrupt the offensive line blocking and/or beat Hill to the hole. If he can consistently plant that foot in the ground and burst upfield, it’s going to be a long day for the Falcons.


The group is headlined by the ultra talented AJ Green. He can get downfield in a flash and is one of the greatest deep threats around. He has tremendous size, speed, strength, body control and hands which makes him a complete go-to WR. You can count on Green making the tough catch in traffic for a first down or getting the required YAC to move the chains.  He demands safety help over the top and that’s what I’m sure the Falcons will be doing as they look to contain him.

The rest of the wideouts aren’t as dangerous, especially with Marvin Jones sidelined for awhile with a broken foot. Mohamed Sanu is used as a chain mover. He ran some crisp routes against the Ravens and is a dependable target. He isn’t moved very easily and you can bet on him making his cuts in time and being at the right place. He’s not a game breaker but I think he is underappreciated around the league. The other WR that will see time is Brandon Tate who was mostly used as a screen receiver. He shouldn’t cause us a lot of problems.

Tyler Eifert is going to miss the game with a dislocated elbow and the Falcons should be relieved for that. He looked like he was ready to take the next step against the Ravens with a couple of impressive plays before he exited with injury. The Falcons have generally struggled defending the middle of the field and that is an area Eifert would have exploited. But the Falcons linebackers shouldn’t paint the town red yet. Jermaine Gresham is a legitimate threat himself. The former 1st round pick hasn’t lived up to expectations, and that could be because he’s one of the most maddeningly inconsistent players in the league. I don’t exaggerate when I say he can go from Rob Gronkowski one play to Logan Paulsen the next. He is someone to keep an eye out for.

Offensive Line

The offensive line has done a good job keeping Dalton protected over the years. They also benefit from the scheme and Dalton’s quick release, but there are high calibre players including LT Andrew Whitworth and RT Andre Smith. Whitworth is a clean and efficient tackle that handles his assignment almost every play. You may sometimes hear me about not worrying for a particular Falcon’s performance heading into a game because I know he’ll do well. I feel the same way about Whitworth. I don’t think we have anyone that can get the better of him and I’ve already chalked it off as a loss. Hopefully I turn out to be wrong but I’m not holding my breath.  Andre Smith flashes mauling ability as a road-grader and his pass blocking isn’t a joke either. He’s a lot more smoother and agile now than when he first came into the league overweight. He has developed into one of the top right tackles around but is prone to bad days at the office as last year proved when he struggled against Cameron Wake and Elvis Dumervil.

LG Clint Boling and RG Kevin Zeitler are one of the better guards in the league but that speaks more about the standard of guard play than their own ability. Both are similar in that they are steady performers week-by-week, but don’t expect to see them do anything outrageous. They just get by with completing their assignments and not a whole lot more. Boling is susceptible to getting beat by strength whereas Zeitler is usually beat by speed.

The final member is 4th round rookie OC Russell Bodine. He didn’t have the best preseason with struggles most notably in the run game as he was easily controlled and swept aside by defensive lineman. Showing blitz can put a lot of mental stress on the center and that could be our ticket to force mistakes along the offensive line. Bodine is the weakest link on the offense and is a player for Mike Nolan to target.