The Bengals, winners of three of their last four, and quarterback Joe Burrow, the NFL’s third best passer in the last month, try to stay hot against the Falcons on a summer-like Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati’s FOX 19) at Paycor Stadium.
The Bengals.com Media Roundtable, which has seen many suns, is repped by scribes who combined have covered at least one Bengals season in the last five decades.
The Cincinnati contingent of The Athletic’s Paul Dehner, Jr., and Local 12 digital sports columnist Richard Skinner both believe the Bengals offense is going to be as sweet as the weather as the good times keep rolling. D. Orlando Ledbetter, a past president of the Pro Football Writers of America who covered plenty of Bengals at The Cincinnati Enquirer from 1985-92, is in his 17th season covering the Falcons for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and says the Atlanta secondary can’t keep pace with Burrow. Melodic Alex Marvez, a talkmaster for Sirius NFL Radio who mastered the Jeff Blake Bengals at the 1990s Dayton Daily News, also believes Burrow’s passing is going to outscore Atlanta’s rushing.
Let’s go around The Table. As always, visitors first.
I think the Bengals’ eighth-ranked passing attack has the advantage against the 28th-ranked pass defense and the Falcons are going to be a little banged up back there with at least one backup and a hobbled starter. Darren Hall will be taking over for Casey Heyward at cornerback and A.J. Terrell is moving pretty gingerly with a thigh injury. Their defense is 30th on third down, but they’ve been able to hide it because the Falcons offense has the fewest three-and-outs in the league. They take a lot of time off the clock.
THE EDGE: With the Falcons secondary being what it is, it’s going to be a rally-up to the ball type defense and I think the Bengals keep Joe Burrow upright against the 31st ranked team in sacks and it turns into a passing game. BENGALS, 31-17
It’s a little bit of a weird matchup to try and predict because there’s just no real history between these two teams. Both started 0-2 and are playing much better. But I feel like the Bengals match up better with the Falcons for what Atlanta’s strengths are. I don’t think the Falcons have a dominant force on the outside and do it by blitzing. I feel the Bengals’ strength of their offensive line is in the interior, although rookie left guard Cordell Volson is going to have a trial by fire, if you will, with Grady Jarrett there for the Falcons, so I think that is something to monitor.
I also think the Bengals are good against the run even without middle linebacker Logan Wilson. They are thin on the line without nose tackles. D.J. Reader and Josh Tupou, which has me concerned, but fundamentally I think they can keep the Falcons running game in check. When Atlanta is forced to pass, this is where they really struggle.
I feel like Joe Burrow can put up points on this team. Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell has had a really rough season so far. I feel like there are going to be some plays made in the passing game. The Bengals are getting better each week. You see it. It’s slow. It’s not like they just picked up from the end of last season, but I do think this is a significantly better team than when they started in week one.
THE EDGE: From an X and O standpoint, the Bengals match up better. I think they can do enough things offensively to pull out a hard-fought game. BENGALS, 23-20.
Let’s put the over-under on the Falcons rushing yards at 145. If it’s under, the Bengals win. If they’re over, it’s in jeopardy, right? To me, it’s a matter of playing from ahead, containing their run game a little bit. If you do that, then you like your chances. Then it becomes a game of Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota vs. Burrow. Not many teams have been able to do that. Atlanta has been really good. I know everybody has their opinions before the season that is supposed to shape things, but they’ve been good.
I think it’s going to be a really close game. I think they get the Bengals at a good time. When their run defense is reeling a little bit and they’re missing Reader and Tupou and you have questions there. It’s going to be a slugfest. Very similar to New Orleans. The offense probably has to go win you a game.
THE EDGE: I think Atlanta moves the ball a little bit, runs it fairly effectively. But the Bengals red zone defense has been the secret weapon. And the red zone offense, outside the Baltimore problems, has kind of been the difference in games. I think it is again this week. BENGALS, 27-23.
Looking at it on paper, it’s a dangerous game just because of Atlanta’s success running the ball. But in a vacuum, I think they can get through this game. Akeem Davis-Gaither will play fine at linebacker. He’s no Logan Wilson and certainly missing DJ, and Tupou hurts, but I think you can get through this game defensively.
I think the Bengals found something on offense and that’s the thing. They may not completely shut down Atlanta, but I think they get enough stops for the Bengals offense, which has found its stride a little bit with RPOs and their shotguns and the run out of shotguns. I think this offense probably generates somewhere close to 30 points and I just don’t think Atlanta can get there.
The Bengals have been playing with fire when they keep playing from behind, especially against a running team. They overcame that against New Orleans, thanks to holding them to field goals instead of letting them score touchdowns. But I don’t think you want to play with that fire again, even at home. Get the lead, make Atlanta do what it doesn’t want to do and throw it all over the place. They’ve thrown for more than 200 yards just twice. They want to get a lead, run it and play defense.
THE EDGE: Atlanta will get its yards on the ground. I just don’t know if it can sustain it enough. The Bengals defense has been so great in the second half, no matter what transpires in the first half I think this defense will come through again. And Atlanta has been getting turnovers while giving up yards on defense. Don’t turn it over and you’re over .500. BENGALS, 30-20
In Joe Burrow’s last 10 regular-season starts, the Bengals are 6-4 and all four losses have come on the final play. In the six wins, three came on fourth-quarter, game-winning drives and another one was won by five points. But this is one game they may not want to make so close.
With the NFL’s third-best run game generating the league’s fewest three-and-outs on top of a plus-two turnover margin, the Falcons don’t give them away. Plus, Pro Bowl kicker Younghoe Koo has made 90.7 percent of his field goals in four seasons as a Falcon he has led the NFL with most field goals. And he’s made three from 50 yards this season.
So, they’ll make it tough if the Bengals do what they did last Sunday in New Orleans and fall behind by ten points while giving up 228 yards rushing.
But while the Bengals run defense is dented without their top two nose tackles and middle linebacker, the numbers tilt heavily toward Burrow against a struggling Atlanta pass rush with the NFL’s second fewest sacks and a secondary allowing the second most passing yards on the 10th most net yards per pass.
Burrow has a 110.0 passer rating since the third week for third best in the league. Not only that, according to Next Gen Stats, Burrow is in the top three in quick passing and quick passing touchdowns while the Falcons are next-to-last in allowing touchdowns on quick passes and have allowed the second hIghest passer rating against quick passes.
It’s the first time Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase has matched up against Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell since he beat him for a national title game record 221 yards in LSU’s win over Clemson. Don’t look for another one-on-one matchup. Not according to Next Gen Stats that have Burrow throwing eight TDs and no interceptions against man coverage and Terrell already allowing more receiving yards and touchdowns in coverage in 2022 than in 2021. Pro Football Focus has Terrell giving up seven touchdowns in primary coverage for most in the NFL this season. Terrell’s nagging thigh injury may explain a lot of that.
So it may be sunny in the high 70s, but no doubt it’s going to be cloudy in Chase’s world of coverages. A prime candidate to get those yards when Burrow is looking elsewhere is former Falcons tight end Hayden Hurst, who already has one touchdown against a former team this season.
It would seem the matchup and the perfect weather points to putting Burrow in a greenhouse of yards.