A reeling Bengals squad heads to Atlanta this Sunday for a 1:00 tilt with the 4-2 Falcons. At 2-3, and coming off consecutive losses to inferior opponents in Cleveland and Tampa Bay, the Bengals are clearly in desperation mode—even if they don’t want to admit it.
After Atlanta, they finish the first half of the season with a very tough Dolphins team and the nemesis from Pittsburgh. Cincy could easily be 2-6 at the turn and out of contention for all intents and purposes.
In short, they need this one. Bad.
The problem is Atlanta is showing better than the Bengals in most statistical categories, and they’re playing at home where Falcons QB Matt Ryan is 15-1. And the Bengals have been playing poorly of late on the road. Add to that the fact that Cincinnati is generally bad coming off a bye, and the Falcons are coming off of an ugly loss and it all adds up to a stacked deck against the striped helmets.
Can they overcome it?
To do so, they’ll need to attack Atlanta’s weaknesses. The Falcons have a thin secondary, especially with CB Dunta Robinson ruled out with a concussion. The Bengals must be able to throw the ball effectively with Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, and Jordan Shipley/Andre Caldwell against that group. Their linebacking corps will be without Sean Witherspoon as well, which should also help TE Jermaine Gresham find openings. But Tampa Bay’s secondary was also supposed to be suspect and Palmer threw 3 picks, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
There’s opportunity here, but Palmer must be more careful with the football. They will continue to push for a ball control offense with Cedric Benson, and if the Falcons attempt to contain the receivers by playing 2-deep coverages, Benson and the offensive line must be able to capitalize. Poor blocking and line-related penalties (holding, false starts) need to be eliminated to allow this to happen. Staying out of 3rd-and-long situations has to be a focus again this week, especially with the Falcons’ talented speed rusher John Abraham. Draws and screen passes may be in this week’s game plan.
On defense, the Bengals must stop Michael Turner, who’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The Falcons will want to pound away at the Bengals defense, which has given up big plays in the run game this season. Gap responsibility and support from the secondary in run defense will be key. When the Falcons throw, they have two excellent weapons in All-World TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Roddy White. CB Leon Hall will likely draw the responsibility of covering White, and this will be a difficult assignment for him. Hall must match White’s physicality and contest him on releases. Gonzalez, however, could absolutely kill a defense like Cincinnati’s that generally does poorly defending tight ends. Chris Crocker and Chinedum Ndukwe will be the ones most likely tasked with keeping up with the ageless superstar.
Matt Ryan will want to rebound from last week’s ugly performance, and at home of a fast Georgia Dome track he will be tough to stop.
The Bengals are as good as the Falcons on paper. On the field, however, they aren’t; at least not right now. But the Bengals are cornered, so I expect them to make a game of it before fading at the end. I see a late touchdown from Ryan to Gonzalez sealing Cincy’s fate.
Atlanta 27, Cincinnati 23
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