Atlanta continues their preseason slate, this time going up against the Bengals of Cincinnati. Both teams have suffered injuries to their starters.
Atlanta will be without Akeem Dent after a concussion and the Bengals starting guard, Travelle Wharton, is out for the year after a knee injury. After missing the last preseason game Harry Douglas will suit up for the first time this year.
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The Atlanta offense will try to stay in stride after going against a tough but somewhat depleted Ravens defense. They aren't getting any easy lunches against a deep Cincinnati defense either. Even though the Bengals will be without star pass rusher Carlos Dunlap and MLB Rey Maualuga, the Bengals still have a ridiculously deep front seven.
They added rookie DTs Devon Still and Brandon Thompson to a DT corp that already featured Geno Atkins and Domata Peko. Even without Carlos Dunlap the Bengals still have Michael Johnson and Robert Geathers at DE. Atlanta's OL will once again have their work cut out for them on all fronts. The two guys you will want to watch closely on Atlanta's OL are Peter Konz and Joe Hawley, they'll be going against some stiff competition on the second team against highly regarded rookies Devon Still and Brandon Thompson.
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When looking at Peter Konz the important thing to note is that he is now playing RG, a position that he is new to, but so far he has fared well. Konz will likely be going against Devon Still, who makes his living off his power and usuage of his hands. In this game it will be important to watch how Konz anchors against Still, how he absorbs the initial punch of the powerful Still, and if he can keep Still out of the running lanes. If Konz struggles anchoring against Still it could be due to Konz not playing with proper leverage. At 6'5 Konz is pretty tall for a guard. Another issue that could leave Konz to being a poor anchor against Still would be leaving his base too wide or too narrow. Konz must also avoid lunging off the line, which would allow Still to utilize his swim move. Konz doesn't struggle in general with any of these aformentioned technical elements, but you should still keep an eye on it.
When you turn your attention to Joe Hawley he'll likely be facing Brandon Thompson. Thompson is a big strong NT whose main strength coming out of college was his ability to eat double teams and stop the run. Hawley has traditionally struggled against NTs in the past. He had issues against B.J. Raji when the Falcons matched up with Packers last year and it is important that Hawley takes the strides to improve his run blocking. When watching Hawley we should watch for three things. Number one is Hawley's leg drive, if he can push Thompson off the line then it will speak well about his future at center in a league that is getting bigger and stronger every year. The second element of Hawley's game is how he redirects defenders in the run game. Hawley isn't going to dominate linemen and knock them completely off the line on every run, so he needs to show that he can redirect DL away from the running lanes and RBs. The third and final thing to watch is how Hawley sets the line, makes adjustments, and points out blitzes. This is a very important aspect of the center's game and having a center that can make these adjustments and notice these blitzes and make the necessary corrections can make a difference between a clean pocket and a long strike for a TD and a strip sack fumble.
When you look at what Atlanta's defense will be going against when they face the Cincy offense the last thing to come to mind is juggernaut. However, the Bengals still have a very dangerous offense with AJ Green and Jermaine Greshman being the main weapons. The Bengals decided to cut ties with long time RB Cedric Benson and brought in BenJarvus Green-Ellis, otherwise known as the Lawfirm. The Lawfirm has been ruled out for this game. The Bengals offensive line is stout especially at the tackle position. Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are both very good blockers in the running game and the Bengals drafted Kevin Zeiter to improve the interior of the line. The main thing to watch here is how the Atlanta OLBs will do rushing the passer and covering Gresham along with stopping the run since Akeem Dent is out. Both Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon had very impressive games against Baltimore. Nicholas in particular made a great play to stop a potential 3rd down conversion when he made a diving PBU while covering Ravens TE Ed Dickson.
While watching Stephen Nicholas the important thing is how he covers Jermaine Gresham. Gresham is a very athletically gifted TE and made several clutch catches last year for the Bengals. Gresham is also a target in the redzone for the Bengals so the pressure will be on Nicholas when he is covering him. It will be important that Nicholas is able to keep up with Gresham as Atlanta has to go against another very athletic TE twice a year in Jimmy Graham. The final thing to watch with Nicholas is how he gets penetration into the backfield and takes angles in the running game. Against the Ravens, Nicholas was in the backfield a couple of times and nearly brought Ray Rice down for a loss. If Nicholas can do the same against Cincy it will take that much more of the out of the sting that was the loss of Curtis Lofton.
When we look at Weatherspoon it will be important to watch how Mike Nolan uses him as a pass rusher. The first team defense only played nine total snaps last game and Mike Smith has a designated number of snaps that he would like to see them play in this game. It will be adamant that we keep our eyes on Weatherspoon when its time to get after the QB. Spoon was one of the most efficient blitzing LBs last year in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, the problem was he wasn't utilized enough in the role. Spoon has great speed and quickness that gives him an edge on most OTs in the league. If Spoon can continue to generate pressure while blitzing then it adds another dimension to the Atlanta defense that looked stifling when they played the Ravens. It will also be important to watch Spoon in pass coverage against Gresham for the same reasons as Nicholas. If the Atlanta OLBs can handle athletic TEs like Gresham one on one then it will give them much more flexibility in the back seven.
Get more great Atlanta Falcons analysis over at The Grits Blitz.