In the NFL, there are important individual matchups that help to decide each and every game. Whether it’s a position group against another position group, an individual against a position group, or an individual against an individual, these matchups can determine winners and losers. Every week throughout the season, I break down at least two matchups for both the Bengals’ offense and defense against their opponents.
Bobby Hart vs. Vic Beasley
Right Tackle Bobby Hart is not fit to be a starting tackle in the NFL. He is barely fit to be a backup. Yet, here were are and Hart is still starting for the Bengals despite miserable performance after miserable performance. Hart hasn’t played quite as bad the last two weeks, but still pretty bad. He has struggled with both power rushers and speed rushers. There isn’t much more to say about Hart, he’s not a very good football player.
The man Hart will be attempting to block is defensive end Vic Beasley. Only two years removed from a league-leading 15.5 sacks, Beasley is back to playing more as a pass rushing end in 2018. Atlanta tried to take him off the ball and use his athleticism last season, but he does his best work rushing the passer from the edge. Speed is his game and he is very good at it. He only has 1 sack this season so far but sacks don’t always tell the full story. Maybe he is still trying to recapture that 2016 magic, but he is still a dangerous threat off the edge for any blocker.
With all of Hart’s struggles in pass protection, he may be in for a long afternoon on Sunday. Keeping quarterback Andy Dalton clean and upright is of the utmost importance for this team. Hart has struggled to contribute to that for the most part this season and should continue to struggle against a player like Beasley. Beasley is so quick off the snap and so good at turning the corner that Hart may not stand a chance. Keep an eye out for Beasley to leave his mark on this game very quickly.
Tyler Eifert vs. Atlanta Linebackers/Safeties
Bengals nation is still awaiting the return of the uber-talented Tyler Eifert we all remember. The impact hasn’t quite been there this season but there are positive signs. Eifert was relatively quiet the first two weeks but came out against the Panthers and made some nice catches. Dalton didn’t seem afraid to go to him as his safety net at times. More importantly, Eifert took some big hits and got right back up. That is what we need to see. Now it is time for him to return to the dominant player he was becoming before injuries ruined the last couple of seasons.
Two of the Falcons’ best defenders are injured and that leaves a huge question mark on defense. Linebacker Deion Jones is on his way to stardom and one of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL. After a foot injury sent him to injured reserve, the linebacking corp looks a lot weaker in pass coverage. Duke Riley and De’Vondre Campbell really need to step up. The team lost their tight end eraser in safety Keanu Neal to a season-ending knee injury in their season opener. Neal had developed into the Falcons own version of former Seahawk Kam Chancellor last season. He excelled in run defense and blanketing tight ends in coverage. Replacement Damontae Kazee has had his flashed but is not near the player Neal is.
If the Falcons had a healthy defense, this wouldn’t be a key matchup because with Jones and Neal on the field Eifert would likely not get many looks. Unfortunately, those up and coming players suffered devastating injuries, which should benefit Eifert and the Bengals. This looks to be the game where Eifert has his best chance to make a comeback statement. With his size and athleticism, look for Eifert to take full advantage of a banged-up Falcons defense.
William Jackson III vs. Julio Jones
Cornerback William Jackson III is among the most talented corners in the league. He had a bit of a coming out party last season with his near shutdown coverage as a rotational player. The expectations have been huge for him this year. Jackson has not been a disappointment but has not quite lived up to the elite status that many expected from him, including me. He has been good, but not dominant. The talent is there to wipe out opposing offenses’ number one wide receivers. That talent needs to be put on display more in 2018.
Do I really need to summarize wide receiver Julio Jones? He might be the most physically dominant players in the NFL. Arguably a top two or three player at his respective position, there is not another wide receiver that can do what he does athletically. For some reason, he struggles in the red zone, however. Quarterback Matt Ryan does not look his way much when they approach the end zone. Even with the end zone struggles for Jones, there is no denying he is one of the best players in the game. The targets may not be there in a loaded offense this season, but Jones will still get his looks and destroy whoever happens to be covering him.
This is going to be my favorite matchup to watch in this game. I am interested to see if Jackson shadows Jones or if the Bengals let Kirkpatrick try to cover him too. Kirkpatrick will get embarrassed by Jones so that is why he isn’t part of this key matchup. Jackson has the size, speed, and elite quickness to make things interesting with Jones. Not many cornerbacks can say that much, I think Jackson will be able to after this game. Jones will get his catches and yards but Jackson should limit the damage.
Bengals Linebackers vs. Tevin Coleman
The Bengals linebackers have been hot garbage for the better part of three weeks now. Nick Vigil still can’t take full advantage of his athleticism and is out of position constantly. Biting on play fakes and misreading plays have been his downfall. Hardy Nickerson has been filling in for starter Preston Brown in the middle and thank goodness Brown is set to play against the Falcons. Brown is bigger, stronger, and much more instinctual than Nickerson. Jordan Evans has been the least terrible of the three in my opinion. He has not been very good but has not been outright bad like Vigil and Nickerson. This group desperately needs Brown and suspended Vontaze Burfict to be on the field together.
Running back Tevin Coleman has been filling in for Devonta Freeman since his injury. Freeman is one of the best running backs in the NFL but Coleman is no slouch himself. With starting level talent, Coleman has the size and speed to make most defenses look foolish. The most dangerous aspect of Coleman’s game may be his pass catching ability. He runs crisp routes and has very good hands for a running back. He is so explosive after the catch that he is a threat to take any catch or handoff the distance.
The Cincinnati linebacking corp needs to keep Coleman contained. The vaunted Falcons passing attack is going to do some damage no matter what. The Bengals can’t let it become much more dangerous by allowing Coleman to contribute. If Brown can lock it down between the tackles and Vigil and Evans can help contain Coleman as a pass catcher, that is one less thing for the defense to worry about. The Bengals need to be able to keep their safeties back out of the box to help stop Jones and emerging rookie Calvin Ridley.