3 Things to Watch – at Atlanta

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A quick look at the stats and the Bengals and Atlanta Falcons appear mirror images of each other.

Both teams rank in the top 10 in points scored (Bengals 29.7, 6th and Falcons 26.7, 9th) and both rank toward the bottom in total defense (Bengals 394 yards per game, 26th and Falcons 401.7, 27th).

The biggest difference is the records through three games. At 2-1, the Bengals own a share of the AFC North lead with the Baltimore Ravens, while the Falcons at 1-2 are one game back of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers.

It's a critical early season matchup for both teams, especially with the Falcons finishing up a three-game home stand. 

Here are three things to watch:

Secondary Adjustments

Week 3 was a jarring wake-up call, especially for the Bengals defense. Carolina gained 230 yards rushing with Christian McCaffrey racking up a career-high 184 of them. In addition to the gaudy rushing totals, the Panthers went 6 of 13 on third down conversions.

The Bengals defense is last in the league on third down conversions and are allowing the sixth most yards. Those stats have prompted Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to re-calibrate and be accountable for the early shortcomings.

While a lot of the focus this week is improving the run defense, both teams have struggled in pass defense. The Bengals rank 24th in the NFL allowing 270 yards per game, while the Falcons are slightly worse with opponents throwing for 276 yards per game.

Part of the reason for Atlanta's defensive struggles has been injuries in the secondary. Starting safety Ricardo Allen suffered a torn Achilles Week 3 against the Saints, the second safety the Falcons have lost for the season in the first three games after Keanu Neal suffered an ACL tear in Week 1.

The Turnover Game

This is a pretty simple area to follow. This season the Bengals are plus-five in turnover margin in its two victories. Last week, the Bengals were minus-four after four Andy Dalton interceptions.

Contrast that with Atlanta who is currently eighth in turnover differential, but tied for the second fewest turnovers committed with only two Matt Ryan interceptions. 

Creating more turnovers was a huge emphasis in the offseason with the coaching staff and the stats back it up.

The Bengals are 77-19-1 in regular season under head coach Marvin Lewis with a plus (.799 winning percentage), but they are only 18-70-2 with a minus (.211).

"It makes a huge difference," Lewis said. "You see it game after game. You have to possess the football to win. If you possess the football, good things happen. If you turn the ball over to opponents, you have a much harder day."

Red-Zone Threats

The Bengals have come away with points on their last 29 trips to the red zone dating back to last season, the longest current streak in the NFL ahead of New England (25) and Baltimore (21). Cincinnati has scored touchdowns on 21 of those 29 trips.

Part of the team's red zone success is the Bengals successfully utilizing its full complement of offensive weapons. Last week at Carolina, Giovanni Bernard and C.J. Uzomah each scored from the one yard line. Through three games, A.J. Green has two red zone touchdowns, followed by one apiece from Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, John Ross, Bernard and Uzomah.

Boyd has been on fire the past two games with 12 catches for 223 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Six of Boyd's 15 receptions have resulted in gains of 20-plus yards. His big play ability will be a matchup to exploit, especially with Atlanta's secondary ailing.

Game Coverage

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Eastern.

Television: The game will air on CBS. In the Bengals' home region, it will be carried by WKRC-TV (Ch. 12) in Cincinnati, WHIO-TV (Ch. 7) in Dayton and on WKYT-TV (Ch. 27) in Lexington. Broadcasters are Greg Gumbel (play-by-play), Trent Green (analyst), Bruce Arians (analyst) and Melanie Collins (sideline reporter).

Radio: The game will air on the Bengals Radio Network, led by Cincinnati flagship stations WCKY-AM (ESPN 1530) and WEBN-FM (102.7).

Broadcasters are Dan Hoard (play-by-play) and Dave Lapham (analyst). The first half of the game also will be aired by WLW-AM (700), until the station breaks away to broadcast the Cincinnati Reds' season finale.

The game also will air nationally on Compass Media Networks. Broadcasters are Chris Carrino (play-by-play) and Brian Baldinger (analyst).

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