The Bengals return to Paycor Stadium for the first time in three weeks on Sunday for a 1 p.m. matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. The game airs on FOX. Here are five things to watch:
1. Bengals vs. Falcons rushing attack
The Bengals face another tough ground attack against Atlanta. The Falcons this season rank third leaguewide in rushing yards per game (165.2), and don't rely on one bell cow back that Cincinnati can key on. Even with their number one option, Cordarrelle Patterson, on the Reserve/Injured list, the Falcons feature three players who enter Sunday's matchup with 150-plus yards and averaging over four yards per carry. One of which is dual-threat quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has run for 206 yards and three touchdowns.
Atlanta is coming off a 168-yard performance against the 49ers, who entered Week 5 as the NFL's top rushing defense (71.4 yards per game). For the Bengals to improve to 4-3, they will need to keep a potent and balanced Falcons run game in check.
2. Offensive milestones in reach
Quarterback Joe Burrow, wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and halfback Joe Mixon are all within striking distance of yardage milestones on Sunday. Burrow enters the contest with 8,915 passing yards, just 85 shy of 9,000. Should he reach that mark on Sunday in what will be just his 33rd game, he would tie with Matthew Stafford as the fourth-fastest quarterback in NFL history to pass for 9,000 yards. Burrow surpassed 8,000 career yards in Week 3 at the N.Y. Jets, tying for the third-fastest QB to reach that total.
Chase heads into the Atlanta game with 1,930 career receiving yards, 70 shy of 2,000. Sunday will be his 24th career game, giving him the chance to tie as the fourth-fastest receiver ever to reach the 2K mark. A pair of fellow former LSU stars, Odell Beckham Jr. (21 games) and Justin Jefferson (24), are also on that list. Chase this season has three games with 70-plus yards, including a season-high 132-yard performance last week at New Orleans.
Mixon enters Week 7 with 4,911 career rushing yards, 89 shy of 5,000. Though it would require a season-high total to reach that milestone, he has found a rhythm over the past two weeks, averaging 5.6 yards per carry at Baltimore and New Orleans. Mixon would become the fifth player in Bengals history to eclipse 5,000 yards, and would join seven active NFL players who have surpassed the mark.
3. Burrow in third-down groove
The Bengals are converting on third down at a rate of 47.6 percent this season, good for third in the NFL, and much of that can be attributed to the stellar play of Joe Burrow. The third-year quarterback leads the league in third-down completion percentage (73.8) and touchdowns (seven), is second in total completions (45) and third in yards (514), while throwing zero interceptions.
Burrow and the Bengal offense have moved the chains exceptionally well as of late, going a season-best six of 10 on third down last week at New Orleans. This Sunday, Cincinnati faces an Atlanta defense that has allowed 36 total third-down conversions (29th in NFL) at a rate of 46.2 percent (30th).
4. O-Line keeping Joe clean
This week has seen head coach Zac Taylor, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and quarterback Joe Burrow all showering the Bengals offensive line with praise for the unit's strong play in recent games. After Pittsburgh and Dallas recorded seven and six sacks, respectively, in the first two games, Cincinnati has not let an opponent get to Burrow more than three times since.
"Those guys have been playing very well for us the last couple weeks, and they're going to continue to get better and better," Burrow said. "They're meshing as a group. Each individual player has played really well for us. I have all the confidence in the world in those guys."
Atlanta comes in tied for 30th in the NFL with eight sacks this season, with half of those coming in Week 1. The Falcons have not recorded a single sack in their last two games. Cincinnati taking that streak to three games could go a long way towards earning a home win on Sunday.
5. Defense heats up in second half
The Bengals have allowed just 12 points in the third quarter this season and 30 in the second half, compared to 85 first-half points given up. Most impressive, though, is the unit's ability to keep opponents out of the end zone after halftime. Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's group is the only defense in the NFL that has not allowed a second-half touchdown this season, and continuing that trend on Sunday would put Cincinnati in elite company. Since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, only two teams have gone seven straight games without giving up a touchdown in the second half.
In 32 opponent drives the Bengals have faced in the second half this season, they have forced 12 punts, 11 field goal attempts and four turnovers on downs, while netting three fumble recoveries and two interceptions.