SCOUTING REPORT: Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins could make this another Sunday to forget for the interior of the Saints’ offensive line
While the Saints offensive line has done some good things this season, there’s no question that the interior of the line has struggled against top defensive tackles.
The issues came to light in Week 5 against Tampa Bay when defensive tackle Gerald McCoy beat the Saints line for at least 10 hurries. Then, the next week, Detroit defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley busted through the middle for a combined 10 hurries.
As a whole, the line struggled again last week against San Francisco, allowing pressure on about 40 percent of Drew Brees’ snaps.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins could have the goods to expose those weaknesses this week. As New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said before playing the Bengals last season, Atkins has the strength and technique to make guards look foolish.
“This guy’s got some power rushes where he just takes linemen back, those guards back; it just looks like they’re on roller skates,” Belichick said. “He just walks them, literally, right back into the quarterback.”
Atkins hasn’t been as active as he was a year ago. According to Pro Football Focus, the defensive tackle has only recorded 20 hurries, three quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks. That’s down from a year ago when he had 20 hurries, eight pressures, and six sacks through the first nine games. His year was cut short after he suffered an ACL injury.
Some of the slowness out of the gate is likely a residual effect of his injury, and it can also likely be attributed to a lack of impact by his fellow defensive linemen.
It’s also probably not a good sign for the Saints that 15 of his hurries have come in the past five games.
That means it could be another long day for guards Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs and center Jonathan Goodwin.
If they can hold the fort, Drew Brees should have time to get his passes off.
If not, this could get interesting.
Know your opponent: Bengals WR A.J. Green
With Giovani Bernard fighting injuries, the key for the Saints this week will be to shut down Bengals receiver A.J. Green — a task that could be considerably harder if cornerback Keenan Lewis is unable to play or is slowed at all by his injured left knee.
Green also has battled his own injuries, and his numbers do not paint the picture of a man who is back to full health. In a Nov. 2 game against Jacksonville, he caught three passes for 44 yards. Last week against Cleveland, he caught three passes on 10 targets for 23 yards.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis admitted this week that Green is still trying to get back in the swing of things.
“He’s OK physically; we just have to get him back in sync and back into the swing of things totally. And, obviously, when they miss time like that it’s a difficult thing,” Lewis said. “We just have to get him back and get him going like he was coming out of camp.”
If Keenan Lewis isn’t quite himself, the Saints need to hope that it takes at least another week for Green to once again become Green.
When he’s that player, he’s one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL.
Three and out
1. INGRAM, INGRAM, INGRAM
It could be another big day for Mark Ingram. The New Orleans backfield continues to be ravaged by injuries, meaning Ingram should be in line to receive the bulk of the carries against a run defense that is allowing 143 yards per game.
2. DROPPING DALTON
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is getting rid of the ball in an average of 2.44 seconds, the second-fastest time in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. That means he could be difficult to sack this week.
3. MEACHEM WATCH
Robert Meachem continues to nurse an ankle injury that kept him sidelined for last week’s game against the 49ers. If he cannot play, that could put Nick Toon or Joe Morgan on the field.
OUT: RB Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder), RB Khiry Robinson (forearm), RB Edwin Baker (concussion)
-- Thomas and Robinson are missing their fourth straight game, and Baker is missing his first since being promoted to the active roster Oct. 25.
QUESTIONABLE: WR Robert Meachem (ankle), LB Curtis Lofton (ankle), CB Keenan Lewis (knee)
-- Meachem has missed the past five practices, and it’d be surprising if he played. Lofton and Lewis missed practice Wednesday and Thursday but were upgraded to limited Friday.
PROBABLE: RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), LB David Hawthorne (hand), T Zach Strief (chest)
- Of these, the only one to miss last week’s game with his injury was Hawthorne.
OUT: RB Giovani Bernard (hip/clavicle), LB Vontaze Burfict (knee)
DOUBTFUL: T Andre Smith (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Terence Newman (knee), LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring)
PROBABLE: RB Cedric Peerman (knee), S Taylor Mays (foot), TE Jermaine Gresham (thigh), G/C Mike Pollak (knee), CB Leon Hall (concussion)
Ramon Antonio Vargas: Saints 31, Bengals 17
The last two times the Saints lost this season, they fell to the No. 1 defense (Detroit) and the No. 2 defense (San Francisco) in the NFL. Cincinnati is the No. 20 defense, and it allows the second-most yards on the ground. It’s not a team built to win in New Orleans, which remains a hard place to win despite the 49ers’ overtime victory. Saints win.
Nick Underhill: Saints 28, Bengals 20
The dome dominance is over. The 49ers proved last week that the Saints can be beaten at home. The good news is that the Bengals are not the same caliber of team and have faded since the first month of the season. The smart money is on the Saints this week.
Scott Rabalais: Saints 27, Bengals 17
Is New Orleans the worst good team in the NFL, as evidenced by its four losses of three points or fewer? Or are the Saints the NFL’s best bad team that’s lucky it’s still not in the NFC West? More good fortune: The Bengals are coming to town after a bankrupt offensive performance at Cleveland. Who Dat trumps Who Dey.