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Bengal defense aims to slow down Ryan, Falcons
Both teams coming off opening victories for today's matchup in Cincy
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) sprints downfield during last Sunday's opening win over New Orleans at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. - photo by John Bazemore

Falcons at Bengals

When: 1 p.m. Sunday

Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati


CINCINNATI — Aaron Rodgers. Tom Brady. Matthew Stafford. Andrew Luck. Philip Rivers. Joe Flacco. Ben Roethlisberger.

Cincinnati stopped all of them last season on the way to an AFC North title.

So, Matt Ryan coming off the best performance of his career? Not so daunting. The Bengals are sizing him up to be next on the list of quarterbacks gone bad in Cincinnati.

"You do not see many mistakes by their defense," Ryan said.

And not many by their offense so far, either.

The Bengals (1-0) are coming off one of the most impressive opening wins in their history, a 23-16 win in Baltimore that ended with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green connecting for a 77-yard touchdown and the defense sacking Flacco twice to end it.

"This group is so young, we get a little better every time we go out," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "And I think that was a testament to that. We continue to overstep each hurdle that people say we can't."

A win over the Falcons (1-0) at Paul Brown Stadium would stamp them as one of the NFL's top teams out of the gate. They haven't opened a season 2-0 since 2006. They're trying to reach the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, something they've never done.

The Falcons are trying to get as much as they can out of an offense that's their best hope for a quick turnaround. They went 4-12 last year — their first losing season since 2007 — despite their impressive array of receivers. The offensive line couldn't protect Ryan, the running game finished last in the league, and receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White were hurt.

It came together nicely in the season opener, a 37-34 win over New Orleans in overtime at the Georgia Dome. No better way to get a team thinking the worst is behind it.

"It was a good start for us," Ryan said. "We played pretty good last week. I think we can play better, but it's just a start."

Things to watch in their matchup on Sunday:

RYAN EXPRESS: Ryan became the Falcons' career leader in touchdown passes (156) while throwing for a club-record 448 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. The Falcons piled up a club-record 568 yards. Now, they face a defense that ranked No. 3 in the league last season in yards allowed and has that proven knack for containing top quarterbacks.

"This is a good one coming to town," Bengals linebacker Vincent Rey said. "When you're playing the really good ones, you've got to get to them because they can just sit there and pick you apart."

DON'T FORGET DALTON: Dalton had a breakthrough game in Baltimore, the scene of some of his worst performances until last week. He completed 25 of 38 for 301 yards with no interceptions, no sacks and the decisive 77-yard touchdown pass to Green. The Bengals have been urging him to avoid the game-changing mistake. So far, he's perfect.

FOUR VS SIX: One of the game's most intriguing matchups comes at receiver. Green was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft out of Georgia. Atlanta traded up to get Jones with the sixth pick out of Alabama. Green has gotten more chances in Cincinnati, where he's the prime target, while Jones has blended into a high-powered offense. Both had big opening games. Green caught six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown. Jones caught seven passes for 116 yards.

THOSE FALCONS RUNNING BACKS: Atlanta is taking an uncommon approach to fixing that last-in-the-league running game. The Falcons used four running backs against the Saints, and they combined for 181 yards from scrimmage — 108 rushing on 22 carries, 73 more on four catches. Steven Jackson led with 52 yards on only 12 carries.

"Each guy has earned his carries and his playing time," Jackson said. "That's what training camp is for, to show coaches that you can make things happen when the get the ball. I think each guy did that in camp, and it's carried over into the season."

NO PLACE LIKE HOME: The Bengals went 8-0 at Paul Brown Stadium during the regular season in 2013, only the second time in franchise history that they were perfect at home. A victory on Sunday would give them 10 consecutive home wins during the regular season, matching the club record.

There is one huge asterisk, of course: They lost 27-10 to San Diego in the opening round of the playoffs, leaving them with no postseason wins since the 1990 season.

"Actually we lost the last game here," coach Marvin Lewis said. "You guys reminded me of that a bunch, so I can't believe you forgot that now."

Associated Press Writer George Henry in Flowery Branch contributed to this report.

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