Houston has first down on Cincinnati’s 44-yard line with 1:19 remaining in the first half. Keep in mind that Thursday was a mix between defensive superiority with a pinch of offensive obscurity, not unlike “pitcher’s duel”. By this point in Cincinnati’s game against Houston, the Texans had already punted on five of their first six possessions and the Bengals matched with four punts, a fumble, and a field goal. It was the kind of night where reasonable third down opportunities were transforming into unrealistic expectations, hoarse booing, and alcoholism.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson, the Michael Jordan of football, planted himself five yards behind center Nick Martin. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins played the three technique alongside the hardest-working rookie, Ryan Glascow, at nose tackle. Defensive end Jordan Willis lined up outside of Atkin’s right shoulder. Their assignment was a standard tackle-end stunt with Willis angling inward as the sacrificial lamb to free Atkins.
Alternatively, Houston did everything wrong to counter.
Texans fullback Jay Prosch chipped Willis before pivoting towards the sidelines. The shove redirected Willis further inside, causing offensive tackle Jai Reid to lose his balance while engaging him. During these scenarios, Reid should have passed Willis off to guard Xavier Su’a-Filo while anticipating a stunt or blitz off the edge. Instead Reid followed Willis, trapping Su’a-Filo inside, leaving Atkins unopposed. It’s important to note that when we say quarterback sack in this context, the accurate translation should be “drive the quarterback through the mantle of planet Earth.”
— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 21, 2017
“We watched that play a couple times,”Dunlap said via Bengals.com. “Then I had to watch it again on Instagram and everything. Deshaun is probably going to see it for the rest of his life. That’s Geno Atkins for you.”
Houston called a timeout, and an excavation team, setting up second-and-21 from their own 45-yard line with 1:08 remaining in the second; several plays later Watson looped, juked, leapt, and sprinted 49 yards for a touchdown, giving the Texans a 10-3 lead (and the eventual win).
Atkins is clearly the brightest star on a team that’s surrounded by dim realities. Not only does he lead the Bengals with three sacks this season, only two players in the NFL (Dallas’ Demarcus Lawrence and Jacksonville’s Calais Campbell have more), Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox is the only other interior defensive lineman in the NFL with two sacks or more.
“He’s playing out of his mind,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said Wednesday via Bengals.com. “I think this is his normal Geno dominant. He’s been dominating since he’s been in the league I don’t want to say it’s any better. But if you need me to so he gets the double teams and chips that would be cool.”
Since entering the league, Atkins has been named to five Pro Bowl squads, with 2010 (rookie season) and 2013 (ACL tear) being the only time he failed to make it; he’s generated double-digit sacks during each season he was named to the First-Team All-Pro team; led, or shared, the sack crown amongst all interior defensive players in four of his seven seasons; has 55 sacks ranks fourth in team history and he enters Sunday with at least a shared sack in six consecutive games, tying defensive end Eddie Edwards (1983), linebacker Reggie Williams (1984), and defensive end Carlos Dunlap (2010) for the longest streak in franchise history.
Last six games played by Geno Atkins: pic.twitter.com/CQZdUh09Zy
— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 19, 2017
“It shows not only his ability, but him being able to do it week after week after week,” head coach Marvin Lewis said Wednesday. “And that’s what we need to have. He’s one of the best players in the league, and he has to continue to put the team on his back all the time in those situations.”
“He’s been unbelievable. It’s hard to believe he could get any better, but he has,” said defensive coordinator Paul Guenther via Bengals.com. “When he gets going and he gets his weight forward, it’s hard to stop. I’ve seen it in practice every day. Hopefully he continues to play like he is because we’re going to need him.”
Cincinnati is facing an identity crisis on offense and their defense is trying to pick up the slack, despite missing a starting cornerback against the Ravens and the absence of Vontaze Burfict, another legitimate playmaker. Andy Dalton is under verbal assault, there’s no clear-cut idea on how to use their three-headed trio of running backs, there’s significant questions and concerns on the offensive line, and their offensive coordinator was just fired.
Yet, through it all, Atkins remains the star, a point of stability, character, and pride in Cincinnati.