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.
Gerald McCoy in stripes makes plenty of sense
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved on from star defensive tackle Gerald McCoy earlier this week after failing to find a suitable trade partner for his $13 million salary and the Cincinnati Bengals have taken notice.
— Dianna (@diannaESPN) May 22, 2019
As for Gerald McCoy and the Bengals — @diannaESPN was first on Marvin's departure, Burfict's release, and then Webb and Dennard's signings.
— JG (@JoeGoodberry) May 22, 2019
Russini is clearly qualified and plugged in when it comes to breaking Bengals related news and this seems like a step in the right direction for fans who want this “New Dey” for the Bengals to start going after top tier talent with minimal long term risk. It’s clear that no team around the league wanted to give up draft picks while taking on McCoy at such a high cap number.
The Bengals should roll the dice here and take a calculated chance on a guy like McCoy who could turn this entire defense into the group most Bengals fans had high expectations for last season but ultimately finished as a bottom-three unit. McCoy and Geno Atkins would make up arguably the best interior line combination in the league. One that would rival the duo of Ndamokung Suh and Aaron Donald that the Rams rode to the Super Bowl.
After missing the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2012 last season, McCoy still notched six sacks and more importantly a team-high 21 pressures for the Buccaneers. Over his highly productive career, the former Oklahoma Sooner has tallied 393 pressures, good for sixth among interior linemen since 2010. McCoy is a stud who was the best defensive player on his team and a wrecker who has never been surrounded by much talent in the trenches.
Despite a rough year across the board for this Bengals defense, Atkins clearly showed he is still at the top of his game after tallying double-digit sacks for the first time since 2010 and creating 64 pressures, which ranked fourth among all interior linemen. Joe and Jake brought up a great point on Wednesday’s podcast, McCoy would be the best inside partner that Atkins has ever played with and would not only help open up more playmaking opportunities for him but also spell players across the line more rest after it was ravaged by injury in 2018.
The Bengals have roughly $23 million in cap room as we head into the summer months and despite a clear goal of extending Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green, signing McCoy to a one or two year deal worth $10-12 million annually is more than doable. Green already accounts for $15 million against the cap this year and most estimates have his new deal reaching around $18 million per year, while Boyd has gone on record this week with expectations of a deal similar to Sterling Shepard’s four year/$41 million contract.
That leaves Cincinnati with just enough room to sign McCoy to a deal he’d be happy with.
The bottom line is players like this don’t come around very often, and during the Marvin Lewis Era, they were almost never targeted by the front office. McCoy could turn this swiss cheese-defense into a formidable force overnight while helping Bengals fans see the light of a New Dey at Paul Brown Stadium.
The AFC North Power Vacuum
The AB shoe has dropped.
After a drama-filled start to the offseason, Antonio Brown got his wish: A new home and contract in the Bay Area. The Pittsburgh Steelers shipped their disgruntled star to the Oakland Raiders for a pair of third and sixth round picks in this year’s draft.
The Killer-B Era in the Steel City is over.
Le’veon Bell called the organizations bluff last year and sat the entire season after he was offered $14.5 million on another franchise tag. That decision left the Steelers with the fifth most unused cap space in the NFL last season and now the loss of Brown hamstrings them even more. The Steelers must now eat $21 million in dead cap money with Brown in the Silver and Black, ostensibly the largest hit of its kind in league history.
Sweet, sweet music for the rest of the AFC North.
While Pittsburgh holds on to a fading era the other three teams in the division have kickstarted themselves with new coaches, quarterbacks, and in the Cleveland Browns case, both.
Baker Mayfield‘s talents are now fully paired with Freddie Kitchens, the duo led Cleveland to a 5-2 record down the stretch and has injected a breadth of confidence the franchise hasn’t felt since returning to the shores of Lake Erie in 1999. The Lamar Jackson Era is in full swing after the Baltimore Ravens shipped Joe Flacco to Denver for a fourth-round pick. Jackson is a dynamic playmaker but struggled as a passer in year one, despite aerial issues the former Heisman winner notched six wins in seven starts with a 27-24 loss to Kansas City mixed in.
In Cincinnati all of the eggs now lie in the Zac Taylor basket, The entire coaching staff has been overhauled outside of special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons and after 16 seasons of Marvin Lewis, there is tepid optimism surrounding this young coaching staff.
For the first time since Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season, the Steelers don’t seem like the go-to favorite to win the AFC North and stomp on another Marvin Lewis team. Taylor and offensive coordinator Brian Callahan are bringing fresh eyes and concepts to this roster and ideally Bengals fans will experience the 2018 LA Rams Offense: Midwest Edition when they roll into Paul Brown Stadium this Fall.
On the defensive side things can’t get much worse than last season with new coordinator Lou Anarumo taking the reins of a unit that ranked 32nd in total defense (413.6 yards allowed per game), 32nd against the pass (275.9 per game), 30th in points allowed (28.4 per game) and 29th against the run (137.8 yards per game).
Meanwhile, many of the draft experts have the Bengals selecting do-it-all LSU linebacker Devin White with the 11th pick. A massive value at that spot, White is as durable a player you’ll find at the linebacker position and is graded by Scouts Inc. as the fourth best prospect available in April. He would be a welcome addition to a defense that was the worst in the NFL defending tight ends last season.
A New Dey has arrived not only in Cincinnati but throughout the rest of the AFC North and with the Killer-B’s done in Pittsburgh the Bengals have their chance to fill the power void.
The Bengals fans guide to Super Bowl LIII
It’s been 30 years since the Cincinnati Bengals last played in a Super Bowl. A heartbreaking 20-16 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was the Bengals most recent shot at glory, and while Sunday’s matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams showcases how far Cincinnati is to breaking that drought, there are plenty of things for Bengals fans to focus on inside of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Keep an Eye on the Incoming Head Coach
Zac Taylor is taking the reins from Marvin Lewis in what will be the first head coaching change since I started watching Bengals games during that magical 2005 season. The 35-year old Rams QB coach joins six other “young, offensive-minded” hires from this years coaching carousel. For Bengals fans, they are hoping he’s a cut above the rest, despite being the last to ink a deal. Bengals faithful should pay close attention any and every time the CBS production crew decides to show him in action on Sunday.
This is the biggest game Taylor has been a part of since entering the NFL coaching ranks with the Dolphins back in 2012 and it will be really interesting to see him handle a moment all Bengals fans hope he can relive sooner rather than later in Cincinnati. No one on the outside of the Rams organization really knows how involved Taylor is with setting up the gameplan, but he has clearly had a very positive effect on Jared Goff since taking over his tutelage in 2017.
How he interacts with Goff in between plays and coaches him through mistakes could go a long way in determining how he will help Andy Dalton (or Ryan Tannehill?) return to his 2015 form. Zac Taylor might not be the most experienced coach getting a chance this year but the results with Goff prove he deserves this opportunity.
Pre-snap and Play-Action
There are still questions as to who will call plays and control the 2019 Bengals offense, but in saying that fans should expect a lot of carryover from this Rams system that has willed their way to Atlanta with pre-snap communication and play-action passing. It’s no secret that Goff and Rams head coach Sean McVay communicate right up to the 15-second cutoff during every play.
McVay can read the defense, then call something to match their formation and he often times uses motion to accomplish that. Former Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor was allergic to this kind of communication and the offense ranked 32nd and 26th in his two seasons because of it. Expect Taylor to have his voice in the Red Rifle’s ear plenty on Sundays.
In terms of play-action passing the Rams used these plays as the cornerstone of their offense, calling them 34 percent of the time with devastating effect. LA’s 9.0 yards per play on these calls ranked third in the NFL and they averaged 1.9 yards per play more than regular calls. On the flip side, Cincinnati ranked 13th in the league calling play-action on 24 percent for 1.5 yards per play more than all other calls. It’s not rocket science, play-action works wonders in today’s NFL and Taylor is expected to bring that mindset with him to the Queen City.
Todd Gurley: The Receiver
Player A: 55 targets, 43 receptions, 296 yards, 6.9 yards per catch, 1 TD
Player B: 81 targets, 59 receptions, 580 yards, 9.8 yards per catch, 4 TD
Yes, I know Joe Mixon had a stellar year running the ball (1,168 yards, 4.9 yards per carry) but he was totally mismanaged in the passing game and his Player A numbers reflect that. Player B, well I’d say he was used correctly and will continue to be used that way on Sunday. Despite his two costly drops in the NFC Championship Game, Todd Gurley is still one of the best receiving backs in the NFL.
A big reason why he’s so productive is the way LA puts him in an ideal position to make big plays, whether it’s a wheel route down the sideline or a throwback screen off of…. play action, this coaching staff does all they can to help him gash defenses. So far in Mixon’s career, I’ve barely seen any of that, it’s similar to putting a governor on a 66′ Cobra. Keep an eye on how the Rams use Gurley’s receiving skills to their advantage and imagine Mixon on the other end of those throws.
This One’s For Whit
Every Bengals fan should be rooting for the new head coach to bring a Super Bowl winning pedigree with him to his new digs in Cincinnati, but if that wasn’t enough, we should all be rooting for Andrew Whitworth.
Likely on his way to back-to-back All-Pro selections Whitworth is one of the best players to ever play the tackle position and was a consummate professional during his 11-year stint in a Bengals uniform. He notched his first playoff win 13 years into his career and why not knock down all of the playoff milestones in one run. I know who I’m rooting for come Super Bowl Sunday.
Enjoy the holiday.