CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 01: Head Coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens watches his team before the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on January 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
It's officially "Ravens Week" now and the Bengals are less than a calendar week away from a gigantic Monday Night Football showdown against their divisional rivals. There are a lot of historical ties between the two clubs; from Art Modell to Marvin Lewis to, most recently, Bobbie Williams. Though it doesn't have the long history that the Bengals, Browns and Steelers share, it's still a heated rivalry.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh recently spoke to the Cincinnati media in a news conference and showered the team with praise. Aside from giving some love to Williams, the former Bengals offensive guard, he also pointed out two current Bengals as guys that he respects.Predictably, Harbaugh had some nice things to say about left tackle Andrew Whitworth.
"Every time we play them, I tell him, I go up after the game and say, ‘You’re a heck of a player,’ every single time, because it’s the truth," Harbaugh said. "He has just been one of the more dominant left tackles, and he is really underrated. Maybe he is starting to get his due now a little bit. He is a long, big, physical guy. He plays with a real nasty streak. He is tough to get around. He has perfect technique in everything he does. He is just a really good football player."
Unfortunately, Whitworth is in a division where Joe Thomas mans the same position. Thomas is a bit more of a household name, partially due to his high draft stock a few years back. Whitworth also has the misfortune of being in the same conference as former No.1 overall pick, Jake Long, now with the Dolphins. What does this usually mean for Whitworth? A Pro Bowl snub.
One guy who did make the Pro Bowl last season for the Bengals was defensive tackle Geno Atkins. The third year player out of Georgia is really making a name for himself and was the other object of Harbaugh's praise.
"He is really tremendously athletic. He’s really got quick feet. He is an explosive, quick, powerful guy," Harbaugh said. "He is a tough guy to reach. He gets on that outside edge of the guard and gets upfield. Sometimes when you move, and you kind of shift their defense a little bit, he’ll play over the center and play as a nose guard and do a great job. He’s a pass rusher. He had seven-and-a-half sacks last year. As an inside rusher, you don’t see that very often. I think he led the league with that. "(He is) really athletic guy."
Unfortunately, Atkins himself is also a victim of AFC overshadowing--both figuratively and literally. He's had to take a back seat in the popularity contest usually won by Casey Hampton and/or Haloti Ngata. Harbaugh works with Ngata everyday, so he knows a good defensive lineman when he sees one--even if they are starkly different players.
We'll see if these two live up to the praise that Harbaugh heaped onto them when the spotlight is shining brightly next Monday night.