In a perfect world the Cincinnati Bengals have three of the more fiercest pass rushers on the defensive line, with Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson crashing from the edges and Geno Atkins adding inside pressure directly within the nervous peripheral vision of the quarterback.
It's the type of trio that could compare with Chris Clemons, Red Bryant and Bruce Irvin in Seattle this year or Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul in New York recently. It's a Tolkien story that could be written with an Uruk-hai like Geno Atkins growling inside, forcing an occupied Elven quarterback to prance left or right into Michael Johnson or Carlos Dunlap.
[Courtesy of Grantland.com]
In a perfect world.
During the offseason Michael Johnson argued that he and Carlos Dunlap could become one of the league's top defensive end tandem. Having already generated 17.5 quarterback sacks combined since 2011, they're adding the pressure. Though Johnson has continually improved as a rusher since joining the NFL in 2009, Dunlap's story has generally been a stalled journey with injuries.
"In order to be considered amongst the best -- which is my personal goal as far as being an athlete in anything -- you have to compete and do what the best have done," said Dunlap during training camp. "I haven't done that yet. I have to break 10 (sacks) and compete and stay up there with whoever has the highest number and I want to be the highest number."
The Bengals are currently tied for third in the NFL with 23 quarterback sacks, though first in the AFC. Johnson has six of them while Dunlap, having only participated in 39.5 percent of the defensive snaps this season due to injury and rotation, has one.
Yet neither lead the team.
That title belongs to defensive tackle Geno Atkins, leading the world in virtually every pass rushing category among defensive tackles, if not defensive ends, as well as leading Earth with conclusively impressive grades from your favorite NFL research lab.
Dating back to 2011, The Big Three (Dunlap, Johnson, Atkins) have combined for 32 quarterback sacks, 51 hits on the quarterback and 110 hurries. And a significant number of that belongs to Geno Atkins (14.5 sacks, 19 hits, 45 hurries); Johnson is second during that stretch with 12 sacks.
They're a trio with every snarling and ferocious impact, generating sacks, recording interceptions (Johnson has two in two seasons) and scoring touchdowns. It's the type of unit that has every potential to take games over, refusing to rely on an uncertain offense.
In a perfect world.