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Film Room: Geno Atkins dominates Cardinals; looking like All-Pro again

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As much as Sunday's loss stung for the Bengals, seeing Geno Atkins continue to dominate was a great sign that bodes well for this defense going forward.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

When Geno Atkins went down with a torn ACL in the middle of the 2013 season, there was legitimate concern as to whether we'd ever see him playing at the amazing level he'd reached before the injury.

Any kind of ligament tear takes a while to recover from, and even the best NFL players often don't ever fully reach their highest level of play after suffering something as major as an ACL tear.

After spending the entire 2014 offseason rehabbing and working to just get back on the field, Atkins had a 2014 campaign in which he was called "just a guy out there" by defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. That was a fair statement after Atkins finished with just three sacks in 16 games, his lowest total over a 16-game season since his rookie year in 2010.

2012 was Atkins' last year in which he played a 16-game season fully healthy, and he racked up 12.5 sacks to go with 53 tackles and four forced fumbles while being named an All-Pro. He was one of the best defensive players in the NFL, and we're now seeing his return to that level of play.

Through 10 games this year, Atkins has seven sacks, one of which came in Sunday's loss to the Cardinals. But, it was far more than that sack that Atkins accounted for on this night as he had arguably his best game of the season while keeping a battered Bengals defense.

Atkins' first big play came on the Cardinals' first drive when he stuffed Chris Johnson for no gain on first down.

Winning on first down often bodes well for a defense, especially when you also win on second down. That's exactly what Atkins did on his own. The very next play saw Atkins blow by his man and notch his lone sack of the night on former teammate Carson Palmer.

It looks like Atkins was expecting the guard to block him straight up, but once he saw that wasn't the case, he exploded upfield and took down Palmer.

Atkins would help kill another Cardinals drive midway through the first quarter on a third-and-one run by David Johnson that Atkins helped blow up for no gain.

Atkins' impact helped the Bengals keep the Cardinals off the scoreboard in the first quarter, and it looked like he may help them do so in the second quarter as well. That's when Atkins had a big tackle for loss on Chris Johnson to help eventually set up a third-and-16 play, which Cardinals ended up converting.

But, one of his biggest moments in the game came on a play during which he didn't even register a statistic. That was late in the fourth quarter after the Bengals had just fumbled the ball away and put the Cardinals' offense in the red zone. After a two-yard run by Chris Johnson, Palmer dropped back to pass on second down as Atkins got a burst off the line and helped pressure Palmer out of the pocket and into Michael Johnson, who strip-sacked Palmer and caused an eight-yard loss that would eventually force a field goal. Atkins getting great push not only helped pressure Palmer , but also prevented him from stepping up in the pocket to avoid Johnson's pressure.

The Bengals would respond with a touchdown of their own to narrow the Cardinals' lead at 31-28 with less than four minutes to play. The defense desperately needed to force a three-and-out to give the offense enough time to drive for the game-winning or tying score, and Geno helped make it happen without doing anything other than being Geno.

After getting embarrassed by Atkins for much of the first half, the Cardinals opted to double-team him more for much of the second half, including a key 3rd-and-1 play with 2:57 to play. As the Cardinals double-teamed him, that allowed Rey Maualuga to get a one-on-one shot at Johnson

As much as Sunday's loss stung, seeing Atkins continue to dominate was a great sign that bodes well for the Bengals' hopes of making a deep playoff run.