If you are the few remaining survivors on planet Earth waiting for more data in regards to Geno Atkins, you've probably reached a similar conclusion as the rest of us. Cincinnati's All-Pro defensive tackle is back! Of course he's had an MVP-like training camp and during brief moments in preseason games, scary descriptions of quickness, strength and leverage have surfaced.
Despite only generating a tackle during Saturday's win over the Chicago Bears, Atkins was putting on a display, disrupting blockers and frustrating offensive linemen. When he wasn't winning off the snap, he was dropping anchor, becoming a stone to congest running lanes.
With 1:32 remaining in the first quarter, Atkins ripped through the "B" gap, disrupting Charles Leno, who was pulling from right to left. Atkins' shot disrupted the pull, forcing Leno to twist around back on Atkins and freeing another defender for the attack. Bears offensive lineman Jermon Bushrod was called for an offensive hold, preventing Wallace Gilberry from containing while others missed the tackle; Vincent Rey had a track on Forte but was caught up inside.
Those are contribution plays, where Atkins wasn't the primary contributor but caused enough disruption for the success of others -- something he's always done well.
Let's fast-forward to the 12:46 mark in the second quarter. The Bears have first down from midfield. Atkins explodes from his three-point stance... actually, let's stop here. Why? Well, another aspect of Atkins' game is coming into focus: His quickness. Just as the Bears' offensive line and Bengals' defensive line are coming out of their respective stances, Atkins is already crossing the line of scrimmage to initiate contact.
The quickness gives Atkins an immediate advantage, cutting inside and tackling down Forte for a no-gain.
In addition to his quickness, Atkins' power and leverage were clearly on display. During Chris Carter's quarterback sack with 54 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Atkins used his leverage and strength to nearly drive his blocker into the quarterback.
For as well as Atkins played, he wasn't the lone defensive tackle causing havoc on Saturday. Fourth-round rookie defensive lineman Marcus Hardison received significant first-team snaps on Saturday and if anything, improved his stock. Did he generate massive stats in the boxscore? Nope. He had one solo tackle, one assist and a pass defensed. Pro Football Focus gave Hardison the second-best defensive score against the Bears, and he deserved the praise.
With 5:47 remaining in the second, Hardison applied a beautiful swim, disengaging offensive lineman Charles Leno (Bengals defenders seemed to frustrate him all evening). Hardison saturated the point of attack, but Leno continued his block, dragging down Hardison from behind. Despite not making the tackle, his actions led to a penalty against Leno, putting the Bears into a two-and-14 situation. Failing to generate another first down, Chicago punted two plays later.
Like Atkins, Hardison is causing issues on the line of scrimmage. With 6:16 remaining in the second, Hardison was deep into the backfield, barely missing the tackle. Honestly... I thought this WAS Atkins during my initial viewing. It was at this point we decided to keep an eye on Hardison during our reviews.
That's not to say Hardison was perfect. He wasn't. There were times where the offensive line allowed him to kamikaze a particular gap, indirectly taking himself out of the play. And he was pancaked once in the third quarter -- it happens.
Rookie DeShawn Williams only played four defensive snaps on Saturday, but we wanted to highlight an impressive play with 10:49 remaining in the game. The Bears called a screen. Williams, after disengaging the block, immediately recogized the play and redirected toward the running back. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen grounded the football as a result.
Granted, it's not a hall of fame moment for a rookie playing his third preseason game. It is, however, a reflection on his instincts to recognize and react.
Atkins is as close to pre-injury as ever. Hardison is becoming an impressive variable providing Cincinnati with another defensive tackle with enough talent to become a legitimate pass rusher alongside Atkins. The future at defensive tackle is in capable hands in Cincinnati.