Since the latter part of the 2010 season, Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins has been the key to what Cincinnati does defensively. Atkins basically played in a rotational capacity as a rookie six years ago and played in just nine games in 2013, but through those four years, he amassed 29 sacks. Atkins has also cemented his status as one of the best interior linemen in the NFL.
However, a knee ligament tear against the Miami Dolphins on Halloween of 2013 temporarily derailed his career. To Atkins' credit, he worked his tail off for almost a year to be ready for Week 1 the following season and he started every game last year. Even so, Atkins didn't appear to be a consistent defensive threat last year, amassing three sacks and one forced fumble. His Pro Bowl berth last year was more of a "Lifetime Achievement Award" than a true nomination for a deserving player. If you had Atkins in a candid, off-the-record setting, he'd probably admit as much.
This offseason, the rumor mill had been spinning the idea that Atkins was the most dominant player in camp and looked to be back in his 2011-2013 form. Such prognostications are usually formed to kill time until real football is actually played, but those close to the club kept emphasizing the thought of him being back to "the old Geno".
Two weeks of the NFL regular season have come and gone, and with two Bengals wins, there is a lot to feel good about within Who Dey nation. One thing that is certainly refreshing is the return of the pass rush, which up until last season had been good. Though Michael Johnson hasn't showed up much on the stat sheet through two weeks, the rotation that has been employed with his return has definitely been boosted.
Atkins has been a major beneficiary of his return, in addition to as a full offseason of training and rehabilitation. On Sunday, No. 97 was an absolute force against the Chargers with three hits on San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, to go along with a sack. If that wasn't enough, Atkins forced Chris Hairston into two holding penalties and another false start. Though he was going up against a backup right guard in relief of D.J. Fluker, Atkins did what was he was supposed to do against Chris Hairston, which was dominate.
The return of Atkins began last week in Oakland when he blew up a few runs and really made an impact late with a sack and forced fumble. In some fashion, the cynics will point to the talent level of the Raiders and the fact that Atkins went up against a backup on Sunday against the Chargers. Regardless, the defensive tackle has made a number of plays in the past two weeks to help the team grab two W's.
Atkins has been a bit terse with the media this offseason, opting not to talk much abut his progress this offseason. Though he made the Pro Bowl last year, he had just three sacks and a forced fumble throughout the entire 2014 season. So far in 2015 through two games, he has two sacks and forced fumble to go along with numerous other disruptions.
True to form in the regular season, No. 97 didn't offer too much when asked about his performance against San Diego, saying "It hurts the offense, makes it 3rd & long or transitions to 4th down." Defensive end Carlos Dunlap noted: "We knew Geno had a great matchup and that was our thing inside," and the team took full advantage.
Per Josh Kirkendall here at Cincy Jungle, here are some Vine clips on some of the big plays by Atkins on the day.
Just watch Geno... https://t.co/ogPch5CRp1— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 20, 2015
#Bengals Geno Atkins and Will Clarke with a shared sack on first down. https://t.co/H33IcGabPG— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 20, 2015
#Bengals Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap man. Bad. Ass. https://t.co/BQfIs33T0I— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) September 20, 2015