In Sunday's Bengals win over the Chargers, with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter, defensive end Will Clarke lowered himself into a three-point stance while quarterback Philip Rivers barked instructions to his offense. Suddenly the calm took over in the moment after the last instruction was issued and before the snap was launched. Hut. After securing the shotgun snap from the Chargers' 10-yard line and instinctively rotating the football to grip the laces, Rivers looked for Keenan Allen, who was running a 10-yard hitch. Dre Kirkpatrick provided suffocating coverage, forcing Rivers to check off his primary. Steve Johnson ran a similar route from the slot on the right hashes, but Leon Hall held coverage and Rey Maualuga was not unlike an annoying housefly underneath.
By this point, Rivers was feeling the pressure, his so-called internal clock exploding with a furious alarm. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, using his short stature to gain leverage and unsuspecting strength, bulldozed his way into Rivers' peripheral. This caused the panic, the mistake in the waning moments of a gazelle's life right before a ferocious attack from a tiger. Clark, taking a lesson from the School of Geno, applied the same technique.
Both players met at Rivers, dropping the quarterback for a three-yard loss.
Despite being a shared sack, for Clarke, it was his first sack in his NFL career.
According to Pro Football Focus, Clarke has played 31 defensive snaps this season, including 20 from Sunday's 24-19 win over the Chargers. In both games, Clarke has combined for two quarterback hurries, a shared sack and a batted pass at the line of scrimmage -- as a defensive tackle.
"Will continues to take steps forward and fit into the mold," head coach Marvin Lewis said during his presser on Monday. "Were happy with what he's doing."
Everyone began taking notice of Clarke this spring when he showed up to offseason training activities having gained nearly 20 pounds of bulk. Since he was drafted in the third round in the 2014 NFL draft he's learned from veteran teammates and earned more snaps as an interior pass rusher on third down and as a primary off the bench when Carlos Dunlap needs a spell at left defensive end (he's played on the right too).
"I think continuing to give guys opportunities to play is important," said Lewis. "They have to do it the correct way when they're in there. Having fresh rushers at the end of the game is always important."
Cincinnati's defensive line has generated 21 pressures already this year, along with four hits on the quarterback and all six of the team's quarterback sacks -- a year after only generating 20 sacks all season (16.5 from the defensive line).
It's helped... and a little challenge from defensive line coach Jay Hayes added more fuel.
"Coach Jay (Hayes) challenged us earlier in the week to get pressure and get him on the ground," said defensive end Wallace Gilberry. "We took it upon ourselves to go out and accept the challenge. I think we did a good job. We were in his face all day. Philip even came up to me and told me, ‘You guys are on me.' So I think we did a pretty good job."
What helps is the rotation, enabled by players like Clarke, keeping legs fresh.