As has been the case for the entirety of the preseason and most of training camp, P.J. Dawson has continued to find new ways to impress the Bengals.
With most of the top linebackers getting Thursday night off, the rookie fourth-round pick out of TCU got 56* snaps after playing just 59 in the previous three games combined. Dawson made the most of his time on the field with a game-high two sacks and nine tackles to go with two QB hits and one tackle for loss.
Those were the first two sacks of Dawson's NFL career as he continues to make a case for heavy playing time as a rookie. He also added a preseason-high five stops (tackles causing offensive failure) to finish with 13 in four games. That was the most of any defensive player this preseason.
That was enough to help him finish as Pro Football Focus' top 4-3 outside linebacker this preseason. As Dawson told Bengals.com, he's more worried about the mistakes he made in the game and how to improve upon them. "Two minor errors," Dawson said of his play against the Colts. "I try to work on my technique as much as I can. But at the end of the day I’ve got to play ball. I've got use my quickness and my strengths. I've got to do what I'm good at.”
Quickness and strength are exactly what helped him make most of those stops this preseason, as evidenced on this play in which he shoots the gap as he sees the running play develop and uses his strength to take down the back while on the ground:
Keys & diagnoses quicker than the RG can block him in the hole. Love how he absorbs contact & makes the tackle anyway pic.twitter.com/r1YXROT2K9— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) September 4, 2015
On this play, Dawson starts to blitz inside toward the center before bursting forward to record the sack:
Dawson takes the inside on a cross blitz. Stays skinny through the hole for a free shot at the QB & an easy sack pic.twitter.com/3wVtRLl6KZ— Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) September 4, 2015
This play sees Dawson not getting his chest into the running back while trying to make the tackle, but has enough strength that he's able to arm-tackle him to the ground:
Based on his performance this preseason, as well as the volatile state of the Bengals' linebackers, the team should be playing Dawson early and often as a rookie.
*PFF has Dawson with 56 snaps, so that's what we're going with, even though Hobson has him at 57.