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The Weekly Lineman: Focusing in on Ogbuehi and Atkins

Why is Cedric Ogbuehi struggling and is Geno Atkins really not playing well? We dissect the first year starter on offense and veteran defensive tackle in this week’s The Weekly Lineman.

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Someone once told me the less you hear about an offensive lineman, the better. Here’s a good example:

You don’t want to be mentioned among this group. It makes sense, because the spectator or commentator is focusing on the conclusion of the play, not on what happens to get that point. This puts the offensive line’s work in a position to be taken for granted. You don’t notice their craft when it doesn’t disrupt a beautiful completion or a clean pocket.

But you do notice their play when it’s hot garbage, because it usually yields bad results by the end of the whistle.

In my opinion, it seems like it goes the opposite way for defensive lineman. When a player on the opposite side of the ball isn’t getting pressure or getting off blocks as a pass rusher, people don’t freak out as much. But when he breaks through, even just once, the natural assessment of his performance that day changes, but for the better. And if he never breaks through that day, if he becomes unnoticeable for the entire game, it is viewed as a problem.

Two Bengals, Cedric Ogbuehi and Geno Atkins, are getting some attention as the season wears on, but for the wrong reason. One can’t protect his quarterback and one can’t seem to get to the quarterback. Let’s put them under the microscope to see if these two statements are true:

Ogbuehi’s pass protection

Here we have a second-and-4 on the first drive of the game. Browns defensive end Carl Nassib lines up as a wide-nine tech, the furthest spot from the center an edge rusher traditionally lines up as. Rushers who start with this distance to the tackle have more time to generate force and work the tackle either inside or outside. Nassib decides to screw that, and just goes through Ogbuehi using the long arm concept (that we will also see later):

This is a great example of how a passive tackle operates in his set, the guy who makes initial contact wins almost every time. And when you come to contact with the rusher, you either deliver a punch, or catch him. A guy who punches well will win the vast majority of his reps. Former offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz had some thoughts on this principle as well:

Ogbuehi punches more than he catches, but the issue is, he doesn’t do either successfully very much. With punches, it’s a matter of placement and timing. The play above was an issue of timing. He is very late with his punch, and has his chest exposed as he doesn’t make contact with Nassib until he’s being benched backwards. Some guys have enough reserve power in their core and legs to recover, but not Ogbuehi.

This lack of technique will form a red x for defensive coordinators in future games, as they will tell their edge players: “Use power, he can’t handle it.”

Later in the first quarter, Ogbuehi and Nassib face off again on a third-and-2. Right tackle versus nine-tech. Ogbuehi’s punch is on-time this time and look what happens:

Now that he makes the initial contact, he’s able to use his long arms and force Nassib outside and basically make him run the arc. Yes, Andy Dalton’s release was very quick so you may think this rep doesn’t matter, but it does. Especially for Ogbuehi, who needs as many successful reps he can get.

With about five minutes to go in the first quarter on a first-and-10, we get a good visual on how Ogbuehi catches:

Nassib did a really good thing here: he lined up over tight end Tyler Eifert and smoothly lets him get a free release. In doing so, he wastes no time getting to Ogbuehi, who was focused on helping right guard Kevin Zeitler against the three-tech. Once Ogbuehi solely focuses on the incoming Nassib, he has no time to punch, just to catch. And by the time he somewhat anchors, he’s already backed up against his quarterback, giving up the sack.

Here, with five minutes left in the first half on a second-and-7, let’s look at Nassib going up against Ogbuehi for one last time. This is one of the few times I’ve seen Ogbuehi legitimately stop a rusher’s momentum completely, and successfully sit down and drop his anchor:

Ogbuehi goes with a catch here (the slight grabbing on Nassib’s right shoulder is ever-so-rarely flagged for holding) and actually establishes leverage after creating space with his extension. He’s a lot more squatted and not standing straight up, he’s able to absorb the contact and work it against Nassib.

Watch his feet as well. The hop step (how he re-adjusts after contact) he takes also aids him in doing this. The way his feet are synchronized throughout his set and mirrors where Dalton (out of frame) really solidifies the wall he becomes in front of Nassib. This is clinical, but it was about the last positive play we got from Ogbuehi.

Ogbuehi also went up against Nassib’s fellow rookie teammate Emmanuel Ogbah, and he had success in similar ways Nassib did. Take second-and-1 play with 20 seconds left in the first half:

Ogbah runs into Ogbuehi when he’s straight up, and Ogbuehi has issues right off the bat with his catch. Running back Giovani Bernard actually chips Ogbah inside and it’s fair to say that it actually gave Ogbah a boost, as he sets up Ogbuehi further inside as well.

The reason why Ogbah wins here is that Ogbuehi demonstrated why having heavy hands is important, and that he doesn’t have them. Ogbah sheds Ogbuehi and the second year tackle can’t sustain his block. The play is destroyed.

But the pinnacle Ogbuehi rep from Sunday was Ogbah’s second sack on Dalton, which came on a third-and-5 halfway through the fourth Quarter:

It’s almost the same play as the first GIF, Ogbah long arm’s elate Ogbuehi and gets him on the ropes, there’s no chance at a anchor because he has no control here. It almost looks like Ogbuehi is indecisive in regards to whether he should punch or catch, and does a mix of the two against a very low Ogbah, who wins the leverage battle by a landslide and gets to Dalton with ease.

It’s plays like these that got Ogbuehi benched for the second game in a row, and will make the coaches question if he’s the guy moving forward. His problems are both physical and technical, so it won’t be an easy fix, but it has to be a fast fix if he wants to become more effective this season.

Atkins’ pass rush

Having the pleasure of watching Geno Atkins for the past six and a half years, we know how unique it is, or was, to have a interior lineman generate so much pressure. Double digit sack seasons aren’t abnormal for him, but that was the case for everyone playing defensive tackle before him. Now, on pace for only seven sacks this year, people are starting to worry if he’s losing a step or if he’s just having an off season.

I don’t think he’s losing a step.

On a second-and-7 play early in the first quarter, Atkins casually gets off two blocks:

The power is still there, he won both blocks, quarterback Cody Kessler just abandoned the pocket after sensing nose tackle Domata Peko first.

There was a little over a minute left in the first quarter, on a third-and-11. Atkins is used as the decoy in a Margus Hunt stunt and clears a wide open path to Kessler. Just seamlessly:

You typically want your better pass rusher on the finishing end of the stunt, but Geno does what’s assigned and gives Hunt the easy hurry and hit.

On the first play of the second quarter, his eyes stay on Kessler as he worked his way around the protection and closed fast. Kessler just barely got rid of it:

And here, right before the two-minute warning in the second quarter on a first-and-10, here’s another pressure from Atkins after coming off two blocks:

I get it, he’s not getting the sacks. The easiest way to judge a player is by looking at the box score. Sometimes it paints a clear picture, sometimes it doesn’t. There was nothing great about Atkins that came from the game against the Browns. He won blocks but couldn’t finish, and he’s a player who pretty much always finishes. But he’s not playing badly. We expect so much of him that every game in which he doesn’t notch a sack, the panic button is closer to be pushed. But as long as he has these reps, the sacks will come.

Hell it wouldn’t surprise me if he did finish the season with double digit sacks again. Who am I to bet against him?