Remember when Margus Hunt was playing well this year? Yeah I don’t either. Sure he was getting off blocks a little more frequently but nothing he did was big enough to translate onto the box score or really effect a good number of plays on film. Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins featured something that Bengals fans have been wanting just a sliver of: change.
The one issue was, there was no positive change because it just wasn’t possible.
Defensive end Will Clarke overtook Margus Hunt as the nickel defensive tackle this week, and was on the field for 43 snaps compared to Hunt’s 12. This was a welcomed surprise by me, because the only interior rusher who was even generating some form of pressure has obviously been Geno Atkins. So switching things up couldn’t have hurt. But again, it didn’t particularly help either.
Will Clarke at defensive tackle
19 of Clarke’s 43 snaps came at either 3 Technique or 1 Technique, and in those 19 snaps, he got push on an offensive lineman just once. Late in the fourth Quarter on a third and long play, Clarke’s pressure forced quarterback Kirk Cousins to sail the ball out of play and took Washington’s offense off the field, leading to a field goal on the very next play, which just so happened to send the game into overtime:
There’s some things to admire here. His get-off isn’t an issue, as he’s quick off the snap. A positive at having Clarke or Hunt play inside is that they get to utilize their length against guards and it’s really what won the rep for Clarke. His ability to get over the guard on the ground and keep most of his momentum in his pursuit of Cousins is solid as well.
Clarke is not the most agile or fluid athlete, as we discussed back in Week 4, so sliding him inside should aid him more in the sense that he can penetrate in a phone-booth, or tighter areas, where he can shed blocks and get up-field as a 1-gap defender. The issue is, like Hunt, he can’t really shed blocks if the first move doesn’t work:
Washington handles the Atkins-Clarke stunt here perfectly, and Clarke is unable to move #75 right guard Brandon Scherff (who is very good) due to his great stance and hand placement. Clarke is nullified.
Here’s Clarke up against Long again, same song and dance:
Bull rush does absolutely nothing and Clarke hits a brick wall, no counter move, no leverage, no nothing.
One more for good measure:
It was like this for over 90 percent of the day for Clarke when he was lined up inside, as he was a non-factor for the better part of 58 minutes. Part of this is because, simply, Washington’s pass protection has been pretty good this year, and like we saw in London, Kirk Cousins can light up the field with time in the pocket.
And I like that they’re trying new things to help out Geno inside, I do. But the fact of the matter is, there’s nowhere we can turn to on the roster to improve on what we have. At least, until they decide to activate defensive tackle DeShawn Williams and give him snaps. Even still, if you’re answer lies with an inexperienced undrafted player, you didn’t build this unit very well. Plain and simple.
Personally, I don’t expect 6’7” guys to do well inside in the first place, very few players of that height can establish leverage and win at the point of attack because, well, they’re giraffes on the field, and guards and centers can get under them and force them off balance.
I don’t quite know what to expect to see against the Giants in two weeks, I suppose they’ll have Hunt and Clarke split snaps inside, but I do know that we shouldn’t expect to magically see any consistency from either of them from that spot.
Sweep for six
On a more positive note, the Bengals did execute an old fashioned sweep for their first score of the day:
The play works because running back Giovani Bernard is already on the play side, so he has a step on all backside defenders. And we’ve talked about left guard Clint Boling and right guard Kevin Zeitler’s tremendous ability to pull around the line and finish guys in space, but left tackle Andre Whitworth is no slouch in that area either, even this late in his career. Their blocks cleared the way and the backside blocks held long enough:
We’re gonna stop it there for this week, as I’m calling this article a draw. Yeah, it works here, too. Take that, Goodell. Due to the bye week next week, we’ll have a comprehensive film breakdown on a particular Bengals lineman’s performance for the first half of the year. So stay tuned and try to do something productive with your Sunday instead of wasting 4 hours watching a tie.