When the Bengals face off against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5, two of the NFL's best at their respective positions will face off. Those players are the Bengals' defensive tackle Geno Atkins and the Cowboys' offensive guard Zack Martin. As a third year player, Martin has never had the chance to play against the Bengals before, so the matchup should provide a new and interesting twist when the two teams play each other.
The Bengals last faced off in the regular season against the Cowboys in Week 14 of the 2012 season. They were in the middle of a late season playoff push when they won seven of their final eight games, making up for a poor 3-5 start to the season. Unfortunately, the Cowboys were the one team to beat them during that stretch, finishing things off with a last second Dan Bailey field goal that ended up being the difference between the Bengals and Ravens for the AFC North championship that year.
It was an unfortunate outcome for the Bengals, although it was a decent day for Atkins who recorded three tackles, one of which was a sack on Tony Romo. At the time, Mackenzy Bernadeau was the Cowboys' starting right guard in charge of keeping Atkins in check. Martin replaced Bernadeau as the starter two years later, but Atkins will be hoping to have a similar performance, maybe better, against the young Notre Dame alumni, who coincidentally, is engaged to Tyler Eifert's sister.
Atkins and Martin have never faced off against each other in the past. But, being two of the NFL's best players at their respective positions means that we could be in for a fantastic show in their first meeting.
Atkins did not come into the NFL with the kind of ovation and recognition that you would expect for a player who ended up as good as he is. Due to some size and motor concerns, his highly productive career at Georgia was overlooked by scouts. He had the talent and production of a first round prospect, but the drawbacks were just too much for some teams to look past.
Luckily for the Bengals, he was available in the fourth round of the 2010 draft and they picked up one of the greatest steals in the NFL Draft over the last decade as a result. Since arriving in the league, he has racked up 43 sacks, 140 tackles, eight forced fumbles, and seven deflected passes. His production is so impressive and consistent that he has been named to the Pro Bowl every year since he became a starter (2011) except for 2013 when his season ended in Week 9 due to a torn ACL against the Miami Dolphins.
The Bengals are very fortunate to have a player of his caliber on the defensive line, although he will definitely be challenged when the Bengals go up against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5.
Martin only has two years of playing experience in the NFL, but he has proven to be a major asset to one of the NFL's best offensive lines during that time. He was considered to be the starter from the very moment he put on a Cowboys helmet and has not disappointed since.
Since Martin joined the Cowboys, Romo has been sacked much less often, allowing him to have time in the backfield to be the high-end quarterback that the Cowboys need. In fairness, Romo did get hit hard enough that his season was significantly shortened in 2015 due to two shoulder injuries, playing only Weeks 1, 2, 11 and 12.
Martin will certainly be tested in Week 5 when the Cowboys face the Bengals and he has to hold off the prolific Atkins. But, he is also one of the best guards in the NFL and should prove to at least keep up with the dynamic defensive tackle.
Who has the advantage?
It's hard to really say that either player will definitely be overwhelmed by the talent and power of the other, which is why this is such a tantalizing matchup. That said, it's pretty hard to not give the advantage in this matchup to Atkins.
Martin has performed very well during his time in the NFL, but he has very rarely gone up against players of Atkins' caliber. He did manage to virtually shut down Aaron Donald of the Rams in 2014, only allowing one tackle, but that was the third game of Donald's career. Gerald McCoy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers recorded the same stat line against the Cowboys in 2015. However, Ndamukong Suh did have a pretty good game against the Cowboys in the 2014 divisional playoff game between the Lions and Cowboys. He recorded three tackles, two of which were sacks. All of Suh's tackles were either for no gain or negative yards.
When the Bengals and Cowboys play each other in Week 5 this season, Martin could potentially be up against the toughest challenge of his NFL career to date. He could also very well rise to the occasion and continue to prove why he is one of the best guards in the NFL. But, it just seems more likely that the seventh year Bengals defensive tackle will be in a better position to win the day.