The Bengals may have lost their first preseason game of the 2016 NFL season. But, because it’s preseason, no one really cares about what the final score was, as evidenced by Marvin Lewis’ risky two-point conversion call after Alex Erickson’s punt return touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The important part was watching to see what guys like Erickson can do in game action situations. Friday was the first opportunity to see how rookies are developing as well as how the veterans look after the long offseason.
One veteran who has really been stepping up in training camp and against the Vikings is Geno Atkins, according to Paul Guenther.
“He’s running after the ball better. He’s quicker. For a guy you think can’t get any better, he has,” Guenther told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “
The idea of Atkins getting better than he already was is absolutely frightening for the rest of the NFL. 2013 and 2014 were disappointments for Atkins as he tore his ACL nine games into 2013, losing the rest of that season and an entire offseason of work in 2014. But, the last two fully healthy seasons he’s played (2012 and 2015), he put up a combined 23.5 sacks, 70 tackles, five forced fumbles, and two pass deflections. He made both the Pro Bowl roster and first team All-Pro each year.
Getting better than that pretty much means the rest of the NFL might as well give up now. His skills were on full display on Friday, recording an impressive sack on one of three plays during which he was on the field.
On display we can see Atkins’ patented bull rush right through Vikings right guard Joe Berger for the mauling sack on Bridgewater. It is a technique that he has honed and perfected over the years. It has become the focal point of his dominance at the position. Now that he’s mastered that skill, he’s already moved on to improving other areas of his game.
“The other day in practice he had a spin move he never used to have,” Guenther said. “Just when you think he can’t get any better, he has.”
Perhaps one of the most impressive parts of Atkins’ sack is the fact that it was only his second opportunity to rush the passer of the entire season. His first opportunity almost resulted in an even bigger sack, but Bridgewater managed to keep him off and get the pass off.
As was the case for most of the starters, Atkins was pulled off the field after the first defensive drive, only playing three total snaps on the day. But, it wasn’t before the Vikings tested the Bengals’ pass rush a third time. This time, it was Carlos Dunlap who managed to get to the quarterback. Atkins didn’t get much pressure on Bridgewater on this play. But, he did put a fantastic double move on Vikings guard Alex Boone.
The move opened up a great one-on-one opportunity for Michael Johnson on Vikings tackle Matt Kalil, allowing him to secure the left side of the backfield. With both defensive ends quickly descending on Bridgewater, it took all possibility of a scrambling escape out of the equation.
The first defensive series of the 2016 preseason is one that makes you really excited about what the Bengals’ defensive line can accomplish this year. If Atkins really is playing better than ever, there’s no telling just how much he and the rest of the defense can accomplish.
“To me, he’s the best inside pass rusher in the league.” Guenther said. “Not even close.”