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The Weekly Lineman: The importance of backside blocks and mid-season form Geno Atkins

It was a clinic on the ground in the first half of this preseason’s dress rehearsal, and a certain defensive tackle is looking as good as ever.

A couple of weeks of ago, we went over how the Bengals offense utilizes the two guard pull in their power running scheme. That was again on full tilt against the Jaguars this past Sunday night and for the vast majority of the time, it was successful, but at times there were some mishaps. Let’s go ahead and diagnose what happened on their first attempt at power:

On this misdirection out of shotgun, guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler (red arrows) pull around to the field side. This is nothing new, a very standard play in their playbook. And in usual form, both players execute their blocks perfectly. The problem here is that right tackle Eric Winston (second from bottom blue arrow) gives up some ground to defensive tackle Malik Jackson, and allows him to disrupt Boling’s pull. Boling still makes his block, but Jackson has beaten Winston, remains part of the play, and makes the tackle coming from behind Hill:

Andrew Whitworth, as great as he is, was tasked with an even tougher backside block, going into the second level at an angle to try and take out a very aware veteran in Dan Skuta, the former Bengal, who wasn’t prohibited by the oncoming Whitworth at all. The play all together was called back by a clipping penalty by Ryan Hewitt, but still, these are backside blocks that need to be executed better for these plays to work, and it almost did.

Later in the quarter, they ran the exact same play on a 2nd and short. This time with different personnel toward the opposite side of the field, and, with more success:

This time, Whitworth is the play side tackle tasked to seal the strong side defensive tackle, and he does it beautifully. C.J. Uzomah does as well against the end, giving up lateral ground, but not letting him break engagement to break up the hole for Jeremy Hill. Winston does a much better job taking out the linebacker with a great entry angle. He barely makes contact with him, but it does enough to delay his pursuit. Boling and Zeitler, once again, lock on and drive their targets out of the play, allowing Hill to cut up field into the gap and gain the first down.

I am personally not a fan of running Hill out of the shotgun that much, but on misdirection sweeps like this that allow him to survey blocks and cut upfield to get downhill, I think it utilizes his strengths to a degree. If you have the personnel on the offensive line like the Bengals do, you can do this all game long, which is probably what they would’ve done if it were a regular season game.

The importance here, is that with the common denominator of the execution of both pull blocks, the difference in sealing the backside defenders from guys like Winston, Whitworth and Uzomah made the difference.

The Jaguars operate with more of a zone blocking concept, but backside blocks are just as important on the stretch runs they call.

Defensive tackle Pat Sims came on the field for Geno Atkins as the 3-Technique for the second drive for the Jaguars and contributed to that eventual three and out:

The Bengals come out in their base defense with a 4-3, with Sims (circled) playing the aforementioned 3-tech spot on the strong side of the formation. The play direction is going to be towards the weak-side of the line of scrimmage on an outside zone run for running back T.J. Yeldon. Sims plays this as well as he could:

The right guard A.J. Cann attempts a reach block on Sims, but never quite gets his hands in his frame as Sims swims out of it. The right tackle Kelvin Beachum sees this and tries to push him away, but Sims is already at Yeldon, and makes the tackle for a minimal gain. Cann’s whiff of a backside block causes this play to only go for a measly two yards, and Sims shows why he’s still deserves playing time in his 10th year in the league.

Plays made from the backside can make or break the play entirely, and these examples showcase that exactly.

Switching topics, someone that this series will presumably feature a lot this year is defensive tackle Geno Atkins, and we caught a glimpse of the best of one of the game’s best interior force.

Pressure is production, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. This doesn’t just go for imploding pockets from the inside, but destroying running lanes as well. Atkins’ quickness in his hands and lower body explosiveness help him do this better than pretty much anyone:

Atkins doesn’t accumulate too many tackles on a game-to-game basis, he racks up sacks and pressures pretty easily, but he doesn’t pile up stops. Plays like these are the primary reason why. So many times he’ll penetrate the B gap like this to where the running back has to bounce outside to a group of patient tacklers. You can’t teach this quickness and timing. This is what 1 gap defenders dream of.

Both fronts had a plan to attack the weaknesses of the Jaguars’ lines, and both had good success in the early part of the game. The plan will be similar when the backups battle against the Colts this Thursday; the question is, will the execution be the same?