The Cincinnati Bengals are back within one game of the AFC North, and next to a rejuvenated passing offense, the pass rush has been arguably the most valuable component of the quick turnaround.
Week 5’s victory over Buffalo was the third time the defense recorded at least three sacks, and the second time recording six sacks. The increase in effectiveness from last year’s unit to this year’s has been extraordinary, and it has been attributed to the departure of old faces, and the arrival of new and young ones.
Every third and long, the front four, whoever it may be at that given snap, is capable of shrinking the pocket and forcing bad throws and translating pressure to sacks, and that was the case against Buffalo. But not every sack is all because of one player. Let’s go through all six Tyrod Taylor takedowns and truly determine who deserves the most credit on each one.
Sack 1: 12:22 remaining in the first quarter, third-and-five on the Bills 15 yard-line
The first of four third-down sacks of the game, the defense brings their standard four-man rush. Michael Johnson is still starting the game at right defensive end, but he’s exclusively used as a defensive tackle now in obvious passing situations.
Geno Atkins sees Johnson taking on the center and right guard, and attacks the left guard’s inside shoulder. This forces the left guard to intercede on the center’s protection and effectively takes him out. Right before this happened, the right guard leaves Johnson to help the right tackle deal with Carlos Dunlap. Johnson is left all alone and has an easy path to Taylor.
We can also see in the first replay that Atkins’s disruption is allowed to work because the coverage downfield is air tight, forcing Taylor to hold onto the ball. This was a reoccurring theme that we’ll get to later.
Sack credited to: Michael Johnson
Sack quality: low
Benefitted by: Geno Atkins, back-seven in man coverage
Sack 2: 9:13 remaining in the first quarter, third-and-five on the 50 yard-line
The Atkins-Lawson duo has been so much fun to watch five weeks into this season. The two have a combined 6.5 sacks and are two of the most productive pass rushers at 3T and on the edge respectively. Both of them take advantage of favorable circumstances on this third-down.
The Bills slide their protection to the right side of the formation, making the left tackle come inside to face Geno, and the tight end on Lawson. The protection makes a theoretical five on three from the 3T to the LE, which leaves a one on one with the RE Lawson. The running back comes across the formation to help out the tight end, who is beaten immediately, and does little himself to stop Lawson from penetrating the pocket.
But while all this is happening, Atkins senses the left guard isn’t going to chip him, and rides the inside shoulder of the left tackle, who is already in a tough spot, all the way to Taylor for the sack. Beating Lawson to him by half a second.
Sack credited to: Geno Atkins
Sack Quality: High
Benefitted by: Possible miscommunication by the left guard and left tackle
Sack 3: 3:19 remaining in the third quarter, second-and-seven on the Bengals 23 yard-line
Fast forward over two quarters later, two of the youngest members of the defense make their mark in the pass rush. Jordan Willis ends up getting the box score love, but his teammate in the interior made it all possible.
Andrew Billings played only 10 snaps this game as he’s still the fourth defensive tackle regarding playing time and the back up to Pat Sims at nose tackle. He makes more plays like this and Sims should be seeing the bench more. Rewinding the play at certain moments can give you more clarity of the process that happens so quickly in real time. Billings uses quick hands at the snap to take out the center’s left, forcing the center to lunge at the hips and put himself in a compromising position. Billings opens his hips to get skinny through the gap, and creates pressure all on his own.
Taylor sees his blocking in front of him collapse and starts to scramble away from Johnson, who gets juked flat-footed. Willis is free to pursue and is able to change direction at the ankles just enough to tap Taylor to the ground.
Sack credited to: Jordan Willis
Sack Quality: Low
Benefitted by: Billings’s pressure and Johnson’s lack of agility
Sack 4: 14:10 remaining in the fourth quarter, third and seven on the Bills 28 yard-line
Just your typical coverage sack right here. The Bills initially send four targets down the field with one settling down in front of the first down marker. No one gets open downfield, and Dunlap is getting push on the right tackle. Taylor sees this and looks for his deep corner route down the left, but Burfict knows he’s not abandoning anyone in coverage and makes a break for Taylor. Coverage forces the ball to stay in the pocket; pressure forces the quarterback to become a ball carrier. Team defense working like a well-oiled machine.
Sack credited to: Vontaze Burfict
Sack quality: Low
Benefitted by: Dunlap pressure and coverage downfield
Sack 5: 12:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, third and eight on the Bills 39 yard-line
Once again, Lawson looks the part of an eight-year veteran with his hand usage. Granted, this was against a fellow rookie selected only two rounds higher than Lawson in Dion Dawkins, who made his third start of his career. But Lawson executes a perfect one arm chop that gets him space to bend around the edge, and actually gets through a slight hold from Dawkins as he tried to recover. All three and a half of Lawson’s sacks this season have been of high quality, and if you were familiar with his college tape, this shouldn’t be surprising. Lawson had some of the best hands of any edge rusher coming out this year.
Sack credited to: Carl Lawson
Sack quality: High
Benefitted by: Proficient hand usage and bend
Sack 6: 3:33 remaining in the fourth quarter, first and 10 on the Bills 25 yard-line
Johnson finished his day with his second sack late in the fourth quarter that would put the Bills in an eventual third and long which lead to a game-sealing George Iloka interception. Taylor is a ways back in the pocket after faking the hand off on play action, and is in an ideal place to survey the field with no Bengals pass rusher closing in on him. Yet, when his X receiver at the top of the picture is open after breaking on his hitch route, Taylor misses him and continues to hold the ball. He’s looking for his tight end breaking towards the right and by the time he looks back to the hitch, a good five seconds in the pocket ticks by and pressure is predictably starting to come.
Johnson slowly but surely swims by the right guard and makes his way to Taylor, who doesn’t do his offensive line any favors. The right guard gets his hands a little too high, but Johnson is able to shed him and get to Taylor. Still, it’s hard to fault this on the guard when Taylor takes too long to scan the field.
Sack credited to: Michael Johnson
Sack quality: Low
Benefitted by: Taylor not getting the ball out in time.
I like Johnson in his new role inside because the lack of space in the 4-2T range eases his drop off of athleticism, and it gives guys like Lawson, Willis and Chris Smith more opportunities on the edge. But Johnson is still mediocre as a pass rusher overall, it just gets mitigated better in this role, as seen here.
With the bye week among us, I got a special offensive line piece planned out to review the first five weeks with that group.