When 2016 turned to 2017, both the Bengals’ offensive line and defensive line transformed drastically for better and for worse depending on which group you’re referring too. While it’s regurgitated knowledge that the offensive line has regressed significantly because of key losses among that group, the opposite has happened on the defensive line.
Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis, Ryan Glasgow, Andrew Billings and Chris Smith have all had their moments of being welcomed additions in a revitalized front four. With such turnover at the position, we can’t forget who was not brought back, helping this group to form. That includes Margus Hunt.
The second-round pick from 2013 spent his first four years with Cincinnati and appeared in 44 games from 2013 to 2016 with the team. After only accumulating 1.5 sacks in that time frame, he was not resigned and entered free agency this past offseason. This allowed the Indianapolis Colts to sign him as an unrestricted free agent just days after free agency began.
Through the Colts first seven games, Hunt has one sack and five tackles as a rotational piece in their 3-4 scheme. This past Sunday was his chance to make the Bengals regret letting him leave. Let’s see how he did against a bad Bengals offensive line.
Notice anything familiar? At 30-years-old, Hunt still is unable to fight through an offensive lineman’s punch if he doesn’t get first contact. In this play, right guard Trey Hopkins handles him with ease in pass pro and gets some help from center Russell Bodine with a chip from the side.
I didn’t even know I was going to end up writing about Hunt’s reunion until I saw this. When your substitute in your subpackage doesn’t know which technique he’s supposed to be and which gap he’s responsible for... you got some problems. The Colts pass rush as a unit seemed to bail on the pass rush after the play fake, and the Bengals’ offensive line got their easiest snap in pass protection all year.
A signature of Hunt’s is on display here, the ole “rushing without a plan”. As the 0-Technique, a part of a three-down lineman set, Hunt has to expect the double team from the center and one of the guards. Yet, Hunt tries to penetrate the A gap like a 220 pound linebacker. Bodine and Boling erase him, while tackles Andre Smith and Cedric Ogbuehi give quarterback Andy Dalton just enough time to deliver a strike to A.J. Green in the endzone for the Bengals’ first touchdown.
Like the last play, the Colts only sent three rushers. This time, it was with Hunt shaded over Hopkins as the 3-technique. For his size, Hunt tested remarkably in terms of flexibility coming into the NFL. But it was his lacking of how to use that athleticism that led to his departure from Cincinnati. Here, he attempts to turn the corner against right tackle Jake Fisher, and ends up on his knees like he’s sliding into second base.
There’s no way this rush can work unless you pull it off in less than two seconds. By the time Hunt turns his hips to bend around the edge, Fisher is in perfect position to just wash him to the ground. Instead of trying to work an inside counter move, Hunt chose the hardest angle possible, and made Fisher’s job much easier.
It wasn’t until the second half that Hunt started to find his way into the pocket. As the left defensive end, Hunt worked with the 3-technique to beat the Bengals’ seven man protection scheme. By slanting their rushes inside, Fisher thinks he’s passing off Hunt to Hopkins next to him, but it’s not a stunt like Fisher thinks. The 3-technique force a double team by Hopkins and Bodine, and Hunt is home free to go after Dalton. Unfortunately for him, Dalton lets loose a gutsy throw to Josh Malone for his second touchdown of the game.
Those shot put arms from Estonia do have some advantages on the gridiron when used properly. Hunt uses the “long-arm” technique against Hopkins to penetrate against his inside shoulder, collapsing Dalton’s pocket. Dalton sees this and reacted by escaping to his left, which was made possible by the Colts’ loss of contain from the right side.
In his last meaningful rep of the game, Hunt finally managed to get Bodine off balanced in pass protection. It was rookie edge rusher Tarell Basham that caused the initial pressure against Smith, but Hunt long armed Bodine back seven yards in the pocket when lined up as the 0-technique.
For the most part, the Bengals’ offensive line handled the Colts in pass protection, and when they had lapses, it wasn’t Hunt causing them.
Minutes after Hunt’s final meaningful rep of the game, the game-winning touchdown was scored by the Bengals. But, it was not by Andy Dalton, or Joe Mixon, or anyone on offense.
It was just the second play of the drive for the Colts, and Dre Kirkpatrick saw what was coming before anyone else:
Kirkpatrick’s dirty for this. Seconds before the snap, he abandons his catch coverage for off coverage. Brissett checks the protection and coverage one last time before accepting the snap out of shotgun, and thinks he has an easy completion to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Dunlap knew too. Stalling his own rush, against his head coach’s own word, Dunlap read Brissett’s throw perfectly to deflect the quick pass and intercept it. Dunlap got his first sack since Week 3 in this game, but this was his biggest play all year, and hopefully is a spark to a dominant down the stretch run for the seventh-year veteran.