How does an NFL team win on the road despite rushing for 63 less yards, passing for 100 less yards, converting less third downs and having the ball less than their opponent? I’m still trying to figure it all out, but no position group had it worse than the Bengals’ defensive line in Week 11 against the Broncos.
Not including the two quarterback kneels from Andy Dalton, the Bengals offense ended up running only 51 plays (a common theme of late), while the Broncos ended up running 79 plays. Eight of the 12 drives for the Bengals’ offense were for four plays or less, and their longest drive was 3:17 of actual game time. The Bengals’ defense as a whole was on the field a lot longer than they should’ve been, and in Denver of all places, fatigue due to the high altitude is no stranger to visitors. But the defensive line battled through and came up when it counted. In particular, three players stood out a few notable times. Let’s start with the only one who is an All-Pro.
Only a few interior pass rushers are getting as much pressure on the quarterback as Atkins is nowadays. The fact that he can do it with the elusiveness of an edge rusher and the raw strength of a nose tackle makes him even more special. Exhibit A:
With a quick google search, you can find out that the definition of the term fear is: “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc.,whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.”
Those who can manipulate fear upon others are the truest of monsters in this world, and Atkins is no doubt one of them on the football field. Atkins starts his rush to the guard’s inside shoulder, reads the tackle trying to combo block him, and does what maybe he and a select few in the league can possibly do at the position. This move, this jump-cut of a juke move of all things from a 3-technique, simply doesn’t happen unless the offensive linemen are selling out for the awaited split-the-duece-block blunt force trauma. Atkins makes a fool of the right guard and tackle because they were expecting something like this:
The following two plays occurred back-to-back. Right guard Max Garcia didn’t watch enough tape on Atkins if he has his hands that high when he goes into his set. Atkins gets under his hands and proceeds to forklift him off his feet, forcing him to try and reset his stance and his, which isn’t happening against a bull rush delivered from Atkins. Quarterback Brock Osweiler gets the ball out before Atkins ends up in his lap, but the pass is incomplete and the play is nulled out from a Carl Lawson neutral zone infraction. As such, Atkins goes back to work. Low hands drive up above his eyes, generating torque and explosion in an upward fashion, causing a massive breach in the pocket, and giving Chris Smith a lane to force an errant throw.
As Pat Sims hit the waiver wire last week (who has since returned) the Bengals nose tackle spot was held by one man and one man only on Sunday. With each passing week, Billings’ knee that was surgically repaired more than a year ago looks stronger and stronger, as seen by his play.
The Broncos ran a decent amount of zone reads, which is this play call right here. The run is designed to attack the play-side A-gap as the guard works off the ace block to seal off the defensive end. Billings just isn’t having any of that. The running back wisely bounces the run outside when he sees all 325 pounds of Billings occupying that targeted gap. Vontaze Burfict, the alley player in this play, cleans up the play and stuffs the run at the line.
Maybe the most difficult thing for a center to do is to try and reach block a defensive tackle shaded over his snapping hand. The quickness needed to get out your stance and position yourself in front of the tackle who’s flowing in that direction is extremely rare, because you lose time getting your outside hand out in front because you just snapped with it. Center Matt Paradis actually does a good job getting out in front of Billings, the only thing is, Billings has one thing on his mind: getting downhill. Billings takes advantage of Paradis rushing to cross his face and runs right through him, forcing the running back to bounce this fourth-and-one run outside, which is preferable for the defense. The issue is, no one outside of Billings can get off a block and finish the play, leading to a first down.
Seriously, what an utterly useless chip from Garcia. Billings does enough to slow down the running back entering the designated gap by forcing him to evade him three yards in the backfield after he explodes through the center. It takes a quick-to-react Darqueze Dennard, not a linebacker, from 10 yards away at cornerback to clean up the play for a two-yard gain.
That sheer force and quickness from Billings makes it impossible for Paradis to quickly recover and adjust to the slant from Billings off the snap. Billings fights through Paradis’ attempts to mirror him, and just gets abused backward into his own running back. Billings makes it known to Osweiler that it was him that was storming through.
Entering this game, Dunlap was on pace for his lowest sack total since 2011 when he only ended up with 4.5, he needed a game to give his season a fresh kickstart. Prior to Sunday, in the last three games the Bengals played against the Broncos, Dunlap recorded five sacks, including a three-sack performance back in their 2015 matchup. Maybe we should know these things before they happen.
Just a few plays into the game, Dunlap sets up a near Geno Atkins sack. You see Dunlap pull off this move for most of his successful pass rushing reps. The inside stab to create space, the outside swat takes away the punch, and the rip clears away the makeup punch. Dunlap forces Osweiler to step up right into Atkins who meets him at the line.
Of his two sacks this game, this one was much more nuanced. Dunlap was setting up this inside move every play leading up to it by establish his desire to win around the edge. He counters with a spin move and gets the tackle grabbing for dear life. Dunlap fights through it with ease and summersaults over Osweiler.
To essentially close out the game, Dunlap times his end of the stunt between him and Chris Smith perfectly. If attacks the B-gap too early, the tackle can pass him off the guard and keep the edge clean. But since Dunlap waits and forces the tackle to stay with him, the edge is compromised. Smith takes advantage and funnels Osweiler into an awaiting Dunlap. Two plays later, the Bengals stop Osweiler from converting on fourth down, and the Bengals get the ball back.
With no help from their offense in a hostile environment, the Bengals more than held up their own end of the bargain in the Bengals’ fourth victory of the year. The Bengals get a much easier task next Sunday as they face the Cleveland Browns at home. Can that game help to try to carry this team into a desperate playoff push? It just might.