You all know I don’t sugarcoat anything in these articles.
Plain and simple, the Bengals have been horrendous in the two games since they lost at the last second to the Steelers earlier this month. They had a chance to bounce back from such a heartbreaking defeat against a Bears team that was 3-9, but ended up letting the Bears run all over them at home.
In that game, it was very apparent that Geno Atkins not being 100% at anytime still sends the entire unit into disarray. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is the pronounced leader of the defense, and when he is absent that role is hard to replicate.
But when it’s Atkins who isn’t present, or just not himself, operations in the middle of the defense go haywire. Defensive tackles Ryan Glasgow and Andrew Billings have both shown flashes in their first season, but their lapses in holding their gaps and shedding blocks have come up just as often-if not more frequently.
They’re still finding their way, and when they don’t have the luxury of having Atkins take away attention towards them, the whole defense suffers.
The Vikings ran away with the matchup from the very first minute, but Atkins didn’t waste any time to tell us that last week was just a small bump in the road for him.
We’re in the very midst of Atkins’ prime, and we’ve seen a lot of sacks at the hands of the now eight-year veteran. Most of them ended up looking like this. When Atkins and Vikings center Pat Elflein meet, Atkins does what he does best.
He shoots his hands up above his eyes and bull rushes his way forward. It’s the quickness out his stance that gets Elflein off guard even when his protection is the right A-gap based on his eyes.
Atkins is able to win this way consistently because his short and stocky build gives him natural leverage throughout contact. If you looked at all of Atkins’s sacks of this variety and just looked at the players’ feet, his short legs are able to move so quickly because he has such natural power that he transfers from his core to the his arms in every bull rush.
It’s hard to counter and neutralize that much raw power and quickness suddenly, and that’s why most guards and center end up looking like Elflein does here.
Admittedly, I thought that defensive end Chris Smith would be slightly more productive than he has been this season after his monstrous pre-season showing. Here, he does just enough to get the tackle riding him out just outside the pocket, forcing quarterback Case Keenum to step and limit the space in front of him.
The Vikings, wisely, have both the right tackle and right guard double-teaming Atkins at the snap. He knows even he can’t just bull rush his way through the guard now that he has help, so he manipulates him.
He starts working towards the outside shoulder of the tackle, furthering himself away from the B-gap and the right guard, who scans to his left, looking for work. But Atkins doesn’t commit himself to that outside shoulder.
The right guard has turned his back just long enough for Geno to work his way back inside, now in an easy one-on-one, towards the middle of the pocket, which has shrunk thanks to Smith. Keenum is met by Atkins for the second time in the quarter.
On the final play of the first half, the Bengals’ defense is in their nickel personnel, and the Vikings just want to run the clock out with a sizable lead. The delayed draw gets both linebackers to freeze and are both taken out of the play by, the play design works, except for dealing with Atkins. He’s lined up as the 2i defensive tackle, which is directly over the inside shoulder of the guard.
This play doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it shows how easy it is for Atkins. He’s reading the running back’s eyes the entire time. Sensing he’s going straight up the gut, he plays the two-gap role by shifting over the A-gap.
Then, in an instant, he reacts to the running back cutting back to follow the center and gets off the guard’s block and stops the back in the hole. He dictated which way the running back wanted to go, and was in control of the guard’s down block the entire time. This stuff isn’t common, but you all know that.
Back in Week 4, I wrote about guard Alex Redmond’s first appearance on the field as he was in the game for 16 snaps against the Browns that week. He’s been inactive ever since but with so many injuries the Bengals have suffered of late, he was active against the Vikings.
With the game so far out of reach by the time the fourth-quarter came around, starting right guard was pulled for Redmond to see what the second-year player could do 10 weeks since his last playing time.
Quite honestly, this was one of the best blocked plays from the Bengals offensive line all game. Redmond and Andre Smith take on 3-technique Tom Johnson in an ace block. Redmond does a good job of staying with Johnson and maintaining leverage, a lot of times you’ll see guys get too high upon contact and get thrown to the side, Redmond keeps his pad level even and finishes off Johnson.
Redmond again keeps his pad low and his hands are in perfect placement, all while eyeing the linebacker he’s tasked with sealing off, who in all fairness does a good job of taking himself out of the play. He disengages from the 3-technique and seals off the linebacker.
Redmond was only apart of the last eight snaps of the offense, but looked better than when he went up against Cleveland. Remember, Redmond was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Bengals the same year that they drafted Christian Westerman in the fifth round, and he’s not only been activated before him, but has now played in two games before Westerman has seen the field.
As the Bengals rightly should evaluate every single member of the this offensive line to see which one stays for 2018 and which one hits the market, Redmond has already established favorable grounds for a spot next year, but it may not matter with new leadership on the horizon.
At the very least, he’s put out positive, albeit, brief tape.