When it comes to the Cincinnati Bengals, there are several players who the team can ill-afford to lose.
That’s the case with any team that hopes to win a Super Bowl, whether it be Tom Brady with the Patriots, Von Miller with the Broncos, Andrew Luck with the Colts, Matt Ryan with the Falcons, or Le’Veon Bell with the Steelers.
But who best fits the description of being a “Jenga” piece for the Bengals?
On a recent podcast by the NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks, the two discussed what they call the biggest “Jenga pieces” for each NFL team. Jenga is a game in which players take turns removing one block at a time from a tower constructed of 54 blocks. Contestants keep pulling them out and placing them on the top level until someone pulls a block out and the tower comes tumbling down, thus making them the loser.
Last year, the Bengals became big losers when A.J. Green went down with a hamstring injury. Including that Week 11 loss to the Bills, the Bengals would go 3-5 in the games Green missed.
Then again, they weren’t much better during their 3-4-1 start, but it has to be noted that two of those losses came to the Patriots and Cowboys, who had the NFL’s two best records in 2017. Another narrow loss came in Pittsburgh to a Steelers team that finished 11-5. There was plenty of reason to think the Bengals would win at least one, if not more games they lost if Green played in those final six contests.
But while Green was easily the Bengals’ Jenga piece last year, that’s no longer the case in 2017. That’s because the Bengals spent a top-10 draft pick on Washington wide receiver John Ross this year, as well as a second-round pick on talented running back Joe Mixon. Those two will make a major impact on offense and keep Green from having to shoulder the load.
Adding to that, second-year receivers Tyler Boyd, Alex Erickson and Cody Core should make more contributions in 2017, further negating the loss of Green if he ever misses time.
And lest we forget, star tight end Tyler Eifert should be ready for Week 1 after he missed the first six games in 2016, a string of games in which the Bengals went 2-4. With Eifert on the field, Green becomes less of a Jenga piece, though he’s still a major piece to this team.
Saying this, the Bengals’ Jenga piece of 2017 is probably now Geno Atkins. While the defense added some nice talented on the edge, Atkins is still far and away the only defensive tackle this team can rely on this season.
Forget the fact Atkins is the three best 3-technique defensive tackles in the game. He’s the only Bengals tackle we know is capable of starting and making a positive impact right now.
Sure, Andrew Billings has potential, and Ryan Glasgow has some nice pass-rushing skills, but neither of them have played an NFL snap. And we know veterans Pat Sims and Brandon Thompson aren’t capable of being relied on in starting roles. They’ve shown they need to be rotation players to make a positive impact.
On top of that, Atkins’ dominance on the interior makes it so much easier for guys on the edge to win their matchups. Sure, Carlos Dunlap is good at doing that on his own, but none of the other ends have proven they can do so at this stage of their careers.
So having Atkins wreaking havoc in the middle will make it easier for guys like Michael Johnson, Will Clarke, Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson to win on the edge, something they probably wouldn’t do nearly as much this year if Atkins were out.
You could obviously argue Andy Dalton is the Jenga piece of this franchise, but we’ve already seen AJ McCarron fill in nicely for him and keep the offense going.
And then there’s the fact that defensive tackle probably becomes the team’s biggest weakness if Atkins were to go out. You can take Green away at wide receiver, but the Bengals still should get good production out of Ross, Boyd and veteran Brandon LaFell, not to mention Eifert making an impact at tight end.
Speaking of, you could argue losing Eifert would be a huge loss, but we saw Uzomah and even h-back Ryan Hewitt step up there at times, and the receivers would help account for the loss of Eifert.
There’s no accounting for losing Atkins. The Bengals would be in a world of hurt if he went out of the lineup.
Do you agree?
Who is the Bengals’ "Jenga piece"?
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Pacman, because who could replace him off-the-field?