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Weekly Lineman: All hail Geno Atkins

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We don’t deserve No. 97. But we’ll happily have him in Cincinnati anyway.

Houston Texans v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s good to know when everything else is falling flat, there are players like Geno Atkins to pick up the slack.

This isn’t the first time this column has singled out the eighth-year veteran, and it probably won’t be the last. When someone sticks out as much as Atkins did against the Houston Texans last Thursday night, he deserves an equal amount of attention after the fact. Let’s dive into his many dominating reps.

He’s a tone setter, if you ask me.

On the very first drive of the game for the Texans, left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo is given a dirt nap. This quick bull rush gives linebacker Vincent Rey a path to the quarterback, which leads the center to trip over the Atkins reverse-pancake. Rey then gets the pressure that forces an incompletion from quarterback Deshaun Watson, who will learn to fear Atkins many times later on in this contest.

He’s just too powerful to down-block him, and he’s too quick to evade. This was the first of a couple of times Atkins works his way instantly off the backside of a zone run. Before the handoff is even completed, Atkins has already penetrated the center-right guard a gap after lining up on the outside shoulder of right guard Greg Mancz. He gets his hands on a play he shouldn’t have had anything to do with, and leads running back Lamar Miller into a squad of Bengals for a loss on the play.

Low man wins—especially in double teams. This is one of the better examples you can find just to get an idea how much force Atkins has in the lower half of his body. His first steps have him trying to split the double team instantly.

Left tackle Chris Clark and Su’a-Filo have him at an extremely compromising position, so he has to reset his plant foot twice and still gives up no ground against two blockers.

It appears running back D’Onta Foreman actually makes the wrong read and misses his the hole formed between Su’a-Filo and center Nick Martin, but running behind a double team on the three-technique usually works for most teams. It doesn’t against Atkins.

Just look at the next time it happened:

These two went from getting no push to a negative push. Su’a-Filo’s job is to work off the double team and advance to the second level to meet linebacker Nick Vigil, but Atkins and his aforementioned super-human lower leg drive wrecks this play design to shreds, and leads the charge for the stuff just past the line of scrimmage.

Two separate angles are needed for this one. You can notice the left guard is the first one off the ball (maybe even before the snap, but that doesn’t matter now) and Atkins mirrors his movement to a tee, so much that he’s the one to initiate the contact and gets immediate push. He penetrates so quickly that Martin can’t get over in time to slow him down and it becomes another stuffed run.

For the sake of bandwidth, let’s look at Atkins’s encounters with Watson as he took him down. The first sack is essentially a hustle sack, as Watson dances around in the pocket against a four man rush on third down. While a double team is handling Carlos Dunlap inside, Atkins twists around it and chases down Watson from behind.

Another twist is precisely how the second sack happened. Atkins awaits right defensive end Jordan Willis to attack the B gap, causing the right guard to concentrate on the pressing Willis. Atkins casually bends around the edge and goes untouched, meeting a surprised Watson. Big No. 97 makes sure he knows it’s him bearing down on the rookie.

The final pressure is in the fourth quarter. The Bengals’ offense is knee-deep in it’s own issues, but Atkins still plays with his hair on fire. Su’a-Filo took many losses on the night and this one wasn’t any better than the rest. With a simple inside swim move, Atkins sends him flailing in the dust and forces Watson to get the ball out before getting pushed to the ground.

One of the bigger storylines this offseason was Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald holding out from the team all the way up to this past Sunday. Donald is the most dominant interior defensive lineman in the game and deserves every dollar he’ll eventually get, but before there was Donald, Atkins set the standard for the phenomenon that is the undersized three-technique tackle.

Like Donald, Atkins elevates his defense to a completely different level and is far and away the best player in their respective units. Vontaze Burfict may be the heart, but Atkins does so much to make everyone’s job around him that much easier. Atkins’ contract is up after next season and as long as he’s here, I hope he never feel the dissatisfaction that Donald felt this offseason because this team owes Atkins more than they can ever pay him.