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Film Room: Luke Kuechly will be a true challenge to the Bengals run game

The Bengals have had one of the best running games in the league through the first two weeks of the season. Luke Kuechly will be looking to change that on Sunday.

NFL: New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals will face two major challenges when they are looking to run the ball in their Week 3 matchup against the Panthers.

The first is the loss of Joe Mixon, who has been a workhorse for the team thus far. The second is Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly who is the prototype of a modern NFL linebacker.

This clip from the Panthers’ Week 1 game against the Cowboys tell you everything you need to know about Kuechly. Despite initially filling on the run action to the right, he is able to run down the screen all the way to the left.

This demonstrates his ridiculous athletic ability. The Bengals will not be able to just run away from him or try to manipulate him with misdirection. He can run sideline to sideline and is never out of a play.

Because Kuechly is such an aggressive player, run/pass options (RPOs) can be effective against him, but his athleticism limits how effective they can be. Case and point: In the clip below, he bites hard on the run action which opens up the passing lane for the slant, but he reacts quickly and turns and runs to make the tackle.

RPOs could be an effective way for the Bengals attack Kuechly. Getting him to fill and chase multiple times cause him to hesitate on other run plays. Getting the ball in the hands of a wide receiver like John Ross who can accelerate fast enough to get away before Kuechly arrives could bring about some big plays.

When a run play is going wide, most linebackers will scrape over the top of the defensive line. Kuechly can do the same with great success, but with his athlete ability he can also shoot an open gap in order to make the tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

Here, he shoots the gap and shows great speed running Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott down before he can get to the edge. The Bengals will have a hard time getting to the edge against Kuechly which will make it hard for them to run the toss play that has become a staple of their offense in 2018.

This play from the Panthers’ Week 2 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons is a similar situation, but on a tighter counter play. Falcons left tackle Jake Matthews releases inside to block Kuechly who is the backside linebacker.

Matthews is likely expecting Kuechly to scrape over the top of him as the cutback player in the defense, but instead Kuechly shoots inside of the blocker and makes the tackle for a short gain. The Bengals offensive line has issues, and Kuechly will be a major test for the unit in the run game.

Cowboys right tackle La’el Collins is able to get up to Kuechly and make a good block on this zone read. This opens up the cutback lane for Elliott. This may be a good way for the Bengals to create cutback opportunities for Giovani Bernard as Kuechly often anticipates cutbacks on zone plays where a blocker swipes across the formation.

The Bengals face a tough task trying do anything offensively with Kuechly across the line of scrimmage. Kuechly can and will be around the ball on just about every play and will make it extremely difficult for the team to run the toss play. They must figure out how to make sure he is blocked on every play keep him from making plays in pursuit from the back side.