Will Geno Atkins Help the Bengals’ Defense Return to Form?


Geno Atkins’ sustained re-emergence would give the Bengals’ defense a huge boost. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals’ defense has been largely a disappointment this year.  It’s a distinct difference from past years when the team relied on its defense to carry them to victories.  This year has seen the team attempt to earn victories despite the unit.  Opposing quarterbacks have enjoyed relaxed pockets and substantial amounts of time to complete passes while the running defense has been completely nonexistent this year allowing opposing runners huge holes to work with.  It’s a problem that must be solved if this team is to find success in the second half of the year when the schedule will only get more difficult.

After starting the year in decent yet unspectacular fashion (allowing 352.7 yards/game in their first three contests), the defense really struggled following the bye week.  They allowed both the Patriots and Colts to accumulate over 500 yards of offense while the Panthers racked up 431 yards of their own; a 480.7 yards/game average from Weeks Five through Seven.  But Week Eight proved to be a different story.  The Bengals were able to hold the Ravens ninth ranked offense to just 294 yards, which was the best performance by the Bengals on the year.  Much of this performance can be attributed to the re-emergence of Geno Atkins who tallied four tackles, one sacks, two TFLs, and one QB hit.  Clearly it was his best performance on the year.

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The defense as a whole didn’t allow Joe Flacco nearly as much time to throw the ball as they’ve afforded others.  They didn’t allow Flacco to get comfortable and kept him out of rhythm.  This was evident as Flacco produced only 5.7 yards/attempt while he threw two interceptions: Flacco’s day could’ve been even worse when considering that both Marquis Flowers and Terence Newman nearly had interceptions themselves.  When it comes to defending the running game, the Bengals also had their best game of the year allowing only 4.1 yards/carry.  Is it any coincidence that this type of production came while Geno Atkins had his best game of the year?

Geno Atkins’ pass-rushing ability is well documented and has done wonders for the careers of his fellow linemen for several years (see Michael Johnson).  But Atkins’ presence extends to the running game as well.  ESPN’s Coley Harvey highlighted as much in a piece over the off-season.  Atkins accounts for a -0.6 yards/carry difference when on the field in the past.  The Bengals have struggled mightily against the run this year, so returning to this level of play may be even more important than Atkins regaining his pass-rushing form considering the Bengals’ schedule going forward.  Other than the games against the Jaguars, Buccaneers, and Broncos (who’s offense seems to not need a running attack), the Bengals will face, at worst, the 12th best running offense in the league the rest of the year.  Here’s how the running rankings currently exist for Bengals’ opponents the rest of the year.

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Atkins presence will be even more important the next couple of weeks as it was reported today that Vontaze Burfict underwent arthroscopic knee surgery today.  The Bengals’ defense is in dire need of leadership and Atkins is capable of providing that presence.

Geno Atkins is clearly capable of being a game-changing defender for this defense.  He’s racked up sacks at an impressive rate to begin his career and can consistently collapse the pocket from the middle forcing opposing quarterbacks out of their comfort zone. If Atkins’ latest game was the beginning of a sustained re-emergence, fans should be able to expect a different defense going forward than the pitiful one they’ve experienced thus far this year.