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Can Bengals DT Geno Atkins Be The Geno We Know Again?

matthewwillson
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Oct 26, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. Bengals defeated the Ravens 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Before Geno Atkins tore his ACL in the Bengals’ Week Nine matchup with the Miami Dolphins on Halloween, Geno Atkins was one of the most dangerous defensive tackles in the NFL. He was an All-Pro caliber player with the ability to get into the backfield quickly to disrupt plays. But this season has been different as he’s had a less than stellar year.

Last Season, Geno Atkins had six sacks and 20 combined tackles through nine games prior to his injury. In 2012, he had 12.5 sacks, 53 combined tackles, two pass deflections and four forced fumbles. He was a force and a defensive leader. Even while offensive lines were preparing for him in 2013, he still made difference-making plays and was on pace for 10 sacks.

Through 13 games this year, Atkins has only two sacks and 29 combined tackles, one of which was a safety, along with one pass deflection, and a forced fumble; far from his 2012 numbers as well as where he stood in Week Nine of 2013.

There are two reasons why the young defensive tackle isn’t performing to the standard he’s set for himself over the past couple of years. First, the coaching staff has changed and so have the schemes. Paul Guenther isn’t employing the same pass-rush the Bengals ran under Mike Zimmer; of note, Guenther actually designed most of the blitz packages while coaching under Zimmer. Rushing four instead of six forces Atkins into consistent double teams. This makes it more difficult for Atkins to make the game-changing plays we’ve become used to (i.e. as like the one against Houston where Geno Atkins got into the backfield to tackle Alfred Blue in the end zone for a safety).

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Second, it is possible the Bengals rushed Geno Atkins back to the field quicker than they should have. A year or more used to be the required amount of time for a player to make a full recovery from an ACL injury. But now players (and teams) are using advanced therapy in an attempt to get players back onto the field quicker. For some players, it’s more about the mental recovery, so when rushing back to the field players may start off slow or may never develop a rhythm due to this nagging mental hurdle.

Luckily for Bengals fans and the organization, I believe Geno Atkins’ down year can be attributed more to the changes in the coaching ranks versus Atkins’ injury.  Still, Atkins must find a way to return to his old self if the Bengals’ defense wants to return to top five status. Paul Guenther must develop schemes which enable Geno Atkins to get into the backfield, especially as the Bengals will face Denver and Pittsburgh in Weeks 16 and 17 respectively.  If they want any chance of taking the division title, finding ways to empower Geno Atkins once more would help the Bengals greatly in their pursuit of this goal.

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