Division play always brings about familiar opponents. Twice a year, every year.
There’s also a saying that goes like this, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
The Cincinnati Bengals are coming to town for Monday Night Football. Normally there’s plenty of “contempt” to go around in one of these games.
But due to the absence of some of the protagonists and antagonists of years gone by, maybe there’s less contempt, but there will certainly be plenty of familiarity to create some angst come kickoff.
The mantra you hear is that to get to the playoffs, you first need to win your division. And before you can win your division, you have to draft to win your division.
With the drafting of Geno Atkins, the Cincinnati Bengals, took an important step forward defensively.
With the drafting of guard David DeCastro, arriving two years later than Atkins, the Steelers took an important step towards negating Atkins. And the two have staged great trench warfare battles over the years.
And they are this weeks “Meat-Eater Matchup.”
Turning on the tape, the first thing that strikes you is Atkins’s size, or lack thereof. While DeCastro stands nearly 6-foot-5, Geno barely clears six foot, stretching it to 6-foot-1 officially.
Atkins weighs in at a power-packed 300-pounds, and when you look at his ballistic-strength factors, such as his forty time, vertical jump etc., you begin to get the picture.
He may not be running a 4.8 something forty yard dash anymore, but watching the tape, I dare you to tell me he’s slowed down.
Equally adept at run-stopping or pass rushing, Atkins posts some great numbers for a defensive tackle. He has dropped quarterbacks a minimum of at least nine sacks a year over the last four years, with a high of 12.5 sacks in 2012.
Atkins plays the “3” technique, lining up on the outside shoulder of the guard. He will play over both guards, and sometimes line up over the center. His explosive ability is on par with championship level “Judokas.” I have trained many years in combative martial arts, and the top flight Judo-players I have known always displayed great power in uprooting an opponent.
This “uprooting” ability is the essence and core of the strength and mastery of Atkins.
In the power based sport of Judo, the throws come faster than the blink of an eye, and bodies fly. And they do so by aligning their bodies in such a manner as to max out their ability to uproot their opponent.
In the world of trench fighting in pro football, the combative ballistic contact comes faster than the blink of an eye, and bodies fly.
The essence and core of the strength and mastery of Atkins is to be found in his ability to uproot opponents.
Atkins is strong enough to take on the double team and hold the point without giving ground. Because he is only 6-foot-1, Atkins uses his great leverage (as do judo players) and ham-hock power to create a log-jam.
Coach Noll always referred to this as “under and up” leverage. The ability to get lower than the man across the line of scrimmage from you, and strike with a “rising blow.” And a rising blow is much easier to get to when you’re only 6-foot-1.
Atkins can split the double team with a fierce, compact, swim (arm-over) technique on backside cut-off plays going away from him. And he’s quick enough to chase down a ball carrier from the backside after he splits the double team.
Due to his precise placement of his powerful hands, Atkins will keep his elbows in to maximize power. This structural framing of his arms enables Atkins to neutralize an opposing player who tries to single block him off the ball. Atkins has great upper body strength to complement his lower body strength.
Putting his upper and lower body strengths together helps to fuel the volcanic power of Atkins go-to pass rush.
Atkins has an unbelievable “bull rush.” Atkins literally overwhelms an opponent with his great strength, leverage and uprooting power, driving an opponent backwards regardless if he’s 300-pounds, 350-pounds, or anywhere in between.
Obviously well versed in gap-integrity, Atkins can move laterally in a locked out position, negating the power and push of an opponent, while keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage. This keeps him capable of being a two-dimensional player.
And his agility and quick feet sometimes leave you just shaking your head.
Against Buffalo, Atkins “played over the top” of a down block by the tackle, then showing great agility, he avoided a tight end blocking down on the defensive end to his side, and raced towards the sidelines.
Atkins dove, laid out and narrowly missed the Bills quarterback, Josh Allen, who carried the ball on an outside rushing attempt. To navigate that amount of distance, and avoid the attempts to take him out, while still almost making the play to the outside edge of the field is nothing short of remarkable.
Atkins repertoire of pass rushing also includes a nice club and uppercut while shooting the gap up the field. And again, because he is only 6-foot-1, it is a no-dip, just rip uppercut ala vintage James Harrison.
With all this in mind, If I were to play Atkins (and I’m so thankful I’m not), I would humbly suggest;
1.) Short-set him on pass plays. Jump him at the line of scrimmage. Get your hands on him as quickly as possible. Make him fight you in a phone booth. You’re at home with a friendly crowd, know your quarterbacks voice, anticipate the snap count, and use it to your advantage.
2.) When you have the opportunity to double-team him, the post man or the one who hits him front and center, make sure you get as low as you can to “rip and rack,” or drive your fists into his chest plate, and get a grip. If you’re the driver, or the second man who hits Atkins from the side, Atkins will turn slightly sideways to take on the block. Know this ahead of time, and make sure the driver gets hip to hip with the post man.
3.) If you’re double-teaming Atkins on the backside of a play, be aware he will try to split the double team. I would secure him first, and worry about coming off on second level guys later.
Just an old guy thinking out loud …