Dominant in the Trenches



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Thanks to a run-heavy gameplan from the Cleveland Browns and the extremely quick passes from Drew Brees the next week, the Bengals tallied zero sacks during the two games. Carlos Dunlap got to Ryan Mallett once the next week, but none of the other defensive linemen have gotten close to a quarterback recently.

This changed in Week 13 when Geno Atkins and Wallace Gilberry were in the backfield constantly. On the official stat sheet the Bengals only recorded one official sack, but in a sense, they tallied three.

The Buccaneers had the ball at the Bengals 10-yard line on their first drive (thanks to an early Dalton interception), 3rd & goal. The Bucs’ new center, Garrett Gilkey, literally rolled the ball on the grass backwards to Josh McCown, who was taking the snap from the shotgun position. McCown had to pick the terrible ‘snap’ off the ground and was starting to run forward, but he was immediately tripped up by Carlos Dunlap for a loss of four yards. Dunlap had beaten his man very easily with quickness to the outside and hand usage to keep the lineman from even touching his body. This likely would have been a sack if McCown had gotten a clean snap.


In the second quarter, the Buccaneers were in the red zone facing 3rd & 2. McCown was in the shotgun with two running backs in the backfield, one on either side. Atkins was lined up at the three-technique (between the left tackle and left guard). Robert Geathers lined up to his right, outside the left tackle. Atkins and Geathers run a stunt play designed for Geathers to come free up the middle. Atkins bursts upfield to the outside, initially taking on both the tackle and guard, while Geathers stunts behind him. Both the guard and tackle follow Atkins outside, but the center comes over to help on Geathers, neutralizing the designed play. Fortunately, the coverage by the Bengals defensive backs was perfect. No one is open, so McCown starts to drift to his left in an effort to make a throw on the run. This might have worked, but Geno Atkins had pushed the left tackle so far upfield that McCown drifted right into the waiting arms of Atkins for a sack. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Atkins unintentionally swiped McCown’s facemask as he was taking him down. This play went from a sack on third down to a 1st and goal from the eight-yard line. The Bucs would score their only touchdown after two decent runs by Doug Martin.


After Dalton’s third interception of the first half, the Buccaneers had a chance to get into field goal range just before the end of the first half. That chance was reduced significantly when Wallace Gilberry fired past the Bucs’ right guard so quickly, the guard had no choice but to blatantly hold Gilberry. Gilberry lined up as a defensive tackle at the three-technique gap in front of the right guard and tackle, dipping his left arm underneath and quickly shooting past the right guard’s left shoulder. The holding call backed the Buccaneers up ten yards and killed their chances of netting three points.


In the third quarter, the Buccaneers first drive ended with a three-and-out. They tried to hand it off to Charles Sims on second-and-long, but the play was completely blown up. McCown seems as if he turns the wrong way on the handoff, making Sims hesitate a bit as he gets the ball. It didn’t matter anyway, because Carlos Dunlap was left completely unblocked. Dunlap crashes down to make the initial hit on Sims, while linebacker Vinny Rey comes in to clean up the tackle for a loss. On this play, you can also see Atkins was in relatively good position directly in front of the run, and Brandon Thompson uses a swim move (which he does almost every play) to get upfield penetration. Thompson doesn’t get through cleanly, and actually trips on the right tackle behind him. This is an example of Thompson’s upfield penetration taking him out of the play, but as we’ll see on the next play, it can wreak havoc as well.  

The Buccaneers are now backed up at their own three-yard line, and Brandon Thompson is going all out for the safety. He fires off the ball extremely quickly and swims past the center with ease. The center has no choice but to hold him, though Thompson still forces the running back to sidestep in his own endzone. Reggie Nelson had been blitzing from the backside of the play and is right there to clean up the tackle for a near-safety. The Bengals already lead the league with two safeties this year, the first from Taylor Mays’ blocked punt in the Jaguars game. The other came two weeks ago against the Texans, when Geno Atkins, Rey Maualuga, and Domata Peko combined to make the stop in the endzone. This play in the Buccaneers game nearly gave the Bengals two more safeties than any other team in the league.


At the start of the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers had been given great field position due to a failed onside kick. They didn’t gain any yardage though, and ended up in a 3rd & 16 situation, allowing the Bengals pass rushers to tee off. Atkins uses his incredible strength to drive the center several yards into the backfield, while Gilberry and Geathers pinch the pocket tighter from the outside. Dunlap had stunted inside but knew he wasn’t going to get there, and he followed McCown out of the pocket for an easy sack. This was the first official sack of the day, but there were already two plays where they took down McCown in the backfield and another where Gilberry was on his way but was thrown down for a holding call.  

In the middle of the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers posted another three-and-out, due to stellar defensive line play. On first down, Robert Geathers crashes down from the right defensive end spot and makes a diving solo tackle on Doug Martin for a one-yard gain. If Geathers hadn’t made this play, there was a sizeable hole behind him where Martin could have gained some serious yardage.


The very next play, Wallace Gilberry employs the exact same move that led to the blatant offensive holding penalty earlier in the day. Gilberry explodes upfield from the defensive tackle spot and dips his left arm under the right guard again, drawing what appears to be another hold–though he doesn’t get the call this time. McCown is able to sidestep the pressure and shovel a pass to the running back for a three-yard gain.


Halfway through the fourth quarter now, the Buccaneers are still trailing by one and need to get a good drive going. They run on first down and are tackled for a loss, the entire front seven of the Bengals defending the run very well on this play. Brandon Thompson isn’t budged by a double team, while Carlos Dunlap fills the hole that Sims wanted to run through. Maualuga blows up the pulling guard to the outside, and Geno Atkins follows the pulling guard to help make the play from the backside for a tackle for loss.


A few plays later, Gilberry would have another potential sack taken away from him due to a penalty. On this play, the coverage is perfect on the back end. McCown has nowhere to throw and has to hold onto the ball longer than he wants. Gilberry hesitates at the snap to let Dunlap go inside, and Gilberry now has two men assigned to block him. If McCown had stayed at his initial drop of about ten yards, Gilberry wouldn’t have gotten there. But McCown climbs the pocket five yards forward and Gilberry closes quickly to lay a huge hit on McCown. Terence Newman was penalized for a very questionable hands-to-the-face call, negating the play.


Shortly thereafter, the Buccaneers try to run a stretch run play to the right, but Geno Atkins just takes over. He chases down the run from the backside with ease and makes the tackle for a loss. This is classic Geno Atkins. Also, notice that Lamur reads the play pre-snap and knows which direction the run is going.


The very next play, the Buccaneers must pass in a 3rd & long situation. Vincent Jackson is open downfield for a first down, but three Bengals (Carlos Dunlap, Vinny Rey, and Will Clarke) jump in the air to swat it down. This play brings to mind Tom Brady’s quote when playing against the Giants’ freakish defensive front in a Super Bowl loss: “It’s like throwing in a forest.”


The Bucs had one final chance to run a two-minute drill and get a field goal, which essentially ended with the twelve-men-on-the-field penalty. But the start of the drive went equally poorly for the Bucs. Atkins loops around and is able to get an unblocked shot on McCown thanks to Gilberry taking on multiple blockers. The ball falls harmlessly to the ground, and McCown must pick himself off the ground again.


At the end of the day, the Bengals defense allowed only 13 points and weren’t given much help. Dalton turned the ball over on the first play, deep in Bengals territory, giving the Bucs a free field goal. A failed onside kick also resulted in an easy three points. The Bengals also sacked McCown on a third down, but accidentally grabbed his facemask, allowing a Martin run into the endzone two plays later. Even with the Bucs low point total, the Bengals defensive performance was still much better than the scoreboard would indicate. McCown spent most of his day on his back, the Bucs two giant receivers only combined for 73 yards, and their backs only rushed for 75 yards on the day. The driving factor in this dominant performance was the stellar play of the Bengals defensive line.

Brennen Warner is a contributor to the Cincinnati Magazine Bengals Blog and SB Nation’s Cincy Jungle. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustBeWarned.

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