The Bengals have two of the top five sack artists in the NFL with defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Dunlap ranks fourth with 8.5 sacks. Atkins is tied for fifth with eight, which leads all interior linemen. Atkins has a sack in all but three games.
Dunlap has been among the league leaders the entire season. Atkins has joined him with a recent surge that has pulled him to within one-half sack of Dunlap. Atkins has had a steady diet of four sacks in the past five games.
Dunlap has been in the news for various reasons, most recently as the Bengals' 2015 Man of the Year award winner. Atkins has quietly gone about his job more than two years after a serious knee injury made the 2013 season a lost year after nine games. He spent all of last season getting back up to top speed, and totaled a career-low three sacks.
This season, he looks like the Geno of old, and more than capable of surpassing his career-high 12.5 sacks set in 2012.
“Geno’s been doing an excellent job. He obviously was a huge factor (against St. Louis, with one sack). The run game and the pass game," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "I think a lot of things, even a year ago, go unnoticed on what he does in the run game. But, he’s done such a great job with his pad level, his hands, and his extension. His ability to get off blocks and affect things that are going on.”
Lewis thought Atkins handled well last year's transition after getting back on the field following the injury, even though the lineman was challenged by defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who called Atkins "just a guy" on defense last season.
"We thought he played pretty well last year. I did, anyway," Lewis said. "Obviously, people around the league must have felt that way, because they voted him in the Pro Bowl. But, I just think his drive and his desire to help the football team is pretty clear. Geno, as you guys seem to know, is a man of very few words. But, when he says things he means it. He’s very convicted to those things. I think you can trust what he’s going to give you.”
It's common knowledge to those close to the team that Atkins doesn't say a whole lot, and the quietness is quite alright with the coach.
"We have a few guys like that, which is good. We certainly have a few of the others," Lewis said with a laugh. "I think because he’s not an outwardly loud person, it’s like that. His knowledge of the game and knowledge of what needs to get done is incredible. His ability to share it with the guys up front, and his ability to tell you what’s going on in the game, is really good.”
Lewis said Atkins is the quietest defensive player he's been around. "It makes you rethink, sometimes, what you are looking for,” the coach said.