By Edward Lee
8:00 AM EST, December 29, 2012
If the Ravens wish to leave Cincinnati with their 11th win of the season and a hope of leapfrogging the New England Patriots for the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs, they need to find a way to neutralize Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
In just his third year in the NFL, the 6-foot, 300-pound defensive tackle leads all interior linemen in sacks with 13, which ranks fifth in the league behind the likes of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (20½ sacks), San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith (19½) and Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (17½) – three contemporaries usually mentioned in the conversation for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
How do the Ravens intend on containing Atkins?
“That’s difficult to do, obviously,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said during his weekly conference Thursday. “Pro Bowler, extraordinary quickness, great power and strength. He’s very difficult – where he lines up – to double-team him consistently. They move him around just enough in there to give you different looks, but the guy is maybe one of the most powerful interior linemen that you’ll ever see. Obviously, it’s tough to get sacks from the interior, and when you get the number of sacks that he’s had from his position, you know he’s something special. Obviously, you better pay attention to him and know where he is, and you better try to do a few things to kind of help control him, because he can disrupt the entire ballgame.”
So what are the Ravens’ options? The first thought is to have two offensive linemen double team him. The Philadelphia Eagles employed that strategy frequently on Dec. 13, and Atkins finished without a single sack or tackle. But Atkins insisted that while the Eagles’ plan may have worked, it allowed some of his teammates to generate a pass rush and force four takeaways.
Another idea is to line up fullback Vonta Leach or tight end Ed Dickson on the same side as Atkins and have one of those guys help. But because Atkins usually lines up between the guards, that could mean that the blocker could get in the way of either quarterback Joe Flacco or running back Ray Rice.
NFL Network analyst Jamie Dukes, a former Atlanta Falcons center, thinks shifting the offensive line’s schemes to attack Atkins may be the best option.
“The way I would handle that is, I would slide to him,” Dukes said. “I would have sliding protections going to where he is. A slide will allow the offensive linemen to be stronger because he’s only got one area to protect and that means he can be stouter at the point of attack. That is how I would address him.”
Other plans could entail asking Flacco to utilize three- and five-step drops to counter Atkins’ quickness or having Flacco roll out of the pocket and away from the pressure. If you believe Caldwell, every idea could be used Sunday because the Bengals will try to counter whatever method the Ravens employ.
“You have to do a number of different things to him,” Caldwell said. “You cannot just go in there and do exactly the same thing all the time. He’s been around the block. That defensive staff is extraordinary. It’s not your typical staff. [Defensive coordinator Mike] Zimmer does a fine, fine job of adjusting. He’s one of the best in the business. They have something to attack everything you do, and they do the same thing with protecting their good players as well.”
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