There is a lot of talk about the Ravens defense versus Cincinnati's offense, but the Bengals' defensive line will also be a major concern Sunday.
The Bengals are allowing exactly 300 yards of total offense per game, only 97 rushing per game. They have collected six sacks and picked off two passes. They are a lot more aggressive and dominating than a year ago thanks to defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who is back to Pro Bowl form following a torn ACL in his knee in 2013.
Some heal faster, but major knee surgery still requires about two years for a player to get back to 100 percent, and Atkins does so much for Cincinnati. Because he has such a presence inside, it usually takes two players to block him, which frees up defensive ends Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson or middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to get single blocked. Maualuga is third on the team in tackles with 12 while Dunlap is fifth with eight.
Atkins can also collapse a pocket, which makes the Bengals pass rush much better with Johnson and Dunlap on the edge. Truly great defenses get consistent pressure from their defensive line without blitzing a lot.
"They don't do anything different than anybody else does," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh of the Bengals. "They have their own unique style. They have their way of playing. I think they're very aggressive, in terms of their mentality. They're an attacking, 4-3-type defense. No. 97 [Geno Atkins] coming up the field in that three technique is very effective. [Domata] Peko in the middle is a very physical player against the run. He moves well. I think he's an underrated player for sure. [Carlos] Dunlap is playing well. The whole group is just an aggressive group."
"They play the coverages and the fronts – and really the blitzes that you see – but when they do them, they do them well," said Harbaugh. "I think they play well when they can get you in situations where they make you one-dimensional. That's what they want to do – stop your run and try to get after the quarterback. So, it's not anything that people don't try to do, but they do it well."