CINCINNATI – Ryan Tannehill tried to give his receiver a little more time to get open, but Geno Atkins was having none of it.
The Bengals tackle closed quickly and smacked into the Dolphins quarterback as he released an incomplete pass to Kenny Stills.
Just the start of a long day for Miami’s overmatched blockers.
Atkins had two more sacks and three quarterback hits during Cincinnati’s 27-17 win on Sunday that was the direct result of the Bengals’ defense. Tannehill was sacked twice in the fourth quarter and had three turnovers, including an interception and fumble that were returned for the decisive touchdowns.
Atkins was in the middle of it, forcing Tannehill to stray from the pocket and become vulnerable to hits that led to the turnovers.
“He’s unbelievable,” first-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “On one sack he beat the guy so fast I don’t know what you ask the quarterback to do. He just does stuff you don’t teach.”
Atkins has six sacks in five games, tied with the Texans’ J.J. Watt and the Steelers’ T.J. Watt for the league lead. No other interior NFL lineman has more than three sacks. The Bengals (4-1) host the Steelers (2-2-1) on Sunday in an important game for the AFC North.
A victory would end Cincinnati’s run of six straight losses to the Steelers and provide a cushion – the Bengals have already beaten the Ravens (3-2) at Paul Brown Stadium. A seventh straight loss to Pittsburgh would leave the race wide open.
Atkins has made the biggest impact on a defense that leads the league with three returns for touchdowns. He’s off to one of his best starts after getting a four-year contract extension through 2022. His best season was 2012, when he had 12 1/2 sacks and forced four fumbles.
His 67 sacks rank third in franchise history and are the most by a Bengals interior lineman. Atkins has led NFL interior linemen in sacks three times and tied for the lead twice. His push from the middle of the line forces quarterbacks to throw early or scramble out of the pocket, making plays break down.
“Geno had quite a few collisions with the quarterback (on Sunday),” coach Marvin Lewis said. “He knocks him down, and he stays on his feet. That’s a good way to do it, I guess. He can do it with that kind of velocity.”
Atkins is a leading example of how shorter defensive linemen can get through and around much bigger blockers. The 6-foot-1, 300-pound tackle can use his signature “bull rush” move on linemen who aren’t set for it, driving them backward into the quarterback.
Atkins is one of the quietest Bengals, declining interviews and saying little during team meetings. After he signed his contract extension, Atkins said during a rare media session that he realized early in his nine-year career that his size can be a big advantage in the NFL.
“Short, stocky, strong guys – we have the leverage, strength and power,” Atkins said. “The bull rush is really my will against your will.”
Austin came to the Bengals from Detroit, where Ndamukong Suh created problems for blockers in much the same way. He appreciates how Atkins can force offenses to change their blocking plans.
“He just can wreck the game,” Austin said. “It’s like when I had Suh in ‘14. You can’t single-block the guy. And if you do, you do at your own risk. He is tenacious. He’s got different moves. He’s strong. He’s quick. Boy, he’s fun to watch.”
The only thing he doesn’t do is talk very much. Concluding his media session after the contract extension, he said he would slip back into his customary silence.
“I’m not that interesting to talk to,” he said.
More prime time
The Bengals’ game at Kansas City on Sunday, Oct. 21 was moved to prime time, giving Cincinnati a pair of night games this season. The Bengals beat the Ravens 34-23 on Thursday, Sept. 13. The Chiefs now have six night games this season. The Bengals are 6-14 in prime time since 2011, including 0-5 on Sunday, 2-5 on Monday, 4-3 on Thursday and 0-1 on Saturday night.
The Bengals waived running back Thomas Rawls, a fourth-year player who signed as a free agent on Sept. 19 after Joe Mixon suffered a knee injury. Mixon returned on Sunday.
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