Analysis Notebook: Week 17
After a break for the holidays Analysis Notebook returns for the final week of the regular season, and because we’ve reached the end of the sixteen game schedule, we’re going to look back over the entire season in this installment, rather than concentrate on a single game. At various points we’ve looked at some of the standout performers from the 2012 season, but have managed to avoid today’s subject, Geno Atkins.
Atkins had the kind of season that would walk away with Defensive Player of the Year in any other year, but is likely to become a forgotten man this year as AP voters throw their weight behind JJ Watt (not unreasonably). The inhuman season Watt has had shouldn’t be allowed to completely overshadow what Atkins was able to achieve this year – become the league’s most dominant defensive tackle.
Over the past five seasons of grading the best two grades at defensive tackle for a single-season have been Kevin Williams scoring +42.7 in 2008 and Kyle Williams notching +44.2 in 2010. This season Atkins blew those marks out of the water with +79.9 in total. He ended the year sacking the quarterback 16 times, adding 62 more hits and hurries, and even batting down a pair of passes. Only two players at any position recorded more total pressure than Atkins, and they were both edge rushers (Cameron Wake and Von Miller). Those numbers are simply off the charts for a defensive tackle, and the scary part is he was dominating in the run game as well. He recorded a stop in the run game on 10.6% of his snaps, 2nd in the league and comfortably ahead of all recognized run-stuffing DTs.
Geno Atkins has become the player Ndamukong Suh was supposed to be when he was drafted, and is the standout DT from that draft despite Suh and Gerald McCoy both becoming major forces with their best seasons this year. Atkins is simply on another level.
Announcing His Presence – Cincinnati @ Baltimore, Week 1 | 1st Q, 13:37
Geno Atkins sacks Joe Flacco on 3rd and 4 after running Baltimore C Matt Birk right over.
The Ravens may have run away with this game in the opening week, but Atkins certainly announced his intentions for the season in dramatic fashion, right from the outset. This play came on the first third-down the Ravens faced in the game, just three snaps of action into the season.
The first thing to look at on this play is just where Atkins starts this rush. He is all the way on an outside shade of LT Michael Oher, but he is going to loop inside and end up bullrushing Birk right into the dirt on his way to the quarterback. The combination of power, speed and athleticism evident in this play is what Atkins is all about. He isn’t any one thing, but a destructive compound of every trait you want in a defensive tackle that offensive linemen simply can’t handle.
The Bengals come with six rushers, and Birk has actually managed to get the correct line call because Baltimore pick them all up perfectly. Unfortunately for Birk that puts him one on one with Atkins, who is coming with bad intentions. On first contact he gets right into Birk’s chest, standing him up and then driving him back like he was just a blocking sled. He ends up putting him on skates so completely that the center ends up getting caught on the leg of RG Marshal Yanda and Atkins simply barrels the pair right into Flacco in the pocket. This block is total destruction.
Not Just a Pass-Rusher – Denver @ Cincinnati, Week 9 | 3rd Q, 10:45
On 1st and 10 Atkins destroys a run four yards deep in the backfield.
It would be easy to think that a player built like Atkins would be simply a pass-rushing specialist, and for his first year in the league it looked like that might be exactly what he would become, but somewhere between that first and second season the light went on, and he realized how to use his pass-rushing skills in the run game. This play is the result of that epiphany. Atkins realized that everything he did to beat his man in the passing game was exactly as applicable in the run game if he simply attacked with the same ferocity and didn’t wait for the run to come his way before reacting.
He essentially decided that he would just play the game on the offense’s side of the line of scrimmage, and things would work out. Good call.
Here the Broncos are looking to run to their left, actually right off left guard, though you would struggle to tell that given where the guard ends up. Zane Beadles was a massively improved player this season at LG, and on this play he needs to execute a reach block to seal Atkins to the inside, opening up the running lane to his outside. Atkins lines up outside of Beadles, so he correctly starts off the play moving laterally, sacrificing ground to gain position on the block, but this is simply red rag to a bull. Atkins takes giving ground as an invitation, and again makes contact with his man with unbeatable leverage, driving him four yards deep into the backfield, completely annihilating the running lane before tossing him to the side and making the tackle as the running back desperately tries to get around the block.
This is basically the exact same move as we saw in the first play, except it came in the run game and didn’t come as part of a pass-rushing stunt, but the bottom line is the skills are the same. The leverage that Atkins is able to strike with leaves blockers dead in the water, and he has the speed and power combination to drive them deep into the backfield and wreck any play coming his way from that point on.
Unstoppable Force – Cincinnati @ Philadelphia, Week 15 | 3rd Q, 12:19
On 1st and 10 Atkins destroys a pass play by driving his blocker into the quarterback as he finishes his drop
This might be the most devastating display of power I have seen all season. Most players prefer to beat their man with quickness either side rather than leverage and power, but few have the ability of Atkins to drive linemen around like this. Again he finds himself one on one with a guard, this time Jake Scott at RG for the Eagles.
This time however, Scott actually does a decent job of meeting Atkins for pad level, removing the natural leverage advantage that he had in both of the previous plays. That is as far as Scott did match him though, because from that point onward he simply lost the battle of strength and was driven back as if he were little more than a high-school kid. Atkins rockets the pair into the backfield so quickly that they actually beat the edge rushers that essentially don’t engage until they are that far deep and are running untouched. They arrive so quickly that QB Nick Foles is only just coming out of his drop, and immediately has to take off to his right to avoid being sacked.
Scott tries to hold Atkins to give his quarterback a chance of escaping with his life, but he still can’t prevent him from spinning loose and giving chase, eventually forcing a desperate throw as he falls to the floor.
Atkins essentially ran right through a guard, fought out of his holding attempt, and still forced the pass all within 4.2 seconds of the snap. He actually arrived at Foles in just 1.7 seconds, which is simply ludicrous for a play in which he had to drive right through somebody, and would be a similar time to a guy who manages to come completely unblocked off the line.
The bottom line is that Atkins is no longer simply a quick, speedy pass-rushing defensive tackle. He has added strength and power to that arsenal and plays with a natural leverage that most linemen can’t hope to match. His season is full of plays exactly like this, so while JJ Watt might run away with defensive player of the year, it’s important to remember that offensive linemen lose sleep when they have to face Atkins as well, and the season he just put together ranks among one of the best in the last decade.
Just one more thing. They play each other this week. Watch out for fireworks!