The Ravens know they have their hands full with the Bengals pass rush this weekend, specifically defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
The third-year player out of Georgia has a career-high 12.5 sacks this season and anchors a Bengals pass rush that ranks second in the league with 47 sacks.
It’s unusual for an interior lineman to get that kind of pressure on the quarterback, but Atkins can come at a quarterback from all angles. He can drive linemen right back into the quarterback with a bull-rush up the middle, but he can also stunt and beat a tackle or a double-team coming off the edge.
Atkins, 6-foot-1 and 300 pounds, was perceived by some as short by NFL defensive lineman standards, which is one reason he fell to the fourth round. Now he appears to be one of the steals of the 2010 draft.
What he lacks in height Atkins makes up for with “extraordinary quickness, great power and strength,” according to Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.
"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,” Caldwell said at his weekly media session on Thursday. “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.”
In the past, the Ravens have served up a few wrinkles to neutralize Atkins’ presence in the middle. They have frequently showed end-around looks –either giving the ball to a wideout or faking the end-around– to help spread the field horizontally. Get Atkins going the wrong way, and holes can open up inside. That’s what happened in the season finale last season in Cincinnati, when Ray Rice had touchdown runs of 70 and 51 yards.
Likewise, last season Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco showed a lot of rollouts and naked bootlegs against the Bengals. One such play resulted in a 35-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.
Atkins had two sacks in the first meeting this season between these teams, a 44-13 rout by the Ravens in the season opener. It’s unclear how much starters from both teams will play on Sunday, since both teams are assured of playoff spots.
But the Ravens expect to see Atkins, and expect a major challenge from him.
“Obviously, you better pay attention to him and know where he is,” Caldwell added, “and you better try to do a few things to kind of help control him, because he can disrupt the entire ballgame.”