The Steelers must block Geno Atkins if they hope to top Cincinnati


The Steelers’ offensive line was terrorized by Geno Atkins in week 8, and he could single-handedly stall the offense again. 

Despite injuries to All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey and starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum, the Steelers’ offensive line has played very well at times this season.

However, week 8 was not one of those weeks. Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins made Cody Wallace, Ramon Foster and David Decastro look like the offensive front of the “Little Giants.” The Bengals stunned Pittsburgh at Heinz Field, winning by a score of 16-10.

Although Atkins had two tackles and one sack in the game, His presence was felt on nearly every single play. Ben Roethlisberger felt pressure coming from the middle all game long. That caused him to throw three interceptions, including the sideline interception that kicked off the game-winning drive.

As elusive as Roethlisberger is, it’s incredibly hard to evade pressure coming from the middle. If you can’t see your options because there is a 300-pound monster running full speed at you, it’s going to be very hard to make any good decisions.

Nov 1, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Bengals won 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers’ game against the Bengals in week eight was their worst performance offensively if you don’t count the games that Roethlisberger has missed due to injury. The team may have gotten 116 yards on the ground, but Roethlisberger’s 240  yards passing was his lowest total of the season.

If there is one way to stop the Steelers’ offense in it’s tracks, it is to bring pressure up the middle. The Rams were able to do it in week 2 with their talented group of inside pass rushers.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s zone rushing scheme actually benefits a possibly-weakened Steeler front.

By running a zone scheme, blockers are in charge of blocking a half of a man, as opposed to blocking his entire frame. The Steelers were able to find success on the ground, but when it came to the air, Atkins stopped them cold.

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Atkins’ pass rushing ability from his defensive tackle position makes him arguably the most dynamic interior defensive lineman in the NFL. The Georgia product has eight sacks this season as a defensive tackle. No player on the Steelers’ defense has more than five.

It’s odd to say that a defensive tackle can control a game like Atkins did, but he opened up the rest of Cincinnati’s defense and gave them the opportunities to make plays.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, the way to thwart this will be with play action and sliding protection. By rolling Roethlisberger out to his right, they will be able to clear out some throwing lanes.

This is unfortunate because of Big Ben’s injury history this season. Getting Roethlisberger outside of the pocket will be scary to watch as he leave his knees and ankles exposed.

However, it’s the only way to open things up on the back end. The interior offensive linemen of the Steelers have played well this year, but Atkins is arguably the best defensive tackle this year. It would be foolish to expect the Steelers to block Atkins.

Next: NFL: Harv's week 14 predictions

The Steelers are placed in an unfortunate must-win situation, so hopefully Sunday’s game tells a different tale.