Bengals lose All-Pro DT Geno Atkins to torn ACL
In a Thursday night contest with the Miami Dolphins, the Bengals suffered a blow that will undoubtedly affect them for the rest of the year. Atkins fell awkwardly on his right knee, causing him to walk with a strong limp and eventually be carted off the field. Head coach Marvin Lewis confirmed on Friday that Atkins has a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.
It's tough to argue that there has been a more significant injury to a defensive player all season. Atkins makes a strong case as the best defensive tackle in football. He currently ranks fifth in Pro Football Focus' interior defensive linemen ratings, excelling in both stopping the run and rushing the passer. Among defensive/nose tackles, Atkins' 6.0 sacks are second to only Jason Hatcher (DAL), while his 20 quarterback hurries are behind only Hatcher and Ndamukong Suh (DET).
Teammate Domata Peko - who starts alongside Atkins at defensive tackle - has graded out as Pro Football Focus' 67th interior lineman among 69 qualifiers. The loss of Atkins is going to leave a gaping hole in the middle of the Bengals' front seven, especially with starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga sidelined another 2-3 weeks with a knee injury. The Bengals may look to free agency for an upgrade, as they have the cap space to bring in one of the top players available.
Richard Seymour - who played very well for the Oakland Raiders in 2012 - has expressed an interest in playing for the right price, and the Bengals can afford to pay him what he wants. Former Pro Bowler Jay Ratliff - who was released by the Cowboys earlier this month - is another name to keep an eye on. Ratliff is expected to be recovered from his hamstring injury in 2-4 weeks, so he could help the Bengals down the stretch and in a potential playoff run.
Regardless of who the Bengals bring in, the loss of Atkins will remain immense. The absence of a dominant pass rushing presence on the interior will make it more difficult for bright defensive ends Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap - who have combined for 6.5 sacks and 35 hurries this year - to get to the quarterback. As for the run defense, opponents will have a much easier time pounding the ball up the middle, as Atkins won't be swallowing up blockers, freeing up space for the linebackers to make plays. Atkins' presence has a trickle effect throughout the defense.
With top cornerback Leon Hall (Achilles) also out for the year, the Bengals have now lost two of their best defensive players. Youngsters who may need to finally live up to their draft statuses and step up are 2012 second-round pick Devon Still at defensive tackle and 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback.