The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the league's scariest defensive lines, but there's a lot of work the front office has to do to keep each member around.
Geno Atkins may be a pass-rushing terror from the 3-technique defensive tackle spot, but the ends on the outside creating pressure are as good a complement as you'll find in the NFL.
Of course, we're talking about Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap, both rising stars who have contracts expiring after the 2013 season.
Both are equally important in their own right. Johnson broke out last season for 11.5 sacks, resulting in being slapped with the franchise tag. The two sides failed to work out a long-term agreement by the July 15 deadline and will have to talk business again after the season.
Dunlap is another story entirely. In three seasons, he has compiled 20 sacks but has had issues with health and production against the run.
Yet, on July 15, the same day the front office faced a deadline with Johnson, Cincinnati re-upped with Dunlap for the long-term on a six-year extension worth $40 million, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati.com.
But why Dunlap over Johnson, you ask? Outside of the financial implications (needing to save cap room for other players) and Dunlap's extreme wealth of untapped potential, we can reveal plenty of reasons through simple film study.
Let's take a look.
Let's go ahead and get the easy stuff out of the way first.
Dunlap is great when it comes to rushing the passer. He's extremely quick off the snap, deceptively strong enough to toss around 300-pound offensive linemen and has a vast array of smooth maneuvers to get around his opposition.
Take this play from Week 4 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, for example. Dunlap lines up directly across from the offensive tackle with one hand in the dirt. Cincinnati is showing its simple four-down lineman package for passing situations.
Dunlap explodes off the snap and causes the lineman to hesitate. The lineman is attempting to set up but has to account for Dunlap's explosiveness.
It's already over at this point. The lineman fails to get his feet set as Dunlap blows past him so effectively that he can cut off the quarterback no matter what route of escape he attempts.
Dunlap gets to the quarterback, causes a forced fumble and is rewarded with the sack. We could do without the facemask penalty, but you get the idea.
Dunlap is certainly not a world beater when it comes to defending the run. It's part of the reason veteran Robert Geathers tends to see the field more in running situations, but it's also an area where Dunlap can still drastically improve considering he is only 24 years old.
What Dunlap lacks against the run, he makes up for with his all-out motor and situational awareness.
Take this play in Week 13 against the San Diego Chargers. San Diego had one of the NFL's worst lines last year, but that's why I'm showing you other important traits, rather than his two sacks.
On this down, Dunlap lines up in his usual spot. He engages the lineman off the snap.
Dunlap's lineman pulls inside to help block, but he does not fall for the play action, instead engaging the lineman assigned to stop him.
Recognizing what is happening, Dunlap's head is already on a swivel looking for the receiver. He disengages the lineman and immediately begins to make his way to the intended receiver before the pass is even out of the quarterback's hands.
The receiver is able to get out of the grasp of other would-be tackles, but Dunlap is in perfect position to clean up the play.
Dunlap is a big end at 6'6" and 280 pounds. He won't swat as many passes as the man down in Houston, whom Bengals fans have become all too familiar with in the past couple of years, but every now and then he will get his paws on one.
A few plays after the one detailed above, Dunlap finds himself in his normal spot once more in what should be an obvious passing situation.
Dunlap makes his move, but realizes early in the developing play he won't get to the quarterback.
So what does he do? He stops, reads the eyes of the passer and elevates to make the play.
The lineman assigned to block Dunlap can only watch while his momentum carries him backward and Dunlap rises up to force a punt.
It's not a sexy play, nor one that will have as much merit as a sack on the stat sheet, but it got the defense off the field nonetheless.
Cincinnati still has a lot of work to do when it comes to keeping defensive talent in place, but Dunlap was one heck of a step in the right direction.
As you can see from the small sample size above, the Bengals had plenty of reasons to make sure Dunlap is a member of the team for years to come.
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