CINCINNATI -- Geno Atkins should be the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.
At least, that's what Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther believes. You're hard-pressed to find anyone around Paul Brown Stadium who disagrees with him.
"Maybe we haven't talked about it enough, but I said earlier in the season he should be in that conversation," Guenther said. "He's done nothing not to be in there."
Guenther's logic is easy to understand. Atkins is "our best player and he's playing good." Simple, right?
As a subscriber to the belief that the only defensive statistics worth measuring are points allowed, Guenther thinks his defense is pretty good, too. Entering Monday night's action, the Bengals had the league's lowest points allowed per game average (17.5).
If Guenther's logic about defensive statistics is thus applied to metrics measuring defensive success, then Atkins, as the best player on the best defense, would deserve the NFL's top individual defensive honor.
"You ask anybody on [an opposing] offense, any offense that we play. The first guy when they turn the tape on Monday morning and they look at the tape to prepare for us, they say, 'Oh s---, we better have a plan for this guy," Guenther said.
Aside from helping the Bengals keep teams out of the end zone -- the Bengals have allowed 10 or fewer points in four of their past five games -- what all has Atkins done to warrant Defensive Player of the Year attention?
He's made plays on the quarterback.
Atkins' 8.0 sacks are the most for a defensive tackle this year, and they rank fifth among all defensive players. Against the Rams this past Sunday, he had two tackles for loss and was credited with four quarterback hurries and a pair of quarterback hits. Ahead of Monday night's Ravens-Browns game, Atkins' plus-6.3 grade from Pro Football Focus was the highest the website had given a tackle for the weekend.
"He's a threat in the running game and he's a threat in the passing game," Guenther said of Atkins. "That's a handful for an offense in there. I'm glad he's on our side."
When Atkins is playing the way he has been this season Guenther can employ more vanilla rush packages that permit him to leave linebackers and defensive backs in coverage.
"You don't have to have the eight-man fronts, you don't have to draw up a whole bunch of new blitzes," Guenther said. "You maybe want to get him one-on-one, just how you get him isolated on a guy in a pass rush, or use him some way to get another guy free."
This is the Atkins head coach Marvin Lewis contends he saw last season, although the numbers suggest otherwise. Atkins already has exactly the number of tackles he had all of last year, and has five more sacks than he did in 2014 when he was coming off ACL surgery.
Despite Atkins' comparatively low numbers last season, Lewis and Guenther were optimistic in the offseason that the pre-ACL player many were familiar with would show up this year.
"His drive and his desire to help the football team is pretty clear," Lewis said to reporters. "Geno, as you guys seem to know, is a man of very few words. But when he says things he means it. He's very convicted to those things. You can trust what he's going to give you."