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Carolina Panthers

The key Bengals matchup that no one's talking about


CHARLOTTE – This Cincinnati Bengal and former Georgia Bulldog is a perennial Pro Bowler coming off a huge game against the Ravens, and yet no one seems to be talking about him this week.

Not wide receiver A.J. Green – everyone has been talking about him, and the media flocked to cornerbacks James Bradberry and Captain Munnerlyn to ask questions about Andy Dalton's favorite target.

No, this is an opportunity to discuss defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the All-Pro who put on a show with two sacks and a bunch of pressures in that Thursday night win over Baltimore.

Atkins' performance led to headlines like this: "Geno Atkins puts the Ravens in a blender," and "Geno Atkins wrecked the Ravens."

So while, yes, Green and his three touchdowns deserve plenty of attention, so too does Cincinnati's havoc-wreaking three-technique.

"Geno is an incredible player," center Ryan Kalil said. "He's someone you have to watch a lot, a lot of tape on."

That's what the Panthers offensive line has been doing all week.

And they've seen stuff like this.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was fortunate to get this throw off in time for what became an incredible catch, but the purpose of this clip is to show the sheer strength from Atkins as he tosses aside the left guard.

"He's a powerhouse," guard Tyler Larsen said. "He plays with great technique, great leverage. He gets underneath guys and pressures that pocket."

This is the type of matchup where you'd love to have Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner out there to help keep Atkins at bay. We're talking about a defensive tackle who has made some of the league's top guards look silly. But Turner is going to miss a second straight game with a concussion.

That means Larsen, who will again start in Turner's place at right guard, and left guard Greg Van Roten will be tasked with one of the toughest assignments this league can offer interior O-linemen. The veteran center Kalil will of course be there to help battle Atkins, who alternates lining up across the left and right guard throughout the game.

"We'll both see him for sure," Van Roten said. "He's a two-time first-team All-Pro, a six-time Pro Bowler – that doesn't go unnoticed by us."

Atkins is a tremendous run defender with his quickness off the snap and ability to penetrate. But what gets the most attention is his signature pass-rush move: the bull rush.

It's a move Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short has long admired.

"What he does is different from all the other guys like an Aaron Donald or Gerald McCoy. His bull rush is unbelievable," Short said. "Once he starts, he keeps his feet (moving) and you can't stop that power. He does it really well. You have to respect him. That bull rush is deadly."

Van Roten regretfully concurs.

"You might know what you're going to get, but that doesn't mean you can stop it," Van Roten said. "It's difficult because it's not a classic bull. He's very strong, and he doesn't use it to the point where you can snatch him down. He's got really good hands, and when he feels you leaning, he'll just shed you with a rip or swim. He has a lot of good counters off that initial power move."

For Van Roten and Larsen, this week's challenge is as daunting as it is exhilarating. Combined, Carolina's pair of guards has 18 career starts. Atkins has 64 career sacks.

Time to step in the ring and take on the bull.

"(Atkins) is one of the best. This is a chance to put myself out there," Larsen said. "But I can't get over-excited. Have to play my game and play within myself."

Added Van Roten: "It's a big opportunity for both me and Tyler to show we're good players, that we can play with the best and we can be trusted."