By the time Tuesday rolls around the Thursday Night Football game that occurred five days earlier that starts off every week of NFL football usually seems like a distant memory. Sometimes, however, a guy plays so well in one of those games that it's worth going back and revisiting their performance.
The Bengals hosted the Dolphins last Thursday night in a game that saw both teams coming in with 1-2 records and desperate for a win. Victory meant getting right back in the thick of their respective division races. Defeat meant dropping down to cellar dweller status. Yeah, there's a lot of season to go, but there is no doubt that it's easier to have confidence in turning things around at 2-2 rather than at 1-3.
Early on it looked like we were going to get a really competitive contest befitting of those kinds of high stakes. Cincy scored a field goal on its first possession of the game. Miami answered with a 74-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills on the second play of their first drive. Finally, were were going to have an entertaining TNF game from start to finish!
Yeah, not so much.
After that one hiccup the Bengals' defense clamped down hard on Miami's offense, barely letting them breath for the rest of the game. The final score ended up being 22-7 in Cincy's favor, but if you saw the game you know it was much more of a blow out than that.
Miami never even appeared to threaten again after that early touchdown, and one of the major reasons why was the play of Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap.
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Dunlap, who had a career year last season with 13.5 sacks, had two more against the Dolphins on Thursday night. It wasn't just the sacks that made his performance outstanding, however. Dunlap also ended up knocking passes down on two different third downs to kill Miami drives, something he has become very adept at. Through four games this season Dunlap already has five pass breakups which ties his career high for a season.
I was also thoroughly impressed by Dunlap's effort on a couple of plays.
In the second quarter, for instance, he fought off Dolphins tight end Dion Sims' block on the backside of a zone play and kept hustling until he ended up making a tackle 11 yards down the field on Miami running back Jay Ajayi.
Later, about midway through the fourth quarter, Dunlap got up the field to rush the passer on third-and-9, then turned and hauled ass after the pass was thrown to run down Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Landry caught it on an out route from the slot, and Dunlap wound up with an assisted tackle after Landry had gained 24 yards on the play.
That's about 30-plus yards of sprinting on one play! Shit, I got tired just typing that.
Oh, and did I mention that Dunlap also had three pressures to go along with all that? Two of those pressures came on bootlegs, and I'm not exactly sure why the Dolphins even tried him like that for a second time after he played it so well the first time. Like, the guy wasn't buying the run fake either at all and Tannehill ended up running for his life, so what was the point?
Now, the sacks themselves as well as the third pressure showcased just how much Dunlap's superb technique helps to accentuate his uncanny athleticism, a major reason why I'm such a fan of his.
On the first sack, which came with a little over two minutes left in the first half, Miami was looking to answer after Cincy kicked a field goal on the preceding possession to go ahead 13-7. The Dolphins had a back in the backfield offset to his side, but because the Bengals showed a double A-gap blitz look with their linebackers, that running back wasn't available to chip Dunlap. Instead, Miami right tackle Ja'Wuan James had to try to block Dunlap all by himself, and that didn't work out so well for him.
Another reason why I'm such a big fan of Dunlap's is because he has really mastered the "long arm" pass-rush move, and it's probably my favorite pass-rush move of all time. I personally think every defensive end, no matter what size or speed, would benefit from learning how to use that move. It's basically a power rush, but it also allows you to stay on an edge if you do it right so that you don't get stuck down the middle of the offensive tackle, which is what happens so many times when I see a guy try to bull rush. Dunlap not only keeps that move in heavy rotation, he's also pretty much mastered it.
He stuck his inside hand right in the middle of James' chest and used that arm much like a medieval knight would use a lance in jousting to knock James back a few steps. With that accomplished, Dunlap then, without hesitation, used his outside hand to slap away James' hands as James tried to get a hold of him to slow down his rush. Finally, and most importantly, Dunlap finished the move with a rip so that James couldn't recover.
I swear it was a thing of beauty.
James was still holding on to Dunlap for dear life after all that, but being so efficient with the move allowed Dunlap to turn the corner right at the level of the quarterback, so it didn't much matter what James did at that point. With Tannehill standing right in front him, all Dunlap had to do was reach out and swipe the ball right out of Tannehill's hands and that's exactly what he did. The fumble was recovered by Dunlap's teammate, defensive tackle Domata Peko, and the Bengals offense was able to convert that turnover into yet another field goal to go up two scores, 16-7.
Think about it: Instead of potentially driving down and taking the lead with a touchdown, Dunlap in essence turned that Dolphins offensive drive into more points for his own team with that sack and forced fumble. Had to be demoralizing for Miami, I would think.
Dunlap's second sack of the night came with a little under six minutes left in the third quarter and with the score still at 16-7.
It's not like the Bengals offense was putting up a lot of points, so it was imperative that their defense continue to dominate. This time it wasn't really even a pass-rush move that got Dunlap the sack, but rather a run-of-the-mill line stunt. Once again, however, it highlighted how good Dunlap is when it comes to doing the little things technique-wise and how that pays off for him in major ways.
The Bengals ran a simple stunt that we used to call a "pirate" back in the day when I played in the NFL. That's where the defensive end on one side, who is usually lined up in a wide-five technique outside of the tackle, and the three technique, who is lined up on the outside shoulder of the guard, both stunt inside by one gap. That means that the defensive end starts out in the C gap outside of the offensive tackle, but goes inside to the B gap between the offensive tackle and offensive guard, while the three technique goes from that B gap to the A gap between the offensive guard and center.
Now, if you watch a lot of football you probably see teams run this kind of line stunt a gazillion times, most of the time they don't tend to make much of an impact on the play. I am of the belief that it's usually because the guys running them don't use good technique when doing so. I see cats every week not taking a good step inside to help them get where they are trying to go and/or not executing good rip moves to help free them from the offensive lineman's block. But when you do the little things right, things tend to go better for you than they would otherwise.
Dunlap lined up wide and, because he had already beaten James around the edge, James had to respect his speed rush. On the snap Dunlap took a big step inside as James was taking a big kick step outside to try to block him. It was like two ships passing in the night, as my old defensive line coach Rod Marinelli would say.
Dunlap wasn't content with just getting in the B gap. He went ahead and executed the rip move on James to ensure that he had no chance of recovering to block him.
Dolphins right guard Jermon Bushrod, who had been preoccupied trying to block Peko's stunt inside initially, ended up having a chance to block Dunlap, too, after he passed Peko off to the center. But, unlike a lot of dudes, Dunlap was able to transition from ripping off James' block attempt to swatting Bushrod's hands and ripping off his block in the blink of an eye so that he didn't get pushed past the level of the quarterback.
Tannehill was barely done with his dropback before Dunlap was dragging him down to the turf.
As for that third pressure, I wanted to highlight that too because, although Dunlap normally plays most of the time as a left defensive end, on the Dolphins' last offensive snap of the game he was at right defensive end going against Miami's rookie left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
This time Dunlap went with a straight-up speed rush. He got a good jump off the snap of the ball, but once again he didn't just rely on his athleticism. He turned his hips toward the quarterback, sunk in a good rip on Tunsil and exploded upfield towards Tannehill.
Dunlap dove at Tannehill's legs and while he didn't quite get there for the sack, I do think he affected the throw, which ended up being a little bit behind Landry, falling to the ground for an incompletion to effectively end the game at the two-minute warning.
The score was already 22-7, so there wasn't much chance of the Dolphins coming back anyway, but that was a really nice pass-rush move, so I just had to point that out.
Carlos Dunlap turned in a very memorable performance last Thursday night, dominating the Dolphins to help his team get back to .500 for the season. That's why he is my choice for Hoss of the Week for Week 4 of the NFL season.