- Coley Harvey, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's been written about often since Halloween night 2013, and a few more tomes on the subject are sure to come between now and the Cincinnati Bengals' Sept. 7 season opener at Baltimore.
Still, it is worthwhile to continue pointing out just how much the Bengals missed defensive tackle Geno Atkins after he tore his ACL during a Thursday night game at Miami. It's important because when he comes back, his presence alone ought to provide a much-needed jolt to the defensive line's interior this season.
His recovery from that injury is progressing and has the Bengals hoping he'll be ready long before the opener.
As we look briefly at the impact Atkins' injury had last season, let's bring up the Friday factoid: 4.3.
Whenever Atkins was off the field last season -- both pre- and post-injury -- the Bengals allowed opposing offenses 4.3 yards per carry, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's a high pace that exceeded the NFL's combined rushing average for the year of 4.17 yards per carry.
What makes the 4.3 figure even more alarming is the fact that Cincinnati gave up just 3.7 yards per rush when Atkins was on the field in 2013. That's a difference of 0.6 yards when he was in a game compared to when he wasn't. That might not sound like a lot, but add up all the yards the Bengals gave up when Atkins wasn't playing and you can see the impact.
You don't even have to do that, though. Just take a look at the Bengals' rush defense numbers from before his injury and after it.
Only three times in the eight games before Atkins' injury did the Bengals allow 90 or more rushing yards. Including the game Atkins was hurt, the Bengals allowed teams to gain 90 or more rushing yards six times in nine games (including the playoff loss) following his ACL tear.
Before Atkins went down, the Bengals allowed 90-plus yards vs. the Packers (182) , the Bills (130) and the Jets (93). After Atkins' injury, Cincinnati's defense allowed 90-plus rushing totals of 157 (at Miami), 102 (Cleveland), 91 (at San Diego), 106 (at Pittsburgh), 115 (Minnesota) and 196 (San Diego, wild-card playoff game). In fairness, the Cleveland and Minnesota rushing totals also came in blowouts in which the Bengals had sizable second-half leads. Some of their second-team units were playing late in those games.
The playoff game against San Diego was the game in which Atkins' absence was most exploited. The Chargers not only ran to a season-high 196 yards, but did so by continuing to run up the middle into the spaces Atkins likely would have been occupying.
It should be noted that even though Atkins' replacements, Brandon Thompson and Devon Still, weren't able to hold their own as well as Atkins could, they still did something right. The Bengals did, after all, rank fifth in the league in rushing defense and third in total defense, allowing just 1,544 yards on the ground. With that in mind, imagine if Atkins had played the whole season healthy. Just how good might that rushing and total defense have been?
Those possibilities are what the Bengals are hoping to see when a healthy Atkins returns this season.