When the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Cincinnati Bengals, two of the league’s three sack leaders will be on the same field—though not at the same time, of course. Second-year outside linebacker T.J. Watt has two three-sack games under his belt this season, including during Sunday’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons for the Steelers. Veteran and All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins also has six sacks on the year for the home team.
For those wondering, Watt’s brother, J.J. Watt, is the other defender who shares in the sack lead through the first five games of the season.
Atkins has had at least one sack in four of the Bengals’ first five games, coming off a two-sack showing against the Miami Dolphins. The ninth-year veteran is on pace to set a new career-high in sacks, which currently stands at 12 and a half, recorded during his 2012 campaign.
He has registered double-digit sacks twice in his career and is well on his way for doing so a third time, but he has also had nine sacks in each of the past two seasons. He could post at least nine sacks in four consecutive seasons if he gets three more this year. He has only had fewer than nine sacks during a healthy season one time since 2012.
If he continues on his torrid pace, he could, according to Geoff Hobson, set a record for the most sacks recorded by an interior defensive lineman in a single season in NFL history. With six sacks in five games, he would be on pace to record 19 in 2018, which would be one better than Minnesota Vikings defender Keith Millard hit in 1989.
Atkins did once have six sacks in the Bengals’ first five games during the 2012 season when he set his current career-high sack total. But he would only go on to register another six and a half—in and itself a good number for an interior defensive lineman—over the final 11 games.
The All-Pro has sacked Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger eight times over the course of his career, most recently in the December game of the 2016 season. He also got to the Steelers quarterback in the Bengals’ playoff defeat in the 2015 season, and earlier that year as well.
For Atkins, though, it’s been too long. He didn’t get Roethlisberger in either game between the two teams last season. He has brought the quarterback down more than once in a game before, back in 2012, when he registered a solo sack and another that he split with Wallace Gilberry. He’ll be looking for at least a couple of his own this time.