"Maybe we haven't talked about it enough, but I said earlier in the season he should be in that conversation," Guenther said of Atkins, per ESPN.com. "He's done nothing not to be in there."
Said Guenther: "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 isn't wrong. Atkins leads all interior lineman with eight sacks and trails only Carolina's Kawann Short in hits on the quarterback, per Pro Football Focus. The metrics site also has Atkins ranked as the third-best run-stuffer at his position. Watching him on tape reveals a whirlwind at the line of scrimmage, a terrifying night vision of NFL guards and centers come to life.
Ranking fourth on Chris Wesseling's list of candidates for Defensive Player of the Year behind Watt, Josh Norman and Tyrann Mathieu, Atkins was praised by Guenther for his complete skill set, with the play-caller saying: "He's a threat in the running game and he's a threat in the passing game. That's a handful for an offense in there. I'm glad he's on our side."
The kind words serve as a major turnaround for Guenther, who flamed Atkins last January as "just a guy out there" after a 2014 season that saw him notch just three sacks in his return from ACL surgery.
Next on Geno's hit list: The Cleveland Browns, a run-challenged team that hasn't seen a back gallop for more than 50 yards in a game since Week 4.
As for Watt, he'd need to be stolen away by an angry swarm of space aliens to slow his charge toward a third DPOY award in four seasons. Trophies aside, the Bengals are much more than Andy Dalton and his high-powered offense. This defense is consistently more disruptive than last year's unit, and Atkins is the core reason why.