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Two plays


Linebackers coach Matt Burke got two clutch plays from Vincent Rey in last Sunday's fourth quarter.

Bengals linebackers coach Matt Burke walks us through the two biggest plays of Sunday's 24-19 victory over San Diego. It not only shows the cool and athleticism of WILL linebacker Vincent Rey, but it shows just how valuable it is to have a dominant defensive tackle such as Geno Atkins.

The first snap comes with 11:50 left in the game at the San Diego 9 with the Bengals on defense and leading, 17-13. Facing a third-and-six, they're looking for an end-zone punt that puts the Bengals on the good side of the 50 so they can get the TD that makes it a two-score game.

All day long Rivers has been playing chess with defensive coordinator Paul Guenther at the line of scrimmage in trying to get the Bengals to show  their looks early enough so he can react. With the help of Rey's patience, the Bengals beat Rivers at his own game and make him call a timeout. Then when play clock resumes, Rey and the other nickel backer, Emmanuel Lamur, set up in the A gap as if they're going to blitz. Burke clicks on the tape.

"This is the biggest play of the game in my mind," Burke says. "Rivers is using a triple cadence trying to get us to show our hand. But Vinny, who is in charge of when to make the call, is holding his water. We're all holding our water. We're in a single high (safety) pressure look. The clock is winding down and we're not moving, so Rivers is making his checks to get them in the protection he wants. Once he checked the protection, Vinny makes the call and it's too late in the play clock for Rivers (to adjust)."

So the new call is Rey and Lamur dropping off the line and the defensive line moving from its usual four-man look to three. That puts the lethal Atkins over the center Chris Watt with no help. That's a nightmare assignment for a first-year center and second-year NFL player working against a Pro Bowler who has already wrecked the game because Watt not only has to block Atkins, he has to make sure Rivers gets the snap.

(Atkins is ranked second in's grades for defensive tackles; Watt is No. 31 for centers. This play is one of the reasons why.)

Atkins shoves past Watt's right to beat him cleanly and left end Carlos Dunlap slices in off the edge and they meet at the quarterback for a shared sack. The end-zone punt ensues to set up a 38-yard TD drive, a 24-13 lead, and ultimately the victory.

The play shows why the presence of a great interior rush is so valuable. It's nice to get pressure from the edge, but it is the pressure that Atkins supplies from the inside that is game-breaking. Players and coaches have been talking about it all week. Here's how defensive coordinator Paul Guenther sums it up.

"When you get push up the middle, the ends can rush off of it," Guenther says. "If they're rushing up high, they can feel the push happening knowing the quarterback is going to step up. Then they can really feel off the rush. If not, either the quarterback steps up and the ends can see it. Or it flushes the quarterback out to them. It's vital to have that. The good pocket quarterbacks want to step up in the pocket. When you don't allow them to do that and feel comfortable off their front foot throwing the ball, it's a difficult thing for the quarterback."

Or as Dunlap said after the game, it's "an edge rusher's dream," to get quarterbacks that can't step up in the middle of the pocket. And it happened this time because Rey waited out Rivers. No easy feat.

"(Rivers) is one of the best at getting you to show your hand," Burke says.

Burke fast forwards to 61 seconds left. Chargers on their 31. Now the Bengals have the upper hand.

Sure, Rivers has 24 career fourth-quarter comebacks. But remember the timeout Rivers took 10 minutes before when he couldn't get the look he wanted? Now he has no timeouts left and, thanks to cornerback Leon Hall's tackle on a two-point conversion, he has to go all the way.

"No timeouts left, so we want to keep everything in front of us and everything inside the numbers, burn the clock," Burke says. "We're playing the clock more than the down and distance. We're in a soft cover two (deep zone)."

Wide receiver Stevie Johnson is lined up in the slot and Malcom Floyd on the outside of him, so Rey is dropping into coverage. But Dunlap has been such a nuisance on the pass rush that the Chargers decide to use Johnson to chip Dunlap before he runs a shallow cross. That also allows Hall, the slot corner, to drop deeper, and it takes a deep threat away.

Rey sees there are no major threats there and turns his attention to the other side, where dangerous wide receiver Keenan Allen is on the outside. But cornerback Adam Jones has done a good job keeping him from getting off the line and Rey keeps retreating back to the middle. That's where he is when Rivers takes a shot at Floyd at midfield and Rey makes a leaping interception, not only high-pointing the ball but securing it as he comes back down to earth.

"He does a great job flipping his hips. First to the left, then to the right," Burke says. "He sees there are really no major threats outside the numbers (so the Chargers can stop the clock getting out of bounds.). Now he squares up. He's playing the quarterback and the top down. Rivers is looking to his left and I don't know if he didn't see Vinny coming back (over the middle), or if he saw his hips open and thought he could hit that window.

"But it's a great interception. Great concentration. Floyd actually has his hands on the ball as he's coming down, and Vinny hooks it with his right arm to secure it. Great play."

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