September 2009 might just be the best month of Antwan Odom’s life.
Odom, the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after sacking Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers five times in week two, has piled up seven sacks in only three September games. The sack total is more than double his tally of three from an injury-plagued 2008 campaign.
Also, the sixth year defensive end—in the second year of a five year $29.5 million contract with the Cincinnati Bengals—recently welcomed a new addition to his family, as his wife gave birth to the couple’s fifth child, a boy, Memphis, on Sept. 25.
Riding this professional and personal high, Odom—who added 30 pounds to his frame in the offseason, drawing rumors of performance-enhancing drug use in recent weeks—has given the Bengals the elite, gameplan-altering pass rusher that they have lacked for years.
Odom’s effectiveness came to full manifestation in a week three contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite only getting to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger once in the Bengals 23-20 upset victory—albeit at a critical moment, forcing Roethlisberger to scramble into the arms of Pat Sims and Robert Geathers to thwart a Steeler drive with 5:54 remaining—Odom’s presence on the backside changed the way the Steelers approached their blocking schemes throughout the game.
The Steelers entered the game prepared for Odom, leaving an extra blocker to chip off of him either at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. This left Steeler left tackle Max Starks with a propensity to push Odom to the outside assistance, causing Odom to dip towards the middle of the field throughout the first half.
The necessity of the soft double team that Odom was given in the first half did not slow the Steeler offense, however, as Odom’s inside rushes repeatedly gave Roethlisberger room to find open throwing lanes.
When Bengal defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer adjusted at halftime, consistently sending a blitzing fifth pass rusher to force Pittsburgh to keep seven blockers in—lest they allow Odom a one-on-one matchup on the outside—the tide of the game began to shift. Odom continued to see two defenders assigned to him as the Steelers ran three-man routes.
As the Bengal defense gained confidence, the requirement of a double-team for Odom became a firm precedent for the rest of the NFL to follow.
It was no coincidence that the increased attention paid to Odom coincided with a stagnation of the Steeler offense, as the Bengal secondary was able to utilize zone coverage to put multiple defenders around the Steeler intermediate routes, limiting their effectiveness.
As the Bengals head to Cleveland in week four they confront a team that has allowed the second most sacks in the league through three weeks, giving Odom—and the strong-side defenders now receiving consistent one-on-one matchups—an opportunity to further cement a newfound image: a team with a dangerous pass rush.