Carl Lawson eyes Jaguars after hot start to 2020

Russ Heltman

In a season defined by growth, the Bengals young players are making impacts at different rates, with one standing out above the rest. Carl Lawson is playing his best football in the most important season of his career. 

The Bengals have relied on Lawson to create pressure and finish plays for a unit that's failed to overcome injuries. The fourth-year player looks to continue his stellar play against the Jaguars on Sunday. 

Lawson is pairing health with consistent snap growth to have the best start of his career. He's tied for fifth in the league in sacks (3) and pressures (10), both boosted by a career-best game against Philadelphia. 

Lawson went on the road and notched two sacks and eight tackles, one for loss. It was the fifth game in Bengals history with 2+ sacks and 8+ tackles. Sam Hubbard was the most recent player to pull off the feat last season against Seattle. Toss in the strip-sack and Lawson’s performance is even more historic.

Lawson may have impacted a game like this sooner had he found his footing through the injury minefield. He's played 56% of the defensive snaps this season after never reaching 44% in his first three years. The Bengals have needed all the extra reps on a unit ranked 30th in ESPN's pass rush win-rate metric.

“Since I’m in a better role this year where I get to play first, second and third down I just get into a rhythm and can impose my will on the game a little bit more," Lawson said earlier this week. "Not necessarily anything that (Jason) Peters was doing just me being out there more.”

Lawson has gradually gotten stronger over his first few years and he's melding that strength with technique to flash a hybrid pass-rush attack. The Auburn product is playing to his strengths by using the center of gravity advantage he has on taller tackles.

Lawson combines his go-to long arm move with the sprinkling of a hump move to put Peters in a spin cycle. Reggie White made the hump move famous with his ability to blow through opposing tackles using his inside arm. Lawson differs from the Hall of Famer with how far he extends that inside arm to create the leverage and win the rush.

Lawson is also displaying a refined ability in the run game, where he's already played 54 snaps after posting 309 total rushing snaps through his first three seasons. Pro Football Focus has him ranked 17th among defensive ends in run-stop productivity while being tied for second at his position with 15 tackles.

He's shown a lot more patience shedding run blocks this season. Here he uses the flow of the left-to-right blocking scheme against Zach Ertz and sheds towards the back side and makes the play.

All of this improvement from Lawson has a great chance to continue when he battles the Jaguars' Cam Robinson on Sunday. Over his first three seasons, Robinson started 32 games at left tackle for Jacksonville and he's cemented in that role for 2020. Robinson ranked 75th out of 89 offensive tackles last season with a 54.8 PFF grade. He allowed 45 pressures, sixth-most in the league.

Robinson has been a run of the mill tackle in the early part of the season sporting a 64.8 PFF grade through three games. He also ranks in the bottom half of all tackles with four total points earned according to Sports Info Solutions. 

The lanky Robinson is a perfect matchup at 6-6 for Lawson to maximize his skillset and continue his hot start. It's taken a couple of tough years in the training room, but Lawson is turning those enticing flashes into floodlights for the 2020 Bengals.

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