CINCINNATI, Ohio – Sheldon Rankins kept busting through the line of scrimmage, a powerful force inside who manhandled the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line.
Rankins relentlessly broke through blocks and chased down Cincinnati Bengals star quarterback Joe Burrow, recording a career-high three sacks go to with four quarterback hits, two tackles for losses and one forced fumble during the Texans’ 30-27 road victory that improved their record to 5-4 and makes them a viable playoff contender.
No defensive tackle other than Rankins has a three-sack game this season. The last time a defensive tackle had three sacks in a single game was last year at the Texans’ expense when Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave disrupted the pocket in a November Thursday night game.
“We’re just playing our style of football, and showing the whole league who we are,” Rankins said. “No matter who the opposition is, we don’t bat an eye. As the young kids say, we don’t duck no smoke. It doesn’t matter who we line up against, who the opposition is, we like us 100 times out of 100.”
Rankins, 29, signed a one-year, $10.5 million free agent deal with the Texans. They envisioned him an anchor for their defensive line playing next to defensive tackle Maliek Collins.
Signed to a deal that includes a $7 million signing bonus, Rankins now has four sacks this season and 27 1/2 career sacks.
This marked his first game back from a knee injury that prevented him from playing the previous two weeks. With Rankins making noise in the middle of the defense, the Texans’ defensive line is more formidable.
“It was awesome having Rankins back and to see what Rankins can do for us,” said Texans coach DeMeco Ryans, who attempted to recruit the former New Orleans Saints first-round draft pick previously when he was the San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator. “The pressure that he got today was consistent pressure on the pocket. And for him to get three sacks, that’s a huge game for us. I’m happy to have him back.”
Rankins, 29, recorded 43 tackles, three sacks, seven quarterback hits and four tackles for losses last season for the New York Jets.
He’s now the sixth Texans player to record three sacks in a single game. That hadn’t happened since a Sept. 23, 2018 performance by J.J. Watt against the New York Giants.
According to NextGenStats, Rankins generated a career-high seven pressures in addition to his three sacks against Bengals right guard Alex Cappa. Yes, that’s the most sacks allowed by a guard to an individual pass rusher in a game this season.
“Just executing my plan I put together throughout the week,” Rankins said. “I watched a ton of tape. I played them the last couple years when I was with the Jets, so I was kind of familiar with the offense, kind of familiar with the guys they have up front. Just worked on my plan throughout the week, came out here and executed it, and, boy, what a day it was. It was a nice day.”
When Rankins played for the Saints, he had a lot of freedom to move around the formation and call his own shots.
As physically impressive as Rankins is with his rare combination of strength, quickness and pass rushing moves, his intelligence is equally noteworthy and a major component of his game.
“Yeah, I’ve always been a guy who’s kind of seen the big picture, understand what’s coming, understand what teams are trying to do, and always trying to get my guys on the same page so we can play fast,” Rankins said. “Understand how they’re trying to attack us, and go out there and try and make as many plays as possible.”
Rankins and defensive end Jonathan Greenard, who had one sack, Collins, who had one quarterback hit, and rookie defensive end Will Anderson Jr., who had two quarterback hits, squeezed the pocket on Burrow and made it tough for him to escape except for one 17-yard run.
“Yeah, anytime you’re collapsing the pocket as we were, and getting as many hits on him as we were, there’s going to be some adjustments made,” Rankins said. “One thing that’s underrated about him is his ability to run, and his ability to use his speed. We knew coming out that it was going to be on us to continue our gap integrity, because if you give him a lane to slip out, you saw on that one run he had.
“Even on the touchdown where he gets out, and is able to make the throw downfield, he’s able to do some great things with his legs. So, we knew it was going to be on us to come up with some big plays, continue our gap integrity, and continue to collapse everything around him.”
After putting in a long day of work, Rankins got to watch from the sideline as rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud orchestrated a game-winning drive capped by a 38-yard Matt Ammendola field goal to win the game.
“Yeah, it’s a blessing to have a young man like C.J. leading this offense,” Rankins said. “He’s never rattled, never out of sorts. No matter what happens, no matter what comes his way, all he sees is himself making plays. He doesn’t shy away from the moment, no matter what it is.
“That’s two weeks back-to-back just marching us down the field as a rookie. That’s not something you see very often. It’s just a blessing to have him as a quarterback, and I just look forward to watching him do that to many more teams.”
Aaron Wilson is a Texans and NFL reporter for KPRC 2 and click2houston.com.