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Thread: Bengals D determined to start quicker in 2017

  1. #1

    Bengals D determined to start quicker in 2017

    Bengals D determined to start quicker in 2017

    By Jay Morrison - Staff Writer

    Cornerback Josh Shaw, left, tries unsuccessfully to defend a catch by wide receiver Tyler Boyd during the first day of Cincinnati Bengals Training Camp Friday, July 28 at the practice fields beside Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

    Posted: 7:25 p.m. Sunday, July 30, 2017

    The goal of any team in any sport is to get better throughout the season, and the Cincinnati Bengals defense has mastered the art.

    Over the last five seasons, the Bengals have allowed fewer yards in the second half of the season than they did in the first. And in four of the last five they’ve surrendered fewer points on the back end of the schedule.

    And while that certainly will be something the team will strive to do again in 2017, the Bengals are hoping to avoid the large discrepancy that has existed in the past by getting off to a better start and not leaving so much room improvement.

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    “I can’t really answer the question of why it’s happened that way,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said before pausing and offering a reason for a dramatic turnaround in 2016 in which the Bengals held opponents to 323 yards and 15.8 points per game over the final eight weeks, compared to 378.5 yards and 23.6 points in the first eight.

    “Last year is hot on my mind because last year after the bye we came in and got a lot of things corrected,” Guenther said. “We met a lot more together and we played a lot better.”

    Last week the bye came after Week 8, and served as a concrete divider between the first and second halves of the season. It wasn’t that way in years prior, but regardless of when the bye has come, the turnaround always seems to occur at midseason.

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    Admittedly, offensive production tends to slow as the weather worsens. But that’s not enough to explain the drastic turnarounds the Bengals defense has recorded the last few years.

    In 2015, the team allowed 368.6 ypg and 20.3 ppg in their its seven contests and 319.2 ypg and 15.2 ppg after.

    In 2014, the yardage shrunk from 394.9 to 323.8 after Week 8, while the points dipped from 23.4 to 19.6.

    The lone anomaly came in 2013 – Mike Zimmer’s final year as coordinator – when the defense allowed 18 ppg in the first eight and 20.1 in the second eight even though the yardage dropped from 322.5 to 288.5.

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    And in 2012, the trend began with a massive improvement in both yardage (357.4 to 282) and points (27.3 to 12.8).

    One of the things that could help the Bengals defense get off to a faster start in 2017 is faster players.

    “I know we are a lot faster,” cornerback Adam Jones said. “If you look at the film from this OTAs and last OTAs, there’s a lot more speed on the field. And I’m not just talking about on the back end. I’m talking about up front, linebackers, everything. I think a lot of the guys know exactly where they’re supposed to be.

    “I think we’ll be better (in 2017),” Jones added. “We had a lot of pieces that were just gluing to the puzzle midway through the season. I think we’ll be a lot better. We’ve got a lot of guys coming in that can rush. We’ve got a lot of guys coming in that can cover. We’ve got a couple of linebackers that through OTAs stuck out a lot. I think we’ll be better on defense.”

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    Defensive end Carlos Dunlap said the key to avoiding the type of slow start that leaves the door open for a dramatic turnaround is as simple as paying a little more attention to detail.

    “One of the keys to us coming together last year is we had a meeting with Paully and really focused on the little things,” Dunlap said. “They’re little things, but they can be critical and they tend to get overlooked after you’ve been here for a few years. You feel like it’s just a natural thing that comes, but sometimes you have to focus in on it and refresh it.”

    ›› MORE: Observations from Day 3 of Bengals training camp

    Among the team’s first five opponents this season, only Green Bay (eighth) ranked among the top 15 offenses in 2016. Baltimore was 17th, Houston 29th, Cleveland 30th and Buffalo 16th.

    “Every year it’s a new bunch of guys, a new combination of guys in there, and every year is different,” Guenther said. “I don’t know what the answer is other than going out and playing the best we can starting in Week 1.”

  2. #2
    A true rotation? Bengals defensive line building toward it

    Jim Owczarski, jowczarski@enquirer.comPublished 12:32 p.m. ET Sept. 12, 2017

    (Photo: Kareem Elgazzar)

    The last two years, Cincinnati Bengal defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has preached rotation in his defense, versatility. Flexibility matters. It can create mismatches, and theoretically, keep starters fresh and able to make game-changing plays.

    In practice though, especially on the defensive line, it proved much harder to execute.

    In 2015, Carlos Dunlap played 81.1 percent of the Bengals’ total defensive snaps (per Football Outsiders). Michael Johnson and Atkins each checked in over 70 percent. In base packages, Domata Peko played 50 percent of the team’s snaps. Wallace Gilberry appeared in 58.1 percent, rotating in on nickel downs. Others checked in at far fewer (Brandon Thompson, 16.8, Pat Sims, 16.5, and Will Clarke 12.3).

    The thought of a rotation was the same going into 2016.

    And by the percentages, there was technically more diversity in the snap counts.

    Dunlap, Johnson and Aktins each played over 70 percent of the total snaps available. Inside, Domata Peko got 54.6 percent. Backups Pat Sims (37.5), Will Clarke (34.3) and Margus Hunt (29.6) saw more run.

    Then there was Sunday.

    True, it was just one game. But all nine defensive linemen dressed and rotated in and four made their official NFL debuts.
    “That’s his m.o.,” Dunlap said of Guenther’s rotational plan.

    He smiled.

    “We’re not going to dress you and pay you these active roster contracts and have you looking and bringing me water.”

    And outside of Dunlap and Johnson (who played over 80 percent of the first half stats before exiting at the half with a concussion), the snaps were evened out as well in over a dozen different combinations of players:

    • Carlos Dunlap: 55 (83%)
    • Geno Atkins: 41 (62%)
    • Pat Sims: 30 (45%)
    • Chris Smith: 28 (42%)
    • Jordan Willis: 26 (39%)
    • Ryan Glasgow: 26 (39%)
    • Michael Johnson: 24 (36%)
    • Carl Lawson: 23 (35%)
    • Andrew Billings: 13 (20%)

    “We do that in practice,” Willis said “Obviously the fact that our coaches were doing it they obviously have confidence in everybody. That speaks to how we prepare. Then we have good leaders on the d-line that help us mold pretty good together. It just shows the confidence that the coaches have in us. I feel like as a group we picked up the scheme, all the eight (other) guys that are on the d-line, picked up the scheme pretty good and did a good job in it.”

    As a collective, the Bengals defensive line accounted for 17 combined tackles three tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and a sack.
    "I thought all the guys played pretty damn good," Guenther said.

    Atkins and Dunlap, the two Pro Bowlers, put up the QB numbers -- though Atkins' sack was helped in large part to Lawson's edge pressure forcing Flacco to move in the pocket.

    "The rotation is just to keep the guys fresh, the starters fresh," Glasgow said. "I back up Geno, so keeping him as fresh as possible so he can do his thing is vital for the success of our defense I think.”

    As for physically executing the rotation, Billings noted that despite the shuffling in and out and the hectic way it looks, the calls for switches are simple and coordinated.

    Lawson agreed.

    “We’ve been doing it since I got here, so it’s pretty easy knowing when I’m supposed to be in, when I’m supposed to be out,” the rookie edge rusher said. “I like always being attentive. And during the game, you’re always trying to pick up cues and stuff like that to be able to go out there and play at a high level. You’re always just aware so you’re never caught.”

    Atkins wouldn’t comment (“Can’t talk. Gotta practice.”) and Johnson was unavailable to as he remained in the concussion protocol, but 10th-year veteran Sims felt the rookies and Billings showed well against Baltimore.

    “They all did some good things,” Sims said. “It was just their first season game, regular season game, so it’s going take them a couple games to really get used to it but at the end of the day it’s football.”

    That said, 20 points were allowed in a loss.

    The Ravens, with a clearly hampered quarterback, managed to run the ball for 157 yards and maintain an eight-minute time of possession edge thanks to scoring drives of seven, 13 and 17 plays that took up 22 minutes, 26 seconds.

    “We want to be better than we were last Sunday,” Sims said. “At the end of the day, this (Thursday) has to be better than last Sunday. We’ve just got to keep building on that. Once we start doing that, it’s going to be a good defense this year.”

    On Thursday night, the rotation will be affected. The Bengals will likely be down one lineman with Johnson recovering, changing the pacing for Willis and Smith. And perhaps Houston won’t move as methodically as Baltimore did – which could alter how much the players rotate or how effective they may be. But Guenther says they're prepared for any change of pace they may see Thursday, or in the future.

    So at least at outset of 2017, the seeds of a truer rotation planted in training camp and the preseason is bearing early fruit.

    “They showed the ability to go in there and play both the run and the pass and understand all the calls and adjustments that we make,” Guenther said. “Throughout the preseason they handled that really good, so I felt good about putting them in the game.”


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