When Mike Zimmer held the title of defensive coordinator, his aggressive defense, built on an us-against-the-world mentality, never finished worse than 15th overall -- during four out of the last five seasons, they ranked in the top-seven. As a result, Zimmer became was a viable head coaching candidate every year and until last year, was often overlooked for being brutally honest, if not brash. Minnesota finally took a flyer and hired Zimmer as their head coach.
Cincinnati promoted linebackers coach Paul Guenther, who had been with the teams as an assistant coach since '05, as the team's defensive coordinator.
The results, you could say, were mixed.
The team posted a league-worst 20 quarterback sacks, but finished third with 20 interceptions and an opposing passer rating of 75.8. The defense finished 22nd overall (worst since '07, the year before Zimmer) but ranked 12th in scoring (and that doesn't even include the points allowed by Cincinnati's offense). In the end, it was a process that required patience for a new coordinator that was learning how to call his own plays.
"I was pleased with Paul," said Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "I was pleased with his demeanor. I was pleased with his ability to handle the ups and downs of injuries, and the things that we've had to overcome all year."
In addition to losing Vontaze Burfict for most of the year with a concussion and knee issues, Guenther didn't have Emmanuel Lamur for two games, Rey Maualuga for four, and starting cornerbacks Leon Hall and Terence Newman missing time as well. Geno Atkins wasn't up to part, Michael Johnson was gone and neither Margus Hunt or Will Clarke filled that void.
One could argue that Guenther's playcalling was noticeably more conservative than his predecessor. For instance,there were 300 instances of a non-defensive lineman rushing the passer this year, which is dramatically lower than 2013 (419) and 2012 (424).
"There is no question in my mind that as a play caller, in your second year, you’re so much more calm at what you're doing, and how you do it, and things unfold so much better for you," said Lewis. "You get a better sense of how much you need, and what you need going into a game, and how all of that works, and comes off the sheet and so forth. I think there’s always going to be a big jump, just as there is from a rookie player to his second season. There’s such a jump in that. You look forward to good things that way."