With former Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin now in charge of Cincinnati’s defense, we thought it would be good opportunity to go back to the tape and see what notes we can take from the matchup between the Bengals and Detroit in Week 16.
When Marvin Lewis reupped to stay in Paul Brown Stadium, Paul Guenther left, and the Bengals decided to go out and bring in somebody new instead of promoting their linebackers coach Jim Haslett, a formeR NFL coordinator and head coach.
Austin was a head-coaching candidate for the past few seasons, but his production with Detroit ever since sporting the NFL’s second-ranked defense in 2014 has been a mixed bag. The same could be said of Guenther, though, and he’s still a highly-regarded coach that didn’t need much time to find a job with the Raiders.
Austin will bring some continuity but also his own style, I hope. There are some similarities between what he showed in Detroit and what Guenther employed for the last couple of years in Cincy.
The four-front will stay, but it’s useless to talk about 4-3 defenses anymore, because most of the time, Cincinnati deploys nickel schemes, and that is what Austin’s base defense will be with Bengals.
The former Montréal Machine player is more aggressive though, but we don’t know if Guenther shied away from bringing more pressure by design or because Lewis didn’t want him to to avoid big plays.
It’s fair to say that Austin rattled the Bengals’ offense on Christmas’ Eve often, but they got burnt too, which is something I believe Lewis will try to minimize, even if the trade off could be more turnovers and more third-and-long situations.
Austin won’t wait until third down to send blitzes — that clip is on 2nd and 10, and it’s fair to wonder what he could do with a more talented defense in Cincinnati.
Other than Ezekiel Ansah, the Lions didn’t have an established pass rusher, and the soon-to-be free agent hasn’t been the same since his breakout campaign in 2015.
His aggression has been the most repeated quality since Austin took the job, including from Lewis himself. It could be a good thing for the Bengals’ running defense, which struggled mightily in 2017.
Austin showed a lot of run blitzes in Paul Brown Stadium, and even if Giovani Bernard ended up making him pay, it’s a different trait from his predecessor. We’ll see how that affects the linebacker corps, which we still don’t know if is part of the problem or the solution.
Somebody that I believe will benefit from Austin is William Jackson III, the talented young cornerback who will have a coach that tries to put his best players in a position to make an impact.
The Lions’ standout corner, Darius Slay, went up one-on-one against A.J. Green in Week 16 for the most part, and even though he lost a few battles, he was given the opportunity to lock him up and force Andy Dalton to go elsewhere to a less reliable target.
After plenty of years of watching Bengals corners sit in zone coverage and allow seven or eight yards a catch, Austin could unleash Jackson against the opponent best receiver and make the rival quarterback uncomfortable.
And this applied to the Bengals’ touchdown-scoring drive at the end of the game. On 2nd and 13 and with Cincinnati clearly in field goal range after starting with great field position, the Lions swung and missed trying to win the game.
They could’ve sit in zone coverage as they still had one more timeout left and the two-minute warning, and they were only down by two points.
Give up a long field goal, get almost two minutes left and try to score a touchdown of your own seemed like a good plan. But Austin and the Lions trusted their guys and got aggressive.
The Bengals eventually converted on a quick pass to Green on a slant route, guarded by Slay, but what matters here is the process.
That also applies to his linebackers. Austin wasn’t comfortable letting them sit and wait to make a tackle for a six-yard gain play in play out, and he deployed more man coverage inside that we’re used to here for the last few years.
Again, we’ll have to see how that meshes with Lewis, but it could be a welcoming change for a corps that couldn’t cover a target underneath in 2017.
I’m not guaranteeing Austin will be better or much different than Guenther. We don’t know how much of the game plan was dictated by the lack of talent in Detroit or other factors in Cincinnati.
But despite bringing stability to a team that values it above all, the Sharon, Pennsylvania native has shown he’s not afraid of risks. That mentality was missed in Paul Brown stadium ever since Mike Zimmer and Hue Jackson left.
What Austin will have, however, is more talent to work with, and we know he’s been successful in the past when he’s had good players around.
That alone is exciting.