The Marvin Lewis experiment at defensive coordinator has yielded mixed results at best.
In the first three weeks following the dismissal of Teryl Austin from the position, the Bengals defense allowed a four-touchdown performance from rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield in-between two 200-yard rushing attacks from the Ravens and Broncos. The unit was dreadful with Austin running things, and they didn’t appear to be much better under Lewis’ direction.
The turmoil has subsided a little since then. Those three games ended up in losses with a combined point differential of -32. They’ve gone 1-1 in the two games that have followed against the Chargers and Raiders, where they managed to hold both the Chargers and Raiders’ offenses under 300 yards — a feat that they haven’t accomplished since their win against the Dolphins back in Week 5.
There’s been enough time for Lewis to have settled into his new role, one that he personally enacted, for him to reflect on the transition. He was asked about it and if he sees himself doing this long-term with the team in Wednesday’s press conference:
“I feel further away from the offense and special teams.” Lewis explained. “Everybody has had to do a little bit more hours-wise in order to fit into my schedule. I think that’s hard on everyone a little bit.”
Being the head coach, Lewis still obviously has input in how the other two units perform, but that comes with him also having complete control over the defense. The balancing act Lewis has had to do has also affected more than just him.
“The hardest part of this is you becoming the play caller, and that takes a lot of time. It takes me away from adding input with Bill (offensive coordinator Bill Lazor). Bill, as well as Darrin (special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons), have to carve out time with me at different times. It puts a little more stress on them.
“Just the reinforcement of technique in those phases. We’ll be watching the tape later at night or early in the morning, or whenever it may be, so I can reinforce to the players about their responsibilities. Obviously the defensive guys are getting that firsthand. Hopefully we’ve gotten a good direction on defense, and that was the main reason (for taking on that role). But they have to go out and do it again this week.”
It wouldn’t be a Lewis press conference without him re-assuring the responsibilities of his players trump everything else.
Lewis’ former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has been running the Vikings defense since he took over as the head coach in 2014, despite Zimmer having a defensive coordinator on staff. But Lewis explained why he’s been successful in overcoming the challenges the task brings:
“There’s too much going on on the field during the game as well.” Lewis said. “He (Zimmer) has George (Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards), who has been with him the whole time and was with me in Washington. George understands him. They coached together in Dallas, so there’s a confidence level that George can help make the corrections that way. With the defensive coaches here, they’ve done a good job of extending themselves.”
Considering Lewis has essentially given himself the titles of both head coach and defensive coordinator, there wasn’t much wiggle room to give his friend Hue Jackson a title that carries a certain level of respect. Regardless, Jackson has provided value in Lewis’ mind and has acted as the Edwards to Lewis’ Zimmer.
“He’s done a really good job of inputting with me on what he sees.” Lewis said. “Most of his time is with the defense, so just what he sees that way and giving me the input. He sees the opponent’s defense as well, and things we do on offense. Just giving me a little feedback and bounces things off (of) me. He’s able to respond to the players and pull a little bit more out of some of the guys. He has a relationship with some of the guys that are here, and some of the young guys. Also behind the scenes more on the analytical part, he’s been helpful that way on offense and defense with some things he was comfortable doing. He’s been able to help us in that direction more.”
The situation the Bengals’ put themselves in when they fired Austin was not a pretty one, but for how terrible the defense was up to his termination, it was the necessary move. In the attempt to salvage the sinking ship known as the Bengals’ 2018 season, they did what was probably the best action for them in putting Lewis in a position he was familiar with so many years ago. But it wasn’t enough, just like how Lewis (and Jackson, for that matter) isn’t enough to push the team to greater heights from being just the head coach.
Lewis put a lot on himself and on the rest of the staff in their attempt to turn the season around, and that should be commended, but not to the extent of trying it again next year.