When talking about the changes to come defensively for his team Marvin Lewis told members of the Bengals media in attendance for the NFL owners meetings that he expects a lot of changes, so much that some of the returning coaches don’t recognize it.
“Marcus is mad at me because everything is new. He’s doing lot of drawings,” Lewis said of his son, Marcus Lewis, the team’s assistant linebackers coach. “It will be different. We’re going to be different. We have to get better. We need to get better on third down. We need to get better closing people out at the end of games. We weren’t good enough. We lost games we were ahead in the fourth quarter. We can’t do that.”
Obviously, the Bengals and their 7-9 record were not good enough. But the main thing that seems to be changing is the overall defensive philosophy. Under Paul Guenther, the defense sat back and didn’t give up the big play. They were one of the best defenses in the NFL at doing just that.
However, the Bengals struggled to get off the field defensively, couldn’t stop the run, didn’t force turnover and struggled to supply consistent pressure on quarterbacks. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise then that the Bengals’ new defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, wants to come in and do things differently.
We have already talked about how the Bengals plan to use Carl Lawson more as a linebacker under Austin, but that is only part of how this team plans to get more aggressive.
“We have to apply pressure and we have guys who can do that and we have guys on the back end who ought to be able to cover and give us that opportunity,” Lewis said. “In my opinion, we have to be able to pressure the offense and not let the offense dictate the game.”
“We’ve got some corners that have a lot of talent and ability. We have to do a better of utilizing their abilities.”
Part of why last year was so frustrating was seeing the emergence of William Jackson.
Because it really only came after injuries forced him into a full-time role on the perimeter with Dre Kirkpatrick. After watching him shutdown Antonio Brown two times, it really makes you wonder why he wasn’t out there sooner.
It seems like a focus on defense next season will be relying on these corners for the Bengals. Darqueze Dennard showed he has what it takes to be one heck of nickel corner, which has become such an important position in today’s pass happy NFL.
These three have roots in man coverage, but the Bengals rarely ran it under Guenther. That will surely change as Austin hopes to force quarterbacks into some errant throws towards one of the Bengals premiere corners.
Although this change means Kirkpatrick will have to really watch his hand grabbing, which got him in plenty of trouble last season.
“I think Dre grew a great deal,” Lewis said of his longest tenured corner. “One area he needs to clean up is he had far too many loose hand penalties. He’s got to clean that up. As a player and as a guy ascending into ... leader responsibility and wants to, I feel good about that.”
Kirkpatrick has always seemed to have his ups and downs, but they need him to take that next step if the Bengals have any hopes of being more aggressive working. One area Lewis is already concerned about is the safety position.
“We have to have more playmaking,” Lewis said talking about his two veteran safeties. “It’s always being in the right position and shooting your gun when the opportunities occur.”
It is true. While George Iloka and Shawn Williams have both brought important aspects to this defense, they have never been known as the guys get takeaways. Iloka is the guy who keeps teams from hitting on big plays, and that was fine when the team had Reggie Nelson making plays underneath.
However, Williams hasn’t filled that role the same way. He has struggled to cause turnovers, and his job could be in jeopardy. The recent rule change with the lowering of the helmet could also have a huge impact on Iloka’s game. He has always been known as more of a hitter than anything. Maybe he could adjust to trying to make more plays on the ball rather than separating it from a receiver.
One thing is for sure. Lewis and Austin have more than a few tweaks in mind for the Bengals’ defense in 2018.