Last season after Carl Lawson went down, the Bengals struggled to generate a pass rush. With him back and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo shaking things up, they could show improvement.
There was a small moment in Thursday’s preseason game against the Giants that should get fans excited. In an obvious passing situation, the Bengals trotted out a deadly array of pass rushers. Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Sam Hubbard, and Carl Lawson were all on the field at once.
This type of thing is something you see among the college ranks. Hubbard was apart of a similar scheme during his college days at Ohio State called the “rushmen package”.
The idea is simple. On obvious passing downs, you play your four best pass rushers along the defensive line regardless of natural position to maximize pressure on the quarterback. When the Bengals did this, Atkins, normally a defensive tackle, lined up as an end. Lawson and Hubbard, who usually come off the edge, were standing near the offensive guards.
This scheme prevents the team from playing a bigger, slower defensive tackle during passing situations. In other words, they get the most out of all eleven guys they field.
The Bengals defense was ranked as one of the worst in the league last year. A big reason for that was their inability to get off the field on third downs. Now, with this new look in the playbook, they will be able to generate more of a rush, helping the coverage significantly. Pressuring the quarterback more consistently will be especially helpful in masking the linebackers struggles in coverage.
Far too often in the past, the Bengals have overlooked their shortcomings and allowed themselves to just line up and get beat. However, it seems that finally the team is turning to creative solutions rather than doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result.
The ideology behind this is similar to one employed in the back seven of a defense. Typically, when a team goes to their nickel defense, they pull a linebacker off the field and replace them with a corner to get more coverage ability. In this case, the team pulls a run stopping defensive tackle for a pass rusher to get after the quarterback.
This scheme can wreck the game, especially against the plethora of young quarterbacks the Bengals will face. Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, and Sam Darnold could all have to face this deadly front.
Add in stunts and the opposing offensive line will have their hands full. There simply isn’t a weak link among the Bengals nickel defensive line. Even if they pick up all four pass rushers, they will likely cause the quarterback to make throws quicker than he would like. This will almost certainly lead to inaccuracy and turnovers.
While it is simply a preseason game, new first time defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has shown creativity. After watching the defense struggle mightily in the first game, they have shown improvement from week to week. The defense is still far from perfect. Even so, this should be a welcome sight for fans who are ready to see the Cincinnati defense return to playing up to its potential.