Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther made it known before the season started he intended to work all of his players in at times, and that plan was in full effect Sunday afternoon in Cleveland when 16 defensive players logged at least 20 snaps.
Part of it was due to the blowout nature of the 31-7 victory, but the sub packages were in place long before the game began as Guenther and head coach Marvin Lewis continue to put their trust in a large group of youngsters on that side of the ball.
“That’s just the way it’s evolving,” Guenther said. “The thing that’s going to be good is it’s going to help us down the road when we get a guy dinged up, which is naturally going to happen, the (next) guy’s got experience and he can go in there and play.
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“I’ve always said, if they’re the best player at their position, whether they’re a rookie or 10th year player and they can help us win, they’re going to play,” he added.
The philosophy of rotating has players was in place long before Guenther took over as defensive coordinator in 2014. Former coordinator Mike Zimmer employed an eight-man rotation on the defensive line that Guenther has continued.
But the practice has evolved to include the secondary this season, something that began out of necessity in the season opener when starting cornerback Adam Jones was suspended and starting safety Shawn Williams was out with an elbow injury.
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Cornerback William Jackson, the 2016 first-round pick who missed all of his rookie year with a chest injury, played 44 percent of the snaps in the opener and built on that experience last week in Green Bay with a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Meanwhile safety Clayton Fejedelem, 2016 seventh-round pick, saw the most action of his young career while filling in for Williams in the opener. Even after Williams returned to health, Fejedelem still had a role, and he capitalized on it in Cleveland with his first career interception.
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“We feel if a guy is good enough to play, then we should get him some snaps,” Guenther said. “We try to orchestrate that before the game so there’s no surprises for the players. Hey, on the third series you’re going in as soon as we call nickel, or you’re going in in base or whatever it is. It’s orchestrated before the game so they understand what’s going on.”
Of course the other side of getting more snaps for the younger players is taking them away from the veterans. Jones saw his role greatly diminished Sunday, playing just 15 snaps.
“Obviously we have a lot of things going on in here,” Jones said after Sunday’s game. “We rotate everybody. It’s the first time I have been in the NFL where one player gets two series then someone else gets two series. I am just trying to keep my head on straight and enjoy the process.”
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Asked how he plans to keep Jones happy with a reduced workload, Guenther said it’s simple:
“One of the things I tell the guys is we’re happy when we’re winning,” he said. “So the more I can keep guys fresh with the corners, with the rushers and utilize everybody we’ve got, the better off we’re going to be.”
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The defense has already proven to be among the league’s best through the first four games. The Bengals rank third in total yards allowed (273.2), third in passing yards allowed (164.8) and third in points allowed (16.8).
Sunday they will be back at Paul Brown Stadium to face a struggling Buffalo offense that is 29th in total offense (284.2), 31st in passing (171.5) and 22nd in scoring (18.2).