Marvin Lewis on taking over struggling defense: ‘I’ve got it’

Marvin Lewis’ first meeting as the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive coordinator earlier this week was telling of a coach who knows what he’s doing, the players said.

His presentation was maybe just a little rusty, but Lewis’ demeanor and the way his players have responded to the 16th-year head coach taking over the defense leads one to believe there is a little more confidence on that side of the ball than in past weeks.

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Ironically, Cincinnati (5-4) has every reason not to feel all too comfortable going into Sunday’s game at Baltimore (4-5) – a key AFC North game the Bengals need to win to remain in the playoff picture. Cincinnati not only is adjusting to whatever changes Lewis – who hasn’t been a defensive coordinator since 2002 — will bring to the defense but also trying to prepare for two different quarterbacks, as Ravens starter Joe Flacco has been held from practice with a hip injury and Lamar Jackson could play instead. And, on top of that, injuries still remain a concern as new ailments seem to keep popping up on already depleted roster.

None of that seems to faze the Bengals though.

“We’re not reverting back to 2002, the last time I did this,” Lewis said. “I’ve been involved throughout (my times as a head coach), and I study everybody throughout the league and throughout the season, even when we aren’t playing them. You’re looking at those things. So don’t worry about that part, I’ve got it.”

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Lewis has said, “I’ve got it,” more than once since it was announced Monday he would be taking over for Teryl Austin, who was fired after a third straight game of the defense allowing 500 yards or more.

Lewis led the Ravens’ defense for six seasons from 1996 to 2001, helping Baltimore to a Super Bowl championship in 2000 when the defense allowed the fewest rushing yards (970) and fewest points (165) in a 16-game regular season. The Ravens defense had four interceptions in the Super Bowl, a 34-7 win over the New York Giants.

“He definitely was one of the best defensive coordinators in NFL history,” linebacker Preston Brown said of Lewis. “So to have him calling plays should be fun. … (This is) a guy who’s been here for a long time, who’s known all the defenses, with (Mike) Zimmer and Paulie (Guenther), he knows all those guys well. (There are plays) from 10 years ago that he can dial up, so it’s pretty cool to have a guy like that calling plays.”

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Brown said Lewis is in fact “dialing up” plays from the past, going back to the basics and calling plays from 2014 and 2015 when only a handful of the players were on the team.

The most difficult adjustment, Brown said, was just trying to read Lewis’ notes on a PowerPoint presentation. Lewis seemed to have it memorized because he never looked behind him, but the players had to squint or pull out their iPads to see the words on the screen.

“He had a really small font, so it was kind of hard to take notes, but it was cool having him up there,” Brown said. “You can tell he was having fun.”

When asked about his font later, Lewis laughed and said he was just glad they were paying attention enough to notice they couldn’t read the font. Brown said if it wasn’t Lewis up there or had it been another week, the players might have spoken up.

“If we won the past couple of games we would have said something, but we’ve given up 500 yards,” Brown said. “We’re going to be quiet until we make a couple of plays.”

The Bengals need to make plays Sunday, because like wide receiver Tyler Boyd said, “this is a game that could turn (the) season one way or the other.”

Safety Shawn Williams said the biggest thing for the defense to turn things around is just playing assignments and sticking to individual roles. And, it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is lining up on the other side of the field — Flacco is more of a pocket passer, deep threat but with Jackson, a defense never knows what to expect because he can move around more and is a capable runner.

“I think that’s what we’re focusing on,” Williams said. “I don’t want to say ‘simplify’ but (the coaches) would probably say simplify. I don’t know. It’s everybody just making sure they know their assignment and how everything works together, so that you know you’re playing a technique and you know why you’re doing it and where your help is, rather than playing this just because. I think that was our problem was guys trying to do too much. We just need to play our defense.”


Bengals at Ravens, 1 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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