Bengals defensive coordinator hints at lineup changes

Cincinnati Bengals linebacker coach Paul Guenther walks the sideline during a session of training camp in downtown Cincinnati July 26, 2013. Guenther has been promoted to the team’s defensive coordinator. NICK DAGGY / STAFF
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Cincinnati Bengals linebacker coach Paul Guenther walks the sideline during a session of training camp in downtown Cincinnati July 26, 2013. Guenther has been promoted to the team’s defensive coordinator. NICK DAGGY / STAFF

Changes could be coming for the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense.

Frustrated by the increase in missed tackles, penalties, points allowed and a general lack of production by some of his veterans, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said the Bengals will be assessing individuals during the bye week, and there could be some shakeup going into the Nov. 14 game at the New York Giants.

After holding opponents to a franchise-record 17.4 points per game last year, the Bengals are allowing 23.6 points through a 3-4-1 start, including surrendering 17 points over the final 19 minutes of regulation in Sunday’s 27-27 tie against Washington.

“We have a lot of guys that have been here a long time, that have been fixtures in our system for a long time, but like I told them, it’s a production business,” Guenther said Tuesday. “Even though you’ve been kind of a guy that’s been here, if I think there’s going to be a younger player that I think can do it better at this point, whether it be for 15 more snaps, I’ve got to look at that because some of the guys that have been here, that have been fixtures here, for some reason or another, whether it’s age or whatever it is, they are not playing at a high level.

“And I’ve got to figure out where I can inject some other guys that can do it better or at least try to.”

Guenther didn’t elaborate on specific players who could see a decrease in snaps, but noted linebacker Nick Vigil, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and defensive end Will Clarke are among those who could see more time.

Head coach Marvin Lewis said it’s not just one player here or there making mistakes, though — the whole defense needs to tackle better.

“It’s something we’ve had to stress all season,” he said. “I’ve come in here too many times and talked about tackling. It’s an 11-man proposition. We have to do a better job in every area of defense. We had plays at the line of scrimmage that ended up being three or four-yard gains. … We had hits in the backfield that instead of being minus-two, ended up being plus two or three. All those things are part of playing good defense and tackling.”

Cincinnati’s defense is not all that different from last year in terms of personnel, as the Bengals only lost safety Reggie Nelson and linebacker A.J. Hawk from the starting lineup. However, Guenther said it’s tough to compare the two seasons because players are different from one year to the next.

Some of it could be an adjustment to new position coaches, as well, with Jacob Burney (defensive line), Kevin Coyle (defensive backs) and Jim Haslett (linebackers) joining Guenther’s staff in the offseason.

“Getting used to the new coaching staff, that’s always going to be a factor, especially when you bring new guys around a bunch that was already together,” cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “… Every adjustment takes time. I feel like we’ve gotten better in a lot of ways, but we just have to put these ‘W’s together. We have to be a better fourth-quarter team. A lot of games we let it slip away in the fourth quarter. We have to do better at that.”

Cincinnati ranks 24th in yards allowed (378.5 per game) and 19th in scoring (23.6 points per game), but the good news is the Bengals have a tendency to do better in the second half of seasons in both categories.

In three of the past four years, they have allowed fewer yards and points in the second half of the season — in 2013, the yards went up but the points still went down. Even last year when the Bengals started 8-0, they still improved statistically down the stretch, despite going 4-4 over the final eight games of the regular season. After allowing 349.0 yards and 17.8 points per game through the first half of the season, they surrendered just 333.0 yards and 17.1 points per game in the second half, and 16 of the 28 turnovers they forced came in the final eight games.

In 2012, Cincinnati allowed 357.4 yards and 27.3 points per game in the first half of the season during a 3-5 start and gave up just 282 yards and 12.8 points per game over the second half to make the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

The Bengals are hoping for a similar turnaround, coming off some much-needed rest during the bye week.

“This season ain’t over yet,” Kirkpatrick said. “I got some new energy yesterday just thinking where we’re at. We’re a long shot from out of it. We are still right there. We need this rest, though. Everyone needs to go away, get away from what people are saying, enjoy their family time, take care of their bodies still, don’t slack off on taking care of your body, and I feel we will come back recharged back up and we will be right where we need to be.”

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