Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said it’s not unexpected for the defense to be ahead of the offense at this point in the preparations for the upcoming season.
The defense won the day again during Tuesday’s Organized Team Activities, as players were putting pressure on the quarterbacks and forcing mistakes with an aggressive approach encouraged by new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.
That’s been the trend so far in OTAs, but while some of that just comes down to sloppy play from an offense still jelling and adjusting to changes, Taylor also credits the defense for the progress made this offseason.
“They came out and played like their hair was on fire,” Taylor said. “They did a nice job getting to the quarterback. I’m happy with the job the defense did. Offensively, there were some good things as well, but there were some things we could clean up.”
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd said the defense was frustrating the offense on Tuesday, especially during a red zone drill that Taylor turned into a competition by assigning points for certain things he felt worthy of reward. It was offense against defense, and the first to get 18 points first won.
Players on both sides of the ball immediately showed some extra enthusiasm after coming out of a huddle where Taylor explained the rules, but the defense especially came out fired up, as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead en route to eventually collecting the victory.
“The defense was killing us,” Boyd said.
It’s too early to get overly excited or concerned about anything, especially since players aren’t wearing pads, but considering how bad the defense was last year, any potential sign of improvement is a good thing. The Bengals gave up a league-worst 413.6 yards per game in 2018 and ranked 29th of 32 teams with 28.4 points surrendered.
Safety Shawn Williams was hesitant to classify the defense as being ahead of the offense right now, but said he’s been surprised how well things have come together under the new system and staff.
“I don’t know how much of the offense has been installed, but right now the defense is playing well and we’re starting to play together and communicate better,” Williams said. “I think that’s translating over to us making plays.”
Williams believes Anarumo’s methods of teaching also are paying off. He described Anarumo’s style as a “good mix” of some of the past coordinators he’s played under in Cincinnati – straight-forward like Mike Zimmer and aggressive like Teryl Austin. But Anarumo also brings his own unique ways of doing things, too.
One thing Williams has liked is how Anarumo shows game film from his time with the Dolphins and Giants to give a visual presentation of what they are doing and why certain things work.
“We’re seeing the benefits of it, seeing like whoever it is getting sacks and how the defense works together,” Williams said. “He’s showing us why we’re doing something, breaking it down into minor details so everyone knows the system and where their help is, where the defense is vulnerable with all of us, so I think that’s good. It can allow us to play faster.”
Taylor said that’s the goal for the entire staff, “to explain the intent of everything we are doing” so they have a better understanding of the big picture.
So far, players seem to be grasping the concepts behind Anarumo’s defense. The Bengals want to be aggressive, as always, but also flexible and more versatile, and Williams said that fits well with the personnel of the team.
“I think what he brings to the table is something we can be really good at,” Williams said.