Guenther pleased with defensive debut outside a few plays

While much of the focus was on the two scoring opportunities the Cincinnati Bengals offense squandered on its first two possessions in Friday night’s preseason opener, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther was quick to point out a third blown chance for points in a 17-16 loss to Minnesota.

The second-team defense had just entered the game against the Vikings starters. On first down, safety Derron Smith knifed through the line on a blitz and dropped running back Jerick McKinnon for a 2-yard loss. On the next play, the right side of the defense shoved the Minnesota offensive line several yards deep into the end zone for what looked like a sure safety.

But defensive end Margus Hunt and linebacker Paul Dawson failed to protect the back side, allowing McKinnon to escape for a 10-yard gain.

“Paul’s supposed to be off the edge there and he’s 10 yards on the other side of the ball. There’s nobody in the cutback lane. Otherwise if he’s where he’s supposed to be, he probably tackles him 5 yards deep. It’s an easy safety.”

And if they make the play for the safety, “we win,” Guenther s said.

Obviously wins and losses aren’t a big deal in the preseason. But what is important is getting the players to understand the importance of staying within the scheme on every play.

“Everybody’s got to fit in the defense,” Guenther said. “My message to the players, like it always is, if we do it right, it’s beautiful. If you don’t, that’s when we give up (big plays).”

One of those big plays came a few snaps after the missed safety, when cornerback Chykie Brown got caught squatting on a route and Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater burned him for a 49-yard touchdown pass to Charles Johnson.

“Obviously we can’t give up the explosive play there,” Guenther said. “But there was some good, teachable moments, some good situations for our younger guys. I thought they played hard. It wasn’t always perfect, especially with the second- and third-team guys, but I thought for the most part it was pretty good.”

There were a couple of teachable lessons for the fans as well, with the lesson being that Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins is even better that you thought.

Atkins only played three snaps against the Vikings, and he had a quarterback pressure on the first one and a quarterback sack on the second one.

“I said last year midway through the season he should be in the conversation for MVP in the league,” Guenther added. “He’s raised his game even more. He’s running after the ball better, he’s quicker. For a guy you don’t think can get any better, he has. He had a spin move the other day in practice he never used to have.

“To me he’s the best inside rusher in the league,” Guenther added. “It ain’t even close, because he plays the run good and he rushes.”

Gunether also had praise for Nick Vigil. The rookie linebacker played 36 (63 percent) of the defensive snaps, which was the third most on the team. And many of them came at middle linebacker, a spot he hadn’t experimented with since rookie camp.

“He did good,” Guenther said, noting there was just one play where Vigil took too deep of a drop on a backside dig route, enabling a dump pass that prevented a sack.

“He’s the kind of kid that kind of reminds me of Vontaze when he was a rookie, tell him once and he gets it,” Guenther continued. “The next time he doesn’t mess it up usually. Typically from a rookie in the first game you kind of see that flustered look, but he was playing MIKE last night because we only had five linebackers up, and it wasn’t like he played a lot of MIKE during the spring. We stuck him in there and he played.”

Vigil, who led the Bengals with six tackles, said he was encouraged by his debut.

“It was exciting,” he said. “There were a lot of emotions, nerves obviously. I think I performed OK. I made a couple mistakes here and there that I need to clean up, but overall I had an OK performance.”

About the Author