The message was clear in the Cincinnati Bengals locker room on Monday: The way the defense is playing is unacceptable, and no one’s job is safe.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin following the team’s 51-14 loss to New Orleans on Sunday, which marked the third straight game opponents have managed 500 yards or more of offense against Cincinnati.
Lewis now will take over the defense in a role he previously held with the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens before becoming the Bengals head coach in 2003.
“With the move I made today, it’s very unfortunate,” Lewis said. “Teryl has worked really hard here, but I just felt like we had to rock their world, shake things up a bit. It’s important where we are to try to get this done and it’s our chance to do it right now.”
Cincinnati (5-4), which as lost three of the last four games, ranks last in total defense, allowing 454.6 yards per game, and is 31st in scoring defense while surrendering 32.0 points per game.
It got so bad Sunday that Lewis said he took over play calling at one point during the game because players needed someone to turn to for help. Austin worked out of the booth.
Lewis said he told players after the game Sunday to look at themselves before pointing fingers at others, and everyone is to blame. The message was the same Monday.
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“We had to make a change,” Lewis said. “Everybody in this building is responsible for that change. We are all part of it, so first thing you do is change coaches and the next thing is change players, so we look at them at well. We have to right our ship.”
If players weren’t paying attention before the move, they are now.
“It wakes you up,” defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. “There’s a sense of urgency we want to be a great defense. We’ve been a great defense for a long time now, and they want to get back to that now because we still have an opportunity to control what we can control. We’re still right in the mix of everything and if we fix it now, we can do what we want to do, not that that was the sole issue because he’s not out there playing football. We have things we need to fix as well, but that’s the move they made.”
Dunlap said he couldn’t say if the move was necessary or not but something had to change.
Rookie free safety Jessie Bates said “it kind of sucks,” but the move just shows how bad things are going.
“Anytime anyone in this locker room or on the staff leaves, it’s not what we want,” Bates said. “Obviously something is going bad or we’re not doing something very well, so we just have to fix it. We have a lot of games left and we have everything we want to accomplish that we still can do.
“We’re not going to say it’s our fault for him getting fired, but like I said, we’re not playing well so something had to change and unfortunately, he had to get fired.”
Lewis wouldn’t say whether he had considered a move before the bye, which preceded Sunday’s game, but he felt he was the one responsible for making things right.
Austin had tried to change some things up, adding some three-safety packages Sunday and assigning cornerbacks to receivers in the previous game, a 37-34 win over Tampa Bay. However, Lewis said the Bengals don’t need to make any drastic changes to the scheme to get things turned around and there is enough talent on the defense to improve.
“We don’t have to change schematically,” he said. “We just have to change things we’re doing and make sure the players have great understanding. I’m responsible ultimately for everything that goes on. I just felt I’d be letting everyone down, the fans down, everyone down if we continued down this road.”