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Offseason Blueprint Comes To Life For Bengals Defense

Akeem Davis-Gaither: big part of the blueprint.
Akeem Davis-Gaither: big part of the blueprint.

If the Ravens' new age offense is symbolic of how and why the Bengals ripped up their defense during the offseason, then Sunday's effort in holding quarterback Lamar Jackson to a career-low three yards rushing and third lowest completion percentage in his 27 starts during the 27-3 loss in Baltimore reflected they're on the right track:

- They wanted players that allowed the Xs and Os to be more flexible.

So defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo switched from the 3-4 he'd been using for most of the season to a 4-3 (actually a 4-4), in large part, because he could use the speed of the linebackers they took in the guts of the draft. In order to beef up against the Ravens' vaunted run attack while also mirroring Jackson's option game, Anarumo gave fourth-rounder Akeem Davis-Gaither his first NFL start of 50 snaps and third-rounder Logan Wilson heavy responsibilities in helping track Jackson on his 30 plays.

"It showed up. Logan Wilson really should have had two (interceptions) yesterday," Anarumo said. "(The defense has) put in the time and the effort. The beauty of the group is that you're always trying to adapt the scheme to the team you're going to face."

- They wanted to be faster and more alert against the offenses that have been killing them with perimeter misdirections in both the pass and run with athletic quarterbacks pulling the trigger. That's a big reason they cleaned out the linebacker and cornerback rooms. Trae Waynes' pectoral surgery has eliminated their biggest free-agent in those spots and they haven't had the other major cornerback addition, Mackensie Alexander, for the last two games.

But they also quietly added a five-year veteran with 11 starts and a solid back-up rep, so when Alexander's injury again forced them to start former Titan LeShaun Sims, speedy holdover Darius Phillips could move into the slot and play 45 active snaps stalking Jackson on the perimeter. He blitzed. He spied. He tackled.

"Any time you bounce back and forth between the nickel position and outside position, he's handled it well," Anarumo said. "He had a nice game yesterday. He was very disciplined on his rushes when we sent him on blitzes.

"One of the things we wanted to do was get as much speed on the field. So we had six DBs. We spent most of the game with five and six DBs on third down, so that if we do blitz him we are blitzing him with speed as you mentioned, they can track him down. You saw he ran over the referee yesterday to try to get free. If you are chasing him with D-lineman it's going to be awfully tough to get the guy on the ground. We just felt we had to go at it that way, get as much speed on the field as we can and when you do pressure him pressure him with guys who can make the play like you are suggesting. It showed up a couple times yesterday in a positive way for us."

- They wanted to find tacklers and to get better at tackling so they would no longer be a pro football focus staple at last in the league. While last month's game against the Browns showed that's a work in progress, Anarumo had them for just four missed tackles only a couple of weeks after they could get nobody down in Cleveland.

"All those guys showed up in run support which we knew was going to be a big part of it," Anarumo said. "(The Ravens) are a team that prides themselves on breaking a lot of tackles. I was happy with that yesterday."

Both prized rookie linebackers could have had interceptions on Sunday. Anarumo joked how Davis-Gaither had the ball's indentation on his chest, but what really impressed him is how he put himself in position to get a chance. ADG is one of those six captains they drafted and his son of a coach pedigree showed up on the play. Remember, Anarumo made him a defensive captain at the Senior Bowl back when all this stuff began.

"He did the hardest part," Anarumo said. "They had something in front of him that was going to the flat and he was taught all week to ignore it. Easier said than done. And he did it. He let it go to the flat and then fell back underneath on the curl behind him and he just didn't make the play. But the fact is that was a veteran play that he made there."

And then there was the pick Wilson did get, his second in two games. The three-time Wyoming captain read his key on the offensive line and instead of blitzing, he dropped on a day the blueprint came to life.

And the way Anarumo sees it, this is truly just the beginning because it was their opener.

"There were some good things by young players yesterday, which is great to see," Anarumo said. "For the rookies, yesterday was like game one. They just went through their four pre-season games and now they're in game one if you look at it that way. They're doing well. Hopefully they won't hit the rookie wall. We can't afford them to do that this year."