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Vocal Guenther tackles slump, urges Tez to adjust style


Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther got vocal in Monday's meeting.

Paul Guenther, the Bengals' first-year defensive coordinator, has officially gone off.

He did it in Monday's meeting when the Bengals convened after the 27-0 loss to the Colts and the defense smarting from giving up its second 500-yard game in three weeks. Told he didn't seem to be the yelling type after Wednesday's practice, Guenther objected.

"You weren't in the meeting on Monday," he said. "There's different ways to go about it. You can take a guy aside or you can get the group together and just put it point blankly and say this is what needs to happen. We need to play better. There's different ways to go about it. Sometimes when you yell and scream all the time they tune you out. Sometimes but you've got to take that approach. In this case, that's what was needed."

In the middle of all this, Guenther is also trying to change Pro Bowl WILL backer Vontaze Burfict's tackling style.

Neck and concussion issues have prevented him from finishing all but one of the four games he's played after making tackles leading with his head. And the game he finished he had to come out for a few snaps after making a helmet-to-helmet tackle.

But that's how he led the NFL in tackles last season and had a Rookie of the Year season before that. It's like changing a batting champion's swing or a Cy Young Award winner's arm slot.

"I tell him to keep his face up. I tell him he's my quarterback. You tell your quarterback to slide and not get hit," Guenther said. "I tell him to keep his head up so he can stay in the game because when he starts the game and comes out, it affects everything. It affects me, it affects the unit, it affects the linebacking crew. So yes, I'm trying to do the best I can with him. Sometimes it's like telling a dog not to eat red meat, but he's got to do it. 

"He's got to get it right. He can't keep coming out of games. Like I told him: it's ridiculous. When I'm counting on him to play, he's got to keep his face up. It's improving now."

The defense has to improve rapidly or this season is going nowhere. This is a proud unit, top three last season and top ten four of the last six years. But they are ranked 31st at the moment, the lowest they've been ranked since week ten of the 2007 season.  Only three players, linemen Robert Geathers and Domata Peko and cornerback Leon Hall, are left from a crew not used to such lowly numbers.

Hence, the yelling.

 Vincent Rey played under Guenther for two seasons with the linebackers and doesn't remember him getting this mad in his new job.

"About a year ago he got really mad," Rey said.  "He was mad (Monday) and there wasn't any favoritism. He got on everybody. It caught my attention."

Cornerback Adam Jones had Guenther for an assistant secondary coach in 2011, so he's heard some yelling before: "He usually doesn't yell that easy. But sometimes you have to. Sometimes you have to get up on guys."

Guenther said he seemed to be joined by upset players.

"I think it's more frustration than it is mad. It's frustration knowing we can play better," Guenther said.  "I don't ever want to use that we have guys hurt as an excuse. We go play. I've always preached that, even when I coached linebackers. When somebody goes down, the next guy goes in and he's got to know what to do. Point blank."

Guenther is the guy that moved the rookie Burfict to WILL from backup middle backer in 72 hours in the wake of Thomas Howard's Thursday torn ACL in 2012 and he nearly led the league in tackles then. In 2013, Guenther trained safety Taylor Mays for nickel backer the week before the regular season.

So when three backup linebackers played the final three quarters in Indy, Guenther had bigger fish to fry.

"I think the fire has been there. I think they have to understand that we can play better," he said. "We know we can play better. That's the frustrating part of it, that we're off here and off there a tick. But we know we can play better. And we should. It's a division game, it's in our stadium, how can you not be excited?"

Guenther showed them tape of the first three games, back in the halcyon days when they allowed 33 points and got off the field nearly 70 percent of the time on third down. In the last three games, the foe has been on the field at least 39 minutes and run at least 78 plays. Too much for a beat-up defense giving up 107 points.

"I think they understand that we have to play with energy all the time, we have to run to the ball all the time, we have to know assignments all of the time," Guenther said. "When we do that, we're hard to beat. That's what we did in the first three games. We tackled well, we played with great energy, we ran to the football, we took blocks on, we covered guys, the whole thing. There's ups and downs in the NFL. That's what I told them. There's ups and downs for every team.

"When you get in a little rut, the good teams can't come out of it but the great teams come out of it. The average teams stay there and stay in the rut, and the great teams know how to pull themselves out of it. I have to help get them out of it, and the players have to take the lead on that, too, and in the locker room. They need to say hey we need to start playing better and get our (butt) going."

In those 240 snaps the last three weeks, they've had their quarterback, Burfict, for 43 percent of the plays. He got knocked out of Sunday's game late in the first quarter when he tackled Colts quarterback Andrew Luck sticking his helmet in Luck's chest on a scramble and got a cervical strain.

In the opener he got a concussion in similar fashion when he hit Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the chest back in the pocket. His second concussion the next week came when teammate Emmanuel Lamur accidently kneed him in the head and put him out for two games. And he was cleared to return against Carolina after a helmet-to-helmet hit with Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker as he made the tackle.

"Well, change your throwing motion, change your tackling form, you've got to do it," Guenther said. "It's not the easiest thing, I'll tell you that. It isn't easy, but he's got to understand the ramifications of it."

And the Luck play wasn't the only one Guenther saw.

"There's one earlier in the game where he kind of ducked his head on the guy running out to the perimeter there," he said. "I talked to him as his position coach way before all this happened. Like I said, it does us no good with him sitting on the sideline after five snaps. It does us more harm than good. So he's got to learn to do it for him and for the team and for everyone involved."

Ravens Week never unfolds softly.

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