Update: The Bengals have fired Teryl Austin. Marvin Lewis will take over the defense.
When Paul Gunther left the Cincinnati Bengals to become Jon Gruden’s defensive coordinator with the Oakland Raiders, Marvin Lewis tabbed Teryl Austin to lead his defense. Nine games into the 2018 NFL season, the choice looks suspect, at best.
How bad is the Bengals’ defense? No NFL team had ever allowed 500 or more yards in three consecutive games, until Sunday. After giving up 551 yards to Kansas City and 576 to Tampa Bay, the Bengals gave up 509 yards to New Orleans on the way to a 51-14 Saints waltz at Paul Brown Stadium.
New Orleans had the football 10 possessions. The Saints scored on the first nine, then took a knee on the 10th. The first five possessions and six of the first seven ended in touchdowns as the visitors rolled to a 45-7 lead.
The Saints scored two touchdowns in the final 1:22 of the second quarter on the way to a 35-7 halftime lead. Quarterback Drew Brees completed 22 of 25 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
True, New Orleans boasts a powerhouse offense. The Saints scored 45 points the Sunday before in handing the Los Angeles Rams their first loss, 45-35. And the Bengals were without several important defensive players Sunday, including linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil, along with cornerback Darqueze Dennard and defensive end Carl Lawson.
Still, the Bengals are 32nd among the NFL’s 32 teams in total defense, allowing 454.6 yards per game. The Bengals are 31st in rushing yards allowed at 1,41.2 yards per game. And they are 31st in points allowed at 32.0 per game.
The 53-year-old Austin was the Detroit Lions’ defensive coordinator from 2014 through 2017. His 2014 defense finished No. 2 in the NFL in yards allowed. Before that, he was the Baltimore Ravens’ secondary coach from 2011 through 2013. And he was Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Florida in 2010.
One more thing, the Bengals were coming off a bye week on Sunday.
Is it surprising Lewis would fire his defensive coordinator nine games into his tenure? There is a precedent here. Lewis axed offensive coordinator Ken Zampese just two weeks into the 2017 season after Cincinnati failed to score a touchdown in its first two games.
“I’m not talking about any of that,” said Lewis when asked in Sunday’s postgame press conference about possible scheme or coaching changes.
Now 5-4 on the season, the Bengals are at Baltimore on Sunday in an important AFC North matchup. The Ravens are 4-5 and coach John Harbaugh is facing job pressure, as well.
One interesting aside from Sunday’s Bengals-Saints game. The Paul Brown Stadium fire alarms went off 15 minutes before the game. New Orleans head coach Sean Payton did not take that well. In fact, Payton allegedly destroyed the fire alarm in the visitors’ locker room and could be charged for the offense.