With Jon Gruden back with the Oakland Raiders, the offense, that regressed so much in 2017, figures to be explosive once again. That means opposing teams will have to throw the ball a lot to keep up with them. So all eyes should be and will be on the pass defense with defensive coordinator Paul Guenther now running it.
Who is Guenther? What kind of coordinator is he?
“I met Paul Guenther when my brother was the offensive coordinator of the Bengals.” Gruden said at his re-introductory press conference. “I loved the way the Bengals played defense. Up the field, single gap, get after you. Mike Zimmer, who left Cincinnati and went to Minnesota. I think we all agree they’re quite a defensive team. He’s a great teacher. He’s been able to get a lot of players. Vontaze Burfict, undrafted out of Arizona State, became a star player. He can coach coaches. He can coach a lot of different situations to a high level.”
What he’s done
Guenther is a well-respected coordinator around the NFL that has put together some solid defenses. The Bengals were No. 12 in 2014, No. 2 in 2015, No. 8 in 2016 in points allowed. Against the pass, the Bengals were No. 11 in 2016 and No. 8 in 2017. The Bengals defense were No. 3 in the NFL in interceptions in 2014 and 2015 and tied for No. 4 in 2016.
Under Guenther’s watch, the highest passer rating the Bengals gave up was 83.1. The team gave up passer ratings of 75.8 and 78.9 in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Compare that to the 2017 Raiders, who had the fewest INT’s in the league with just five while giving up a passer rating of 101. 8; third worst in the NFL.
Before Mike Zimmer left to become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, he was an aggressive, blitzing defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. As his linebackers coach, Guenther came up under Zimmer and designed many of his blitzes, most notably his double-A-gap blitzes.
Guenther was expected to dial up more blitzes than Zimmer once he was promoted to DC of the Bengals when Zimmer left. He’s known as one of the top blitz designers in the NFL but he rarely does so.
Sports Illustrated hinted that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis’s desire to play things straight up held him back. That could explain why Guenther didn’t return to the Bengals when Lewis signed an extension. It could also be that the Bengals didn’t have the personnel to run a whole lot of blitzes.
When Guenther did dial up a blitz, it was effective, often resulting in the Bengals getting to the quarterback. Again, those blitzes are designed well and he confuses offensive lines with all the disguising and bluffing he does. He especially uses the threat of the double-A-gap blitz to help get his edge rushers get one-on-one matchups. That will help keep the double and triple teams away from Khalil Mack.
The Bengals ran a base 4-3 defense with Guenther as DC but he isn’t really married to anything. He values position versatility up front so he can use multiple fronts. He lines his guys up in a multitude of positions and either one could rush or drop him into coverage.
He also runs his share of stunts and gets to the QB with them. The Bengals were tied for No. 11 in the NFL in sacks with 41 in 2017 without a great edge rusher.
Coverage wise, from what they showed on film this year, the Bengals ran a lot of tight man coverage with a single high safety and two deep. It wasn’t always bump-and-run but the corners were usually close to the line of scrimmage. They also showed some Cover 2 and Cover 4 zone — Marvin Lewis staples. But one thing you can bet is just like up front there will be a lot of bluffing and disguising. Safeties are often seen running back into position right before the snap.
With Guenther’s blitz designs coming from the Mike Zimmer coaching tree, it will be interesting to see what he does with guys like Mack, Bruce Irvin, Mario Edwards Jr. and maybe Aldon Smith. Guenther also knows how to get there with four rushers by using the threat of a blitz. Meanwhile the disguise of coverages should lead to more interceptions. With Guenther running the defense, don’t expect it to be as easy to throw on the Raiders.