The Cincinnati Bengals made some radical changes this offseason, including parting with long-time head coach Marvin Lewis. In his place, they hired Zac Taylor, a first-year head coach who has had minimal coordinating experience, but is acknowledged as a protégé of Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams.
Seen as an extension of the offensive guru, the expectation was that Taylor would be able to jump-start the Bengals’ sluggish offense with some new ideas that he gained during his time working with McVay and serving as his quarterbacks coach. While he has brought some ideas to the table, certainly, one of the more notable things they have done this year is to opt to use five defensive linemen.
While many teams are adapting to pass-heavy teams by incorporating packages with seven defensive backs, the Bengals have added a package that goes light on the back—well, in this case, the back six, with two true linebackers and four defensive backs.
Obviously it’s not a staple package, but rather a niche one, but it’s an interesting look. Even the Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t done that in their goal-line package, where they have been known to use four linemen and six linebackers, or five with two safeties. Of course, the Steelers are a three-man front, the Bengals four.
The Bengals have played some run-heavy teams, including against the Seattle Seahawks in the opener, but the Steelers have been anything but that this year, and don’t expect to be even without Ben Roethlisberger, though that can depend a lot on whether or not they can ever gain a comfortable lead.
Either way, this five-defensive lineman package is something to look out for. Personally, I’d like to see it, provided that the coaches give Mason Rudolph the ability to audible. They have run some RPOs, which obviously gives him some accountability for plays, but if he can check to a pass against a heavy set, it could be a valuable resource.
That said, the Bengals have actually been pretty successful in running this look, from what I’ve seen and read about its usage. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a true ‘five-man’ front, because they have always valued versatility in their ends, with even big guys like Carlos Dunlap being asked to drop. Sam Hubbard, a third-round pick a year ago who has emerged as a starter, is also athletic enough to play at the second level in such looks.
It’s a way for Cincinnati to get its best personnel on the field, because they are thinner at linebacker than they have been, with Nick Vigil and Preston Brown their top two at the position.