Thu, 22 Oct 2020

Bengals Notebook: Lawson Expands Role; On Guard Again; Culture Chores

Cincinnati Bengals
30 Sep 2020, 21:58 GMT+10

Geoff Hobson

Edge rusher Carl Lawson's two sacks led the Bengals' rejuvenated defensive line Sunday in Philly on a day he schooled a Pro Bowl left tackle in Jason Peters.

But don't call him just an edge rusher as he expands his role in his fourth season.

Lawson believes a key to his game is playing all three downs of a series and just not on passing downs. That means, of course, playing the run and he thinks he's showing that in a season he has played 55 percent of the snaps after usually playing about 42-43 percent.

"I just think me just being on the field more, that's kind of helped," Lawson said. "Sometimes when you've got to sub in and get your motor running a bit. But now, since I'm in a better role this year where I get to play first, second and third down. I just get into a rhythm and can impose my will on the game a little bit more. Not necessarily anything that Peters was doing, it's just me being out there more and just having some experience helped with my play."

Pro Football Focus.com has noticed. They've got him 17th among ends in run stopping, 32nd in pass rushing productivity and 18th overall, higher than J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Cam Jordan.

The return of tackle Mike Daniels helped gum up the run game in the middle Sunday and eased the snaps of tireless nose tackle D.J. Reader. And Lawson's explosion in the passing game is always a treat when he gets it going.

"He needs to show up on all three downs for us. He did that last night," said head coach Zac Taylor. "That's something that's really good to see. We talked about actually getting out there being physical in practice and being competitive. I saw that from defensive line in particular. Our defense as a whole, but in particular I thought our defensive line played a lot more physical and a lot more aggressive than the week before. And again, when you get a guy like Mike Daniels back, it kind of changes that mindset a little bit. And it takes the pressure off everybody else. D.J. has been giving us everything he's got."

Lawson played 47 snaps Sunday and he's done that before. Last season there were four games he played more snaps. But the game plan also seemed to suit him and his linemates.

"Just going. Winning our 1-on-1s. I think that's what our strength is," Lawson said of the no-frills rushes.

Candid Carl also thought the Bengals' aggression forced the Eagles into penalties not always called as quarterback Carson Wentz rolled up 67 yards running out of the pocket.

"A lot of times honestly there were holding penalties that were not called and they were blatant," Lawson said. "We finally got that one with D.J. I think in the fourth quarter. That was a big holding call. Sometimes he got out of the pocket because some of the holding calls weren't called."

ON GUARD: It's hard to remember when the position of right guard so dominated the day after a Bengals game as Zac Taylor appeared to be turning to a third starter for the season's fourth game Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against Jacksonville at Paul Brown Stadium.

In his second NFL start at that spot, Fred Johnson was pulled during a 23-23 tie against the Eagles, where backup Billy Price couldn't hold the fort in the second half and overtime against perennial Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox.

The search for the replacement for the injured Xavier Su'a-Filo (ankle), out at least a few more weeks, seems to now lead to fourth-year Alex Redmond, cut at the end of training camp, signed to the practice squad and the most experienced guard on the bench with 17 starts at right guard. Also in the mix is promising sixth-round pick Hakeem Adeniji, who has been playing both tackle and guard, but he just may not be ready quite yet.

"He's really athletic and did a lot of good things in camp. That's a lot different than when you have to go play against Fletcher Cox," said offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. "To say he can go in and play great off the bat especially with such limited reps, I don't know if that is realistic or not. I do like everything he has done, I'm optimistic about his trajectory but he's still a really young player. The way it goes though is if he's the best one he'll play."

The PFF grades give Taylor no choice with Johnson (82) and Price (90) ranked at the bottom of the league after Johnson has been credited with allowing nine pressures and Price four. They have two penalties each.

"Just some mental errors that are unacceptable, some things that will really help our run game get going if we do a better job with one more detail there in particular," Taylor said. "That's what stands out to me. There's things we have to clean up if we expect to win football games. This one certainly did not feel like a win or a tie. It felt like it felt the first two weeks to be quite honest with you. But again, there's enough positives to build on and we'll build on those this week as we get underway."

The Bengals never thought they'd be here after signing Su'a-Filo in free agency and backing him up with the first-rounder Price. They're looking at the waiver wire and other practice squads, but as Rick Pitino once famously said, "Larry Bird isn't walking through that door."

On Sunday, the Eagles went to work with their two starting guards injured and played with the undrafted Nate Herbig starting his third NFL game in his third NFL appearance and Matt Pryor's first NFL start in 15 games after being taken in the sixth round last year.

"Ultimately, the chance of a Pro Bowl guard walking through your door in Week 3 of the season (is) real low," Callahan said. "That's just the nature of it. There is really no cavalry coming in that sense. We have to find ways to get the best guys on the field and look at all the options, especially who is here. If there is somebody out there in the world that can help us we will certainly look at that, too."

The Bengals cut Shaq Calhoun Monday and promoted Keaton Sutherland from the practice squad, but he's not ready yet, either. He did have two starts in Miami last year and the Bengals like him. That's why they signed him undrafted out of Texas A&M last season after playing under offensive line coach Jim Turner. But he just got back here three weeks ago after the Dolphins cut him.

Turner, like many NFL line coaches, likes to move his linemen around at practice in case of injury. But it was no surprise that Fred Johnson looked pretty comfortable at guard moving from right tackle, since he also played guard in college at Florida. That experiment doesn't look to be done for a guy in just his second season

"I think Fred is capable of playing guard. I think Fred improved tremendously from his first outing to his second," Callahan said. "It wasn't perfect. There are plays he can do things a lot better. I like Fred as a player. He still has a lot of traits we like. His size, his length are important. Is he a guard or tackle? I think he's going to be a good lineman. We are going to need him again at some point because that's how these things usually work in the NFL."

Callahan also defended Turner's penchant for moving around players as the Bengals try to find some kind of chemistry up front after some turbulent seasons. The son of one of the NFL's top line coaches, Callahan believes the numbers game and injuries put a premium on a line's versatility.

"That's like the gold standard. If you can get five guys that can stay healthy and play together ... Like when you look at the Rams when they went to the Super Bowl," Callahan said. "But you only normally get seven or eight guys up on game day. Five are playing. Two are on your bench most of the time. And maybe you carry an eighth occasionally if you have an injury issue. But most of the time, you're carrying seven on the game day. So you're going to have five on the field. You're going to have a swing tackle and a swing interior player.

"It's more guys getting prepared to play where they might need to play to get us in or out of a game or a couple of games, if that's the case. For Jimmy to do that is really what all (offensive) line coaches do. I know I even looked back when my dad was in Washington the last couple of years. I think he had the most line combinations of anybody in the league. I think he had something like, over the course there, I can't put an exact number on it, but maybe 50 or 60 combinations? That's just how it goes. Jimmy does a great job of getting those guys ready to play in all those spots. Tinkering is not the word I would use."

CULTURE CHORES: Taylor continues to draw high marks for his handling of the locker room from old and new Bengals alike. And that's no knock on former head coach Marvin Lewis.

"It's different. Marvin had a philosophy in his culture, but that kind of ended up breaking down as time and there was some bad things," Lawson said. "And then you're trying to establish a new culture and you got a different culture that came in. It's a mixing of things. So yeah, you have to establish a new culture and that's what they're trying to do and that's what the whole organization is trying to do."

D.J. Reader is one of those new guys who came in talking culture and he sees the shift he wants.

"I think everybody's turned the corner with that attitude and they want to go out there and win," Reader said. "You can see it in their eyes. You can see it practice, there's a bunch of winners around here, guys who came from different players and guys who were drafted who were winners, so they want to win. They're not used to this and they're trying to change it.

"Changing the culture is hard. It's hard to win in this league, and that's just the way it's set up. So you got to push for those wins, you've got to make those critical plays when they come down to it."

He certainly is looking for more weeks like last, when the Bengals had a good stretch of practices.

"I think we went out there and practiced hard," Reader said. "I think there's got to be more of that. I think we've got to practice hard and not fall apart. Guys are getting what it takes to become winners in this league, and it takes a lot of steps and everybody being on board."

Lawson, a fourth-rounder in 2017, sees it.

"I just feel like some of the guys that were here in the past didn't really take it seriously. Marvin did a great job, me personally, trying to motivate those guys, but it was just some guys that I feel like just weren't necessarily all in," Lawson said. "As good of a coach you are, players control the team and control the game. You can scream at them as much as possible, but if they don't want to do anything about it they can't."

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