The Bengals entered the game at Baltimore with the fifth-best scoring defense in the league, finding success the first six games playing in their usual 4-2-5 formation, featuring a more prominent pass rush, solid young linebackers and a revamped secondary that has held up well despite injury to Trae Waynes.
But defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo knew that changes needed to be made to stop Jackson, who is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the NFL. Anarumo tweaked the base formation, lineup and third-down approach to include more of the blitzing schemes the Ravens have used to punish teams like Cincinnati in the past.
To better stop the run, the Bengals brought back a 4-3 defense and at times kept a defensive back near the line of scrimmage to plug up the middle of the field and make it appear as though they were in a 4-4 defense.
“Coach Lou (Anarumo) put together a great game plan and also as well as the rest of the coaching staff on the defensive end,” Awuzie said. “It was definitely different for us. There were a lot of questionable faces around on the defense. Playing Lamar you have to change things up. You have to do a different type of defense, so it was a game plan that throughout the week we got more comfortable with and by the time the game hit all the questions had been answered. I think it was a result of guys really buying into the game plan and getting real comfortable with the things we had to do.”
Akeem Davis-Gaither probably most benefited from the changes, playing 53 percent of the snaps on defense for his most action this season. The additional linebacker certainly helped limit Jackson, Awuzie said.
“It’s huge,” Awuzie said. “It’s very huge. Akeem (Davis-Gaither) had an elevated role in our game plan this week. It’s a credit to his athleticism. When he was in there, you saw him making plays all around the ball, all around the line of scrimmage and in the passing game. He was able to rip the ball out from the tight end. I definitely think it was just a great job by Coach Lou and the rest of the defensive staff putting us in positions to make plays. They players at the end of the day obviously have to go out there and play so credit those guys in the linebacking corps.”
Third-down blitzes also proved effective in impacting Jackson’s passing game. Baltimore converted just five of 16 third-down plays (31.3 percent) and one of four fourth-down plays.
Jackson finished with just 257 yards passing and one touchdown, a 39-yarder to Marquise Brown, who otherwise was limited to 41 yards. Tight end Mark Andrews, who usually is a favorite target, finished with just three catches for 48 yards.
“I would just say there were more eyes on Lamar, and we played a little more zoning off concepts based on offensive routes they like to run,” Awuzie said. “That also allowed us to have more eyes on Lamar.”
The defensive line accounted for five sacks on Jackson, including 2.5 from Sam Hubbard. The linebackers and Vonn Bell or Mike Hilton plugged up the middle and the secondary limited the explosive plays.
Bengals at Jets, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7