As much as Sam Hubbard’s stat line stood out in Sunday’s loss at Seattle, Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the second-year defensive end’s performance wasn’t at all surprising.
Hubbard did everything he could to help his team be successful, finishing with 10 tackles, two sacks for 16 yards, four quarterback hits and two tackles for loss, but the Bengals fell short, 21-10, in their opener against a traditionally strong Seahawks team.
Taylor anticipated Hubbard could be pretty active in new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s defense and was pleased to see him take advantage of opportunities.
“Sam’s breakout game, if you want to call it that, is one of the least surprising things I’ve ever seen because he’s been so consistent day to day,” Taylor said in his press conference Monday afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium. “He’s exactly the kind of player you love to coach and be around, and you’re combining talent with relentless effort, and that usually pays off. Some of the fronts that Lou presented yesterday put some of those guys in some pretty good one-on-one situations in the pass rush and the way they are sound fundamentally in the run game. Sam just capitalized on a lot of good opportunities, and it’s not at all surprising to see Sam have a game like that.”
Hubbard normally isn’t one to dwell on numbers or set statistical goals, but he did look at his line Sunday. A day like that gives him a lot of confidence, he said, as he begins his second season.
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“Yeah, someone sent it to me after the game,” he said. “It was really cool to see. It was exciting. Obviously, we want to get a win but it was a great day personally.”
Hubbard, a third-round draft pick last year, finished his rookie season with 39 tackles, one fumble recovery, seven tackles for loss, six sacks and nine quarterback hits.
This year, the Cincinnati native has stepped in as a starting defensive end, but will play multiple roles it appears. He moved around throughout the game Sunday as Anarumo changed up schemes and made different calls. At times, he was playing inside on a five-man front and on a few plays he was even dropping back into coverage in the pass defense.
“I think it’s just a credit to our coaches,” he said. “They are really good at finding what people are good at doing what and putting them in positions to make plays, and really that’s what they are doing. We’ve got big guys that stop the run in the middle and cover guys one-on-one covering guys, pass rushers rushing the passer — it’s not a tough formula but our coaches have done a great job putting us in position to make plays.”
As a former free safety and linebacker, Hubbard said he’s comfortable playing whatever role he’s asked and that’s helped him transition to Anarumo’s system.
“Being multiple is really a big part of what he wants to do, and to just be able to be a moving piece and whatever job he tells me to do, to be able to do it, it kind of helps me stay on the field more and that’s where I want to be,” Hubbard said.
Though Hubbard played well last season when given opportunity behind now-departed Michael Johnson, the defense was one of the worst in the league while allowing 413.6 yards per game and 28.4 points per game.
Sunday’s performance, although it wasn’t enough to get the win, was an important step for the Bengals to put the past behind them. Cincinnati allowed Seattle just 233 yards of offense, which ranked the defense fourth through the first weekend – a far cry from last year’s record three-game stretch of allowing 500 yards or more.
“There’s a lot of things that go into it, from a culture perspective, Xs and Os, all that stuff,” Hubbard said when asked what the difference was Sunday. “I think we just never panicked, never got away from what we were doing. I can’t even speak to those games. I don’t even want to go back to those games (against Tampa Bay, Kansas City and New Orleans last year). I like where we’re at now.”
He added, “Like coach just said in the team meeting, sometimes you have to take a loss like that to win games in the future. We are going to address all the things we did wrong to not win that game and if we had won it, you could gloss over all the stuff that went wrong, but we’re really proud with the performance and now the next step is to get the win, which is what it’s all about.”
The Bengals will try to take that next step Sunday in their home opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
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