CINCINNATI -- The way Bengal defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is dividing up his snaps, you'd think he's operating under everybody-plays rules of a youth coach.
Guenther has taken rotating players to a new level. Sunday against Cleveland, 16 players played at least 20 snaps. The results were obvious: The Bengals came within 1:54 of a shutout in the 31-7 victory over the Browns.
It's easy to chalk that up to playing the Hapless Team Up North, but save for a few big plays here and there, the defense has been outstanding all year. The Bengals ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per game and third in points per game.
A lot of teams rotate defensive linemen to keep them fresh, but Guenther rotates his linebackers and defensive backs as well.
"It's all orchestrated how we're going to do it," he said. "It's planned, it's thought out. The players are aware of it, the coaches are aware of it, and in between series if something happens to a guy where he might be, right now we're going to go with this. We're up 24-0, let's get this guy out of the game so we don't risk further injury."
The players seem to be embracing the setup.
"We've got a lot of talent in the room," cornerback Darqueze Dennard said. "We always had talent -- a lot of guys doing a lot of great things throughout the preseason and throughout the season.
"Whenever our number's called, we're making plays."
The Bengals only had one sack against the Browns, but they made life in the pocket miserable for Cleveland quarterback DeShone Kizer.
"He was getting rid of the ball. We had several times where we were right there," Guenther said. "Sometimes when you're not getting a guy on the ground, he's throwing a little off schedule -- high and behind or in front of the receiver. If you ruin the timing of routes, timing the play with rush, that's what we're looking for."
This is the youngest defense under Marvin Lewis. Rookies Carl Lawson, Jordan Willis and Ryan Glasgow are playing regularly. Linebacker Nick Vigil is a first-year starter. Vigil had 12 tackles, including three for loss, and a sack on Sunday.
Vigil reminds Vontaze Burfict of Burfict.
"I've been saying that since he got here," Burfict said. "But he might be better."
Former first-round picks Dennard and William Jackson are playing significant time at cornerback for the first time. Both got more snaps than starter Adam Jones on Sunday. Dennard is ranked as the fourth best cornerback against the run in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
"If they're the best player at their position, whether they're a rookie or a 10th-year player, they're going to play," Guenther said. "One time, we had three rookies on the DL -- Glasgow, Willis and Carl."
Guenther plans to continue to use the rotation.
"The more I can keep guys fresh with the corners and rushers and utilize the guys we got, the better off we're going to be," he said. "Down the road, when we get a player dinged up, which is naturally going to happen, guys have experience and go in there and play."
For Guenther, the trick is figuring out during the week how to use all his chess pieces.
"When we come out of the tunnel on Sunday, I'm never nervous," he said. "The plan's in. I'm calling it off the sheet. Where I get nervous is Wednesday through Friday (with) whether I'm showing them the right stuff to put them in position where they recognize this play."