CINCINNATI, Ohio -- Different co-ordinators, same systems, same head coach. The Bengals will be slightly different next season as they try to end one of the NFL's longest runs of playoff misery.
The Bengals promoted linebackers coach Paul Guenther to defensive co-ordinator on Thursday, keeping continuity for a unit that finished No. 3 in the NFL last season. The move came one day after the Minnesota Vikings hired Mike Zimmer as their head coach.
It's also the second time in two weeks that Cincinnati replaced a co-ordinator with an in-house candidate. They elevated running backs coach Hue Jackson to offensive co-ordinator after Jay Gruden was hired by the Redskins as head coach.
"We're going to have some new coaches, and it's great for us," coach Marvin Lewis said on Thursday. "Some new blood, some new energy. Because we can't be the same. We don't get to be the same. We've got to be better in 2014 than we were in '13, and that's what our quest is right away."
The Bengals won the AFC North this season, but couldn't shake their legacy of flaming out in the playoffs. They lost to San Diego 27-10 in the opening round at Paul Brown Stadium, making it 23 years since they last won a playoff game, tied for the sixth-longest streak in NFL history.
They've also tied the NFL record by losing their opening game three years in a row. And Lewis is 0-5 in the playoffs during his 11 seasons in Cincinnati, trailing Jim Mora by one for the most consecutive playoff losses to start a coaching career.
"I want to still be playing a year from now," said Lewis, who is entering the final year on his contract.
The Bengals are the first team since the 2006 San Diego Chargers to lose both co-ordinators to head coaching jobs elsewhere, according to STATS LLC.
Zimmer presided over one of the Bengals' best stretches of defence during his six seasons in Cincinnati. The Bengals finished in the Top 10 for fewest yards allowed in four of the last five seasons. Guenther has spent nine seasons on Cincinnati's coaching staff, the last two with the linebackers. He worked with Zimmer to formulate the defensive plays.
"Since the first day he got here, I've been by his side most of the time," Guenther said. "If you look back at our defence in 2008, it has transformed to now. We've sat side-by-side and put a lot of this stuff together."
Zimmer wanted to bring Guenther with him to Minnesota as his defensive co-ordinator, but Guenther decided to stay in Cincinnati.
"I've got young kids; I didn't have to move my family," Guenther said. "I've got good players that I really like and care for. And really at the end of the day, that was probably the one thing that I said: 'OK, I feel bad for these guys, this guy's leaving and that guy's leaving (as co-ordinators) and these guys deserve a good situation."'
The Bengals will be getting a couple of their defensive stars back from injury. Top cornerback Leon Hall tore an Achilles tendon and defensive tackle Gen Atkins tore a knee ligament during the season. The defence has a core of young players led by Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
One of the biggest challenges for Guenther will be calling the plays during games. Zimmer was known for his ability to anticipate what the opposing offence would do and get into a defence that contained it.
"You've got to understand (the opposing offence) better than they understand themselves," Lewis said. "Mike was excellent at that. Going forward, that's going to be the challenge of Paul in this situation in this role. He's not been that."
Guenther sat with the coaches in a booth on game days and was part of the discussions about which defence to call.
"There is a lot of communication going on every play: 'What do you like here? What do you like there?' To be honest with you, I could sit up in the press box and probably 95 per cent of the time know what was going to come out of his mouth," Guenther said. "Being around the guy and understanding how he calls the game, certain situations, you know it. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it."