Lou Anarumo is Cincinnati’s Best-Kept Secret

Lou Anarumo

At the end of the 2020 Cincinnati Bengals season, plenty of fans were clamoring for Lou Anarumo’s job after his unit finished seventh-worst in total defense, fourth-worst in run defense, and allowed 26.5 points per game. As has been the case with head coach Zac Taylor, the franchise’s patience has paid off in a massive way.

On Sunday in the AFC Divisional Round, Anarumo and his defense put on yet another clinic, holding the high-flying Buffalo Bills offense to just 10 points where Josh Allen failed to record a single touchdown in the air. It was just the latest in a two-season-long resume to other franchises to hire him as their own head coach.

Lou Anarumo has been able to build a top-ten defense and perfectly complement the Joe Burrow-led offense. Despite the fact that Burrow has nearly cemented his legacy as the greatest Bengals quarterback in history, casuals tend to remark that he’s been carried by his defense. To be fair to them, this Bengals defense has been very, very good.

Lou Anarumo has been the Bengals Secret Weapon in its Super Bowl Quest

Second-Half Lou/Big Game Lou

“You can’t expect to hold the Kansas City Chiefs to three points in the second half.” The statement made by Jake Liscow of Locked on Bengals each of the last two times the pair of teams faced off is about as accurate yet ironic things of the past few seasons. In round one (Week 17 of 2021), the Bengals trailed 28-17 at half, held KC to three second-half points, and won 34-31. In round two (AFC Championship of 2021), the Bengals trailed 21-10 at half, held KC to just a last-second field goal to tie, and won 27-24 in overtime.

In round three (Week 13 of 2022), the Bengals actually led 14-10 at half, squandered 14 points in the third quarter, but held on to win 27-24. This 14-point leakage was a rarity this year as Anarumo’s defense held defenses to 10 or fewer points in the second half nine times out of 16 games.

This year, Lou Anarumo’s defense was legit week in and week out. Only twice did the Bengals allow 30 or more points: Week 8 in that MNF loss to Cleveland which kicked off the current 10-game win streak, and Week 11 against the Steelers where it was 37-23 before a garbage time rushing touchdown by Najee Harris with just 45 seconds to go.

Seven times this year (eight if you count Buffalo in the AFC Divisional), Cincinnati held offenses to one or fewer touchdowns; they completely shut out the Jets and Titans from the endzone.

Anarumos’s defenses show up in the biggest way on the biggest stages. In the six games against five playoff-bound teams, Cincinnati held opponents to just 19.5 points in the regular season and allowed just 17 and 10 points thus far this post-season.

In three matchups with Kansas City, Anarumo has done what he’s needed to: take away Travis Kelce. The Chiefs tight end is going to get his, so limiting his impact is key to winning. In the two regular season matchups, Kelce recorded nine receptions for 81 yards and an early score in round one. However, he was instrumental in the Chiefs keeping it interesting in the AFC Championship last year with 10 receptions, 95 yards, and a touchdown.

Even if he’s not 100%, Patrick Mahomes is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Once again, Anarumo will have his work cut out for him. If history is any indicator, his defense will be up to the challenge yet again.

Little-To-No Nationally Known Stars

If you were one of the annoying TikTokers who walk up to strangers and asked them to name three Bengals defenders, who would they name? Trey Hendrickson? Eli Apple? Hendrickson is a fantastic edge rusher and is Cincinnati’s lone defensive representative to the Pro Bowl. Even then, he took a step back this year in terms of production, mostly due to his suffering and then playing through a broken wrist.

On the flip side, fans know Apple because of his poor play in previous stops and his rather busy Twitter fingers. Even then, Apple has not been as atrocious as some would like to think. According to PFF, he is one of the poorest defenders in the NFL, but, just like last year, the stats tend to tell another story. Apple allowed just three touchdowns in coverage and 657 yards. Not elite numbers like Jalen Ramsey’s third-best PFF grade (86.4), yards allowed (659), or touchdowns allowed (five), but it is what it is, right?

The fact of the matter is, no matter your feelings on Apple or whether or not you’ve watched him since he signed in Cincinnati, Lou Anarumo has made do with him as his CB1.

D.J. Reader is an elite defensive tackle/nose tackle who could be considered the best in the NFL not named Aaron Donald. B.J. Hill has earned his extension and was likely the best trade the Bengals have made in decades. Sam Hubbard and Joseph Ossai have each developed into formidable pass rushers to take the heat off of Hendrickson.

At linebacker, the Bengals are deeper than we think. Logan Wilson has turned into a leader and is there making play after play. Germaine Pratt is having a career year to get to that second contract. Even the depth pieces like Akeem David-Gather and Markus Bailey make splash plays in rotations.

Lately, rookie second-round pick Cam Taylor-Britt has matured into a solid CB2. He finally recorded his first career interception to effectively seal the win over Buffalo and is as hard-hitting as any corner in the league. Considering he plays alongside Mike Hilton, that’s saying something. Anarumo’s defense may not ask too much of Hilton, but what he does, he does very well. In the Bengals two playoff games, Hilton has come in and wrecked the offenses with his well-timed blitzes and ridiculously hard-hitting run defense.

At safety, Vonn Bell has continued to step up and make it known that he also deserves a contract extension, potentially making a divorce from Jessie Bates easier. However, Bates has, once again, stepped up in the playoffs.

Despite all of this “lack” of star power, the defense managed to terrorize Josh Allen and the Bills. Three Bengals managed more than four pressures: Hubbard (five), Hendrickson (four), and Hill (four).

They’re a scrappy, bend-don’t-break, and frustrating group, but they held Buffalo to its worst offensive scoring output since Week 13 of 2021 where they also managed just 10 points in a loss.

Injuries? What Injuries?

It’s often that fans of struggling and sub-par teams point to injuries as an excuse for their issues. Most teams fold under the pressure of having to play its depth. Not Cincinnati this year.

In the pre-season, if you compiled a list of the most important Bengals defenders, it would include Hendrickson, Hubbard, Wilson, Hilton, Reader, and Chidobe Awuzie. Hendrickson (one game missed), Hubbard (one), Wilson (one), Hilton (two) Reader (six), and Awuzie (eight) all missed time, yet the Bengals never missed a beat.

Quite possibly, the fact that Anarumo’s defense lost a corner as quality as Awuzie and continued its top-level play is the most impressive thing. Again, Eli Apple has been the Bengals CB1 since Awuzie’s injury. Eli Apple.

Despite all of the injuries to key pieces, Lou Anarumo has schemed up nearly-perfect game plans for opposing offenses in the seemingly more difficult second half of the schedule.

In the AFC Championship, the Bengals defensive unit is going to have to continue its great play. They were able to shut down Josh Allen once but beating Patrick Mahomes for the fourth consecutive time will be difficult. Moving betting lines and now being road favorites aside, the Bengals are not overlooking Kansas City. There have been plenty of criticisms of Zac Taylor, but allowing a team to get complacent is not one. Taylor’s offense and Anarumo’s defense will be ready.

Another victory in Kansas City will make for the ever-confusing saga that is Anarumo’s lack of head coaching acumen even more so. But Bengals fans will not complain if they can get another year of the Mad Scientist’s work.

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