‘The Last 2 Games Have Been Terrible’ – Lou Anarumo Discusses Changes for Bengals Defense

Long resistant to playing rookies, Bengals DC Lou Anarumo has been left with no choice as opponents continue to thrive on explosive plays.

Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo knows something needs to change, and he knows where it needs to start.

Rookie safety Jordan Battle replaced veteran Nick Scott 11 snaps into the 34-20 loss against Baltimore, and Scott never went back in as Battle played a season-high 57 snaps and recorded a team- and career-high 11 tackles.

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So will Battle start Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers?

“I think Jordan will get some more,” Anarumo said. “He’s earned some more, obviously, with 11 tackles. So, let’s start with that. Nick will still have a role. Jordan will take a little bit bigger role.”

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The impetus for the swap in Baltimore appeared to be when the Bengals were penalized for having 12 men on the field, with Scott being the extra player. But Anarumo shouldered the blame for that.

“It wasn’t Nick’s fault,” he said. “We were rotating safeties at the time, and I got the grouping out there a little bit late. That was my fault.”

The main reason for giving Battle a bigger role is the continuation of what has been one of the biggest issues for the Cincinnati defense since the season began: poor tackling.

Anarumo made that clear when asked what he liked about what he saw from Battle against Baltimore.

“Tackling,” he said. “First and foremost, 11 tackles showed up. Gus Edwards is a sturdy running back, and (Battle) was able to get him on the ground in 1-on-1 situations. So, let’s just start with that. Let’s start with getting a guy on the ground. It’s tackling A1A.”

Despite Battle’s efforts, the Ravens rushed for 157 yards Thursday. Four days prior, the Texans ran for 188.

The Bengals rank 31st in rushing yards allowed per game (138.3), 31st in yards allowed per attempt (5.1), tied for 30th in rushes of 10+ yards allowed (42), and 29th in rushes of 20+ yards allowed (10).

“The last two games have been terrible,” Anarumo said. “Explosive plays. Missed tackles. Put that at the top of the list. There are some little things that become huge things when you’re not hitting on all cylinders.”

Anarumo has been resistant to playing rookies throughout his five seasons as defensive coordinator, but circumstances are different this year with the departures of safeties Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell and the presence of some young, high draft picks from the last two drafts in Battle (third round, 2023), DJ Turner (second round, 2023), Cam Taylor-Britt (second round, 2022), and Dax Hill (first round, 2022).

While Battle’s next start will be his first, Turner has started six consecutive games as Chidobe Awuzie continues to recover from the ACL surgery he had a year ago and a recent back issue.

Mistakes are expected when there is that much inexperience on the back end of the defense, but Anarumo said the problem is that there have been too many recurrences of the same issues.

“The repeat mistakes are the ones you don’t want,” he said. “We don’t want any, but certainly, if you correct something, you want them to say, ‘OK, that one’s away.’ Now if you’re youth allows you to make another one, let’s make it something different.

“The explosive plays are what we have to stop, and that comes back to everybody just doing their job, whether it be a run or a pass. No more cutbacks or ‘I got beat’ or whatever it may be.”

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The Bengals rank 30th in explosive plays allowed with 86, two shy of Washington’s league high. Some have been due to poor tackling, some to blown assignments, and some the result of the young defensive backs’ inability to plaster receivers during scramble drills. That latter was an ongoing issue in the loss to the Texans.

All of it serves as an example of why Anarumo doesn’t like to play rookies.

But it’s not as though he didn’t see this coming this year with the loss of two veterans in free agency and the continued focus on stocking the secondary with high draft picks. Asked what he would have said if someone told him in August that he would be starting a rookie safety and a rookie cornerback, Anarumo had a candid answer.

“To be honest, I wouldn’t be totally shocked,” Anarumo said. “You know, just because there was a lot of unknown and how is it all gonna play out? So it’s played out that way, so I’m not totally shocked.”

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