Same Questions, Different Answers for Bengals DC Lou Anarumo as Struggles Continue

As soon as the Cincinnati Bengals think they have one issue fixed on defense, another one crops up, and they're nearing a historically bad number.

Every week, when Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo sits down for his session with reporters, one of the first questions is always about the struggling run defense.

Anarumo doesn’t mind the repetitive nature of the questions. It’s the fact that his answers have to keep changing that troubles him more. It’s a different issue each week, it seems, but the cumulative effect points to one consistency: The Bengals are bad against the run.

Sunday against the Steelers, the Bengals allowed 153 rushing yards to raise their season total to 1,536, which is 139.6 per game.

Only twice since 1997 has a Cincinnati defense given up that many yards on the ground through the first 11 games — once in Marvin Lewis’ final season in 2018 (1,622) and then again in the first season of the Zac Taylor/Anarumo pairing in 2019 (1,819).

Taking the volume variable out of the equation and simply looking at yards allowed per attempt, the Bengals are not only 31st in the league at 5.0 per carry, but they are approaching historic shame.

Only once in franchise history have the Bengals allowed more yards per attempt. That was in 2020 when the team allowed 5.11.

Why Can’t the Bengals Stop the Run?

“We continue to practice the issues that keep popping up,” Anarumo said. “We’re doing more run fits than we’ve ever done. We’ll do 30 a day. There’s things that you can fix by the practice stuff, but we had a rugby scrum for 20 yards. Literally. We’ve just got to tackle the guy. It’s got nothing to do with a fit.”

MORE: Cincinnati Bengals Depth Chart

The rugby play Anarumo referenced was a first-down play late in the first quarter when Pittsburgh running back Najee Harris appeared to be stopped for a couple of yards, but the pile continued to move until it turned into a 20-yard gain for the Steelers’ second-longest rush of the game.

The longest came in the fourth quarter when Harris ran for 22 yards. Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt was in the hole but couldn’t get him down. On the next play, Harris again looked bottled up, only to cut right, find daylight and go for 13.

“That’s 60-some yards of rushes,” Anarumo said. “We’ve got to eliminate those three or four plays that just come out of nowhere. They just pop up out of the ground and it’s like ‘How can we prepare for that?'”

“You’ve just got to make the plays when they need to be made,” he continued. “And we have to make sure we’re getting our point across as coaches and me doing a better job of preparing the guys.”

Whether it be the off-script cutback runs that produced so many chunk plays earlier in the year or poor tackling or bad fits or rugby scrums or whatever, the problem is that there are a lot of problems.

Part of it is due to the defensive line not being as deep as the team had hoped, leading to the starters playing more snaps and wearing down. Another issue is the lack of experience in the secondary, with two rookie starters in DJ Turner and Jordan Battle, while 2022 second-round pick Cam Taylor-Britt has 19 starts, a little more than one full season.

Anarumo, who made his mark the last couple of years with varied plans and halftime adjustments, said he has dialed back the scheme “to a degree” to lessen the burden on the younger players.

“Because you can’t just not do anything, then it gets ugly,” he said. “We got the takeaway last week, which was good to get back on that. I wish DJ would have scored. And we did really well in the red zone. I certainly would have liked to have done better on third down. That would have taken some of those yards off. But we’ve just got to do better.”

“There haven’t been a lot of mental errors, which is good,” Anarumo continued. “This will bode well for the future. But the future is now in the NFL, and it’s Monday night in Jacksonville.”

Want to predict the rest of the 2023 season with our FREE NFL Playoff Predictor? Looking for the most up-to-date NFL standings? What about a breakdown of team depth charts or the NFL schedule? Pro Football Network has you covered with that and more! 

Listen to the PFN Bengals Podcast

Listen to the PFN Bengals Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Bengals Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review! Rather watch instead? Check out the PFN Bengals Podcast on our NFL YouTube channel.

Join the Conversation!

Related Articles