Super Bowl 2022 Preview: The one thing the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense can’t do vs. Rams

Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo knows one more slow start could cost his team a Super Bowl championship.

LOS ANGELES — Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo is living proof that patience is a virtue, even in the NFL. His defense was last in yards per play in 2019 (6.1) and 28th in 2020 (also 6.1).

But in Year 3 of the Zac Taylor-Anarumo partnership in Cincinnati, things turned around in a big way. The Bengals are in the Super Bowl. But to win the Super Bowl, Anarumo’s defense must do something it has struggled to do against the best teams — start fast.

Will slow start doom Lou Anarumo, Cincinnati Bengals?

The Bengals, in two games against the Kansas City Chiefs (including the AFC Championship Game), were outscored 49-27. But they rallied to win after allowing 6 points total after halftime in those two games.

It’s admirable to see that kind of resiliency from a team. It’s also playing with fire. The Los Angeles Rams ranked seventh in scoring (27.1) and fourth in yards per play (6.0) in 2021, scoring 242 of their 460 points in the second half. In other words, the Bengals shouldn’t count on a late-game meltdown by Los Angeles.

“I promise you, we’re not trying to go out there and be bad in the first half,” said Anarumo, whose group allowed 208 points before halftime, but just 40 in the third quarter, during the regular season. “It’s just a matter of guys settling in, communicating, figuring it out, ‘Hey maybe this isn’t working as well as we thought, making some adjustments.’ … It’s played out that way. I think our guys have really embraced what we’re trying to give to them after every series, let alone after halftime.”

Rams’ offense can beat Bengals in many ways

The Rams have a freakishly gifted quarterback (Matthew Stafford). They have a quick-healing, dangerous running back (Cam Akers). They have one of the best wide receivers of the last decade (Odell Beckham Jr.). And they have the best wide receiver — period — in the league in 2021 (Cooper Kupp).

Kupp led the NFL in catches (145), receiving yards (1,947), and touchdowns (16). He is the perfect player for Sean McVay’s system.

“I don’t know if you ever stop a guy like this Cooper Kupp,” Anarumo said. “He’s a terrific player. All the yards and catches that he has. You have to try to contain him. Try to do a good job of always knowing where he is, making sure we’re putting a body on him constantly.

“These guys are hard to stop, but I think you can hopefully manage the damage they can do to you. He’s a terrific player, and they have a bunch of other ones, too.”

Anarumo on the Bengals’ defensive turnaround

So what’s the secret to the Bengals’ big improvement on defense this year? Mostly, it’s a matter of having new, better players. They added Trey Hendrickson, Chidobe Awuzie, and Mike Hilton during the 2021 offseason — and all three are significant contributors.

Anarumo insists he’s no better of a coach this year than he was last. He’s just getting better results.

And those results are due in large part to a steady consistency in the face of adversity.

“I think one of the best things about last week [against the Chiefs] was that everybody knew that we could do so much better than we were in the first half,” Anarumo said. “They were clicking. There was no panic by the players, no panic by the coaches. That’s when you know you have a chance to rebound from not getting off to a great start.”

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