Roughly one-third of the way into Sunday’s 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans, Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo looked up at the scoreboard showing the score tied 3-3 and thought to himself, “Yep, exactly as anticipated. This is us and the Titans all over again. It’s gonna come down to a field goal.”
Six minutes later, “the game was over,” he said.
What Went Wrong Defensively for the Cincinnati Bengals Against the Titans?
The stretch Anarumo alluded to featured five plays in which Tennessee gained more than 150 yards and scored three touchdowns — the same number the Bengals offense has mustered in four full games.
One day after the loss, Anarumo detailed what went wrong on some of the most disappointing plays, including the overall tackling effort.
Sitting in the visitors’ locker room at Nissan Stadium minutes after the loss, defensive tackle DJ Reader intimated the shoddy tackling was the result of a lack of desire.
“It’s a will thing. You have to want to do it. Sometimes guys don’t want to do it,” Reader said. “You have bad technique, and that’s a product of you not wanting to do it that play. We all have to tackle. We all have to buy in, and we all have to do it. It’s a will thing. It has to be a team effort. All 11 guys have to get to the ball, and all of us have to want to tackle.”
SportRadar listed Cincinnati with eight missed tackles, but Anarumo said he counted 12 — “a three-year high” — although he disagreed that it came down to effort.
“We’ve got to do a better job wrapping up and getting more guys to the ball, but certainly not a want-to or effort or any of that,” he said. “Sometimes it happens. It’s unacceptable that many. We average four or five. We’ve been one of the best tackling teams in the league. It’s not where we’re at right now, so we’ve got to do better.”
One of the five plays that produced 150 yards was Derrick Henry’s 29-yard touchdown run that made it 17-3 with 3:58 left in the half. Henry broke three tackles on his way to the end zone.
Crown him @KingHenry_2 👑
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) October 1, 2023
The onslaught began with a 38-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to DeAndre Hopkins on 3rd-and-7, beating Cam Taylor-Britt. That was followed by a 24-yard pass to tight end Josh Whyle and a 13-yard touchdown pass to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for a 10-3 lead.
Two series later, with the Titans at their own 36 and only 1:13 left before halftime, Tannehill again victimized Taylor-Britt for a 44-yard deep ball to Chris Moore.
“Nobody’s feeling worse today than Cam Taylor-Britt,” Anarumo said. “He knows he can’t give up those explosives.”
The second of the three consecutive touchdown drives featured a 2nd-and-10 play when Tennessee rookie running back Tyjae Spears dropped the toss and still turned it into a 26-yard gain.
“Guys are running to where the ball is, next thing you know, (Spears) sticks his foot in the ground and goes out the back door,” Anarumo said. “DJ Turner actually did a pretty good job making the ball go back inside. He got fouled on the play and whatever. I don’t think they called that one.”
“They’re running to the ball,” Anarumo continued. “The effort is there. It’s not like we’re sitting here talking about guys not running. That’s not the case. We’ve just got to execute better.”
Henry’s 29-yard romp happened two plays later to make it 17-3.
The dagger came on the next series when the Titans lined up in an odd formation for a trick play, and the Bengals called timeout to talk it over. After the break, the Titans came out in the same formation with the same shifts and exploited a blown assignment for Henry to throw a short jump pass for a touchdown to a wide-open Whyle.
It's getting Whyle in here
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) October 1, 2023
Anarumo said that one especially hurt because he saw it coming, and it still couldn’t have been any easier for the Titans.
“It was communicated, but, unfortunately, we just didn’t make the play,” Anarumo said. “We’ve got to be better there.”
Coming back from 24-3 at the half probably was a pipe dream with the way the Bengals offense was playing, but a lot can happen in 30 minutes of football.
But all hope faded on a 3rd-and-16 play early in the third quarter. Safety Nick Scott came as a free runner on a blitz and hit Tannehill as he threw, resulting in an incompletion. However, safety Dax Hill was also blitzing, got tied up with Spears, and ended up drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for ripping off the running back’s helmet.
“Dax is not a guy that’s gonna look to do foolish things like that,” Anarumo said. “He just can’t finish that way on the helmet, obviously. That’s 3rd-and-16. We hit the quarterback, he throws the ball into the dirt, and it’s 1st-and-10.
“We cannot operate that way,” Anarumo added. “We’ve got to take advantage of those. That’s the same blitz we ran in the playoff game on the first third down, and it was a sack. Same blitz. Same free runner. Different outcome.”
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