We all can remember when Bengals fans and the national media were taking stabs at new Zac Taylor and his inability to land a defensive coordinator.
It was pretty well documented that current Taylor’s eventual hire, Lou Anarumo, wasn’t at the top of Taylor’s list. There was reported interest in coaches like Jack Del Rio and university of Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham (who reportedly turned down the job). Obviously, it wasn’t a great look for a new head coach who was viewed as inexperienced already.
After weeks of searching, Taylor landed Anarumo, who was the Giants’ secondary coach the year before, and coached with Taylor on the Dolphins’ staff before that. The hire seemed like a desperate one at the time; as many looked at the 52-year-old career position coach and weren’t exactly thrilled. He was the oldest coach Taylor had added to his group, and his only experience as a defensive coordinator came during the 2015 season in Miami on an interim basis. It was easy at the time to be skeptical of the hire and think Cincinnati’s defense was doomed to struggle for another season.
Luckily, the players are excited to report that isn’t likely to be the case.
“The genuine energy he actually gives off. He wants you to be great,” Bengals’ cornerback William Jackson told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “He’s behind me 95 percent of the time and he’s telling me what I’m doing badly and what I’m doing great. When you’ve got a coach like that, you can’t help but love him. I’m going to listen to everything he says this year and I’m pretty sure my game is going to escalate.”
Jackson is one of the Bengals young defenders who fans are probably most excited about. Last year it seemed like he took a step back, though. In his first season playing in 2017, he held Antonio Brown without a catch in two separate games, but last year he seemed like an easy target at times. It isn’t hard to tell what the problem was. After former-Bengals’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired halfway into his first season, we saw Jackson play better. He alludes to that idea without coming out and saying it.
“I don’t know how to explain last year. It feels like new players in here, Jackson said. “Everything is black-and-white. There’s no gray. With Lou, he’s on my case 100 percent of the time,” Jackson said. “He’s harder on me than anyone who’s ever coached me.”
Jackson is too polite to call out Austin, but I’m here to help with that. There were clearly times last season where Jackson was put in frustrating positions. There were clearly times where linebackers were meant to drop into a zone and takeaway certain quick inside routes, but Cincinnati simply didn’t have the talent at the position to pull that off. What it resulted in were plays where it looks like Jackson would completely lose his man underneath to a wide-open route, but in fact he was meant to drop into a deep zone.
That is a very frustrating misuse of Jackson’s talent. He is the ideal man-to-man cornerback in the modern NFL. He has the speed and quickness to run routes with receivers. Why you would ever have him sit back and try and read what receivers and quarterback are doing is beyond me. Especially when you couple it with the other part of the scheme relying on linebackers who can’t cover being able to cover.
Jackson wasn’t the only one to notice the difference. Second-year safety Jessie Bates also noted how much smoother things are going in his second defense in two years. Especially when it comes to being prepared to take on high powered offenses like the ones they saw when they played the Chiefs and Saints last season.
“Last year we were just seeing that in games and we didn’t really focus on it,” Bates said. “I think we’re doing a good of outing details on that.”
It goes farther than that, though. Bates also credits the players on the defense doing a better job of looking in the mirror.
“I think we’ve established some accountability in the room from top to bottom and that has shown on the field,” Bates said of the overall defense. “I feel really good about what we’ve done so far, but we have to keep building on it.”
This is all well and good, and many of you have probably heard players talk like this in the past. However, it is clear that Anarumo’s plan is working out well on the practice field already, according to Hobson:
Like Taylor’s offense, the defense is trying to be complex, but simple. Do different things that look the same and that has confounded the offense at times. Enough that Boyd has gone to Anarumo to discuss how a disguised coverage or two got him.
Sometimes the best way to confuse an offense is make everything look the same but do different things out of it. It is similar to the way successful offenses run multiple kinds of plays out of the same formation. It’s very telling when an offensive player takes the time to go over to the defensive coordinator to try and understand what is happening better.
“Basically, it’s all the same dudes,” Tyler Boyd said. “But they’re teaching it so well over there, it seems like they’ve been playing together since before I even got here … They dominated (Tuesday) at the end of practice, so it’s great to see that. The defense is starting to win some days. We know we’ve got a high-powered offense, but it’s always good to see these guys bring the energy.”
It is obviously still early, but we weren’t seeing offensive players talk about how the defense was confusing them last season, and players were’t talking about how easy the defense was to learn while people also talking about how well they are smothering the offense.
If this keeps up, Anarumo will have plenty of people eating crow.