Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo will return for the 2021 season, according to James Rapien of All Bengals.
The news comes just over 24 hours after Cincinnati allowed a franchise record 404 rushing yards in a 38-3 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. It was the second time in two years that the Ravens came to Paul Brown Stadium and ran all over Anarumo’s defense.
This decision was influenced by more than just one game, though. The Bengals finished this season near the bottom of the league in any relevant metric you can find, but they did improve very slightly compared to last year. They were 25th in EPA/play allowed, per Ben Baldwin, and 27th in DVOA entering Sunday’s game, per Football Outsiders. Believe it or not, they improved in these rankings from last year when they were ranked 30th in both.
Cincinnati knew they needed an influx in talent last year and they added several pieces in free agency to give Anarumo more to work with. Unfortunately, the two most expensive additions in D.J. Reader and Trae Waynes played a combined five games and injuries hurt them tremendously at defensive tackle and cornerback.
Regardless of attrition, Anarumo’s unit was instrumental in the Bengals’ inability to win games with Joe Burrow at quarterback. Blown leads against the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, and Cleveland Browns erased three very feasible wins, and the Browns already put up 35 points on them earlier in the year when no one knew the Browns were capable of scoring that much in a given week.
After their Week 7 loss to the Browns, the Bengals traded franchise-favorite Carlos Dunlap to the Seattle Seahawks for just a seventh-round pick and backup offensive lineman B.J. Finney. Dunlap quickly fell out of favor with Anarumo this season and the veteran was benched in Week 5. Rumors of Anarumo’s distaste with Dunlap, including an unorthodox confrontation in front of the entire team, became validated with Anarumo yelled obscenities at Dunlap during the final minute of the Browns game. The team gave what both Dunlap and Anarumo wanted in the end.
Things got better for the defense right around when Burrow’s ACL got shredded. The Bengals were 11th in EPA/play allowed from Weeks 11-15, but they were facing struggling offenses and bad quarterbacks throughout that stretch. Once they faced a quality quarterback in Deshaun Watson in Week 16, the mirage had faded. Watson and 29-year old David Johnson put up a combined 488 yards and four touchdowns, and had Sam Hubbard not strip-sacked Watson with less than two minutes left in the game, the Texans probably would’ve handed the Bengals their fourth blown-lead of the year.
The Ravens had even more success in their playoff-clinching victory. Along with their 404 yards on the ground, which is the fifth-most in an NFL game since 1940, Lamar Jackson threw for three touchdowns on just 18 attempts. It was an utter dismantling that could’ve been even worse if Jackson played at all in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough for the front office to look in a different direction.
As Bengals fans remember, Anarumo was hired late in the 2019 offseason. The Bengals made Anarumo their defensive coordinator on February 21st of that year. This came after the team interviewed several candidates to fill the role, including current Washington Football Team defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.
Perhaps a fear of not being able to find a quality replacement has kept Anarumo employed for now. The defense needs to take a noticeable step forward for his retention to be justified.