“Corners and rushers, man. Corners and rushers,” Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said, explaining to Geoff Hobson how he wants to build the Bengals’ defense. “You have to be able to affect the quarterback.”
The opponents’ ability to affect the quarterback ultimately ended Joe Burrow’s rookie season. The Bengals’ know how important it is to pressure the quarterback. Unfortunately, the Bengals were unable to return the favor.
Despite re-signing Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap in 2018 and signing D.J. Reader in 2020, the Bengals have had the fewest sacks in the league in the last few years. Of course, Dunlap was traded to the Seahawks, who have since released him, and Atkins missed nearly all of 2020 with injuries. Reader was consistent for five games, but suffered a season-ending injury early in the year. Of the three, Reader is the only one who is expected to play for the Bengals in 2021.
Then, there’s Carl Lawson, who will be the most sought after defensive end on the open market in free agency.
“Look at the successful defenses in the league and what do they do?” said Anarumo. “They pressure the quarterback and that doesn’t mean blitzing. The more quality edge rushes you can have, the better you’ll be.”
Lawson is a key retention this offseason for the Bengals. For a team that favors their own over external free agents, Lawson will be a high priority.
“But in the end, we’re just going around in circles when you talk 3-4 or 4-3. They’re rushing the passer on the edge no matter what,” Anarumo said. “The bigger guys are generally more durable, but what matters is how much they affect the quarterback. Speed edge rushers are the guys that have always been the commodity you want and they come in all shapes sizes.”
Another free agent coming from Cincinnati plays another key position in Anarumo’s defense: William Jackson.
He gets the attention for his improved season in 2020, but the Bengals fans get a new(wish) addition in 2020 in Trae Waynes. Both cornerbacks are an even six feet tall, which is above average for the position. This helps them against tall, outside receivers.
“Speed, change of direction, all that stuff is paramount,” Anarumo said. “But length really allows you to be a good corner in this league. (Tackling) is in the top three (of traits). It’s up there. You want guys that can run and cover. You want guys that have the right mentality and the right makeup so that they’ll be able to get guys on the ground.”
If corners and rushers are really what Anarumo wants, then the Bengals need to look inward during free agency. Of course, they shouldn’t stop there, especially with the crop of pass rushers in the 2021 draft class.