When Lou Anarumo joined the Cincinnati Bengals as defensive coordinator in 2019, he already knew the formula for success — “If you get turnovers and eliminate explosive plays in the passing game and the run game, you’re going to be successful.”
Sure enough, that turnover rate has increased every year since Anarumo took over. In his first season, Cincinnati’s defense finished 28th in the league in total takeaways. In 2020, the Bengals recorded 17 total takeaways, good for 25th position.
In 2021, when Cincinnati earned its third-ever trip to the Super Bowl, the Bengals recorded 21 total turnovers, ranking them 16th in the league.
Last year, that number increased to 24, tied for 11th. Heading into the AFC Championship game, Anarumo’s defense had boasted seven consecutive games with a fourth-quarter turnover.
Through the first six games of the 2023 season, Cincinnati is tied for the league lead with eight interceptions and has a pair of fumble recoveries for a total of 10 takeaways, which is tied for fourth best in the NFL.
Where turnovers were once the exception, they have become something this defense has come to expect. Just ask second-year cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, whose first career interception was a pick-six in last week’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals. He added a second interception in a crucial moment in Sunday’s win over Seattle to go with seven tackles and three passes defensed.
“You could see it on the sideline. You could see the energy,” Taylor-Britt said. “You could feel it. All the defensive players were ready to go. ‘We’re about to go get the ball back for y’all.’
In fact, the defense got the ball back twice for the Bengals’ offense. Seattle quarterback Geno Smith, who came into the game having thrown just one interception through the first four games of the season, surrendered two on Sunday and very nearly a third.
“I think it’s going to be very repetitive throughout the season,” Taylor-Britt said. “Get them (the offense) the ball back so they can score. We’ve got one of the top offenses in the league.”
Cincinnati certainly started off looking like one of the best offenses in the league when it scored touchdowns on the first two possessions of the game. But that was it. The Bengals’ only other points of the game came after Taylor-Britt returned his interception to Seattle’s 34-yard-line.
“The offense was really good in the first half,” quarterback Joe Burrow said. “We were horrible in the second half.”
Following three straight incompletions by Joe Burrow, the always dependable Evan McPherson nailed a 52-yard field goal to give Cincinnati a 17-13 advantage. But there were still over six minutes left, and Seattle would make things interesting.
The Seahawks drove to a first-and-goal at the Bengals’ 7-yard-line before a pair of sacks by Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard helped force a turnover on downs with just over two minutes remaining.
Seattle was back knocking on the door just over a minute later with a first-and-10 from the Bengals’ 11-yard-line. A short run and three incomplete passes later, and Cincinnati had earned its third victory of the season.
All told, the Seahawks made a total of five trips into the Bengals’ red zone and came up empty three times.
“We just had to hold up,” Taylor-Britt said after the game. “We always realized that yards don’t equal points. We had to stand our ground. That’s Bengals’ defense.”
And it was thanks in no short measure to the Bengals’ bend-but-don’t-break defense that Cincinnati will be heading into the bye week at 3-3 rather than 2-4.
“It’s back to 0-0, that’s how I look at it,” Taylor-Britt said. “We just need to come back and keep our foot on a lot of people’s necks.