New Bengals defense makes eye-opening debut in season opener

First-year coordinator Lou Anarumo’s unit is top five in the NFL after Week 1

B.W. Webb already knew what to expect from Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, based on his time playing in Anarumo’s defensive backs group with the New York Giants last year.

The defensive game plan came together just about as well as Webb would have expected, as the Bengals limited the Seattle Seahawks to 232 yards and 21 points in the season-opening loss for Cincinnati on the road.

Much had been said about expectations for new Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and what he would do with the offense, but as exciting as Andy Dalton’s 418-yard performance was (without A.J. Green), the defense earned some attention after the opener. The Bengals rank fourth in the NFL after Week 1 in total defense.

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Fans will get their first live look at that improvement Sunday when the Bengals (0-1) host the San Francisco 49ers (1-0) in their home opener at Paul Brown Stadium.

“Lou is very strategic about what he calls and has a lot of confidence in his players, and I think that’s very big for us for our confidence when a coach trusts you in certain positions against the opponent’s best players,” said Webb. “He knows a lot about what the offense wants to get done or do against us, so he just prepares us throughout the week and we trust it.

“He gave us a game plan and did a great job with it. We stuck to it, guys knew their jobs and where we were supposed to be so we just went out and had fun.”

Pessimism followed when Taylor hired Anarumo, a long-time defensive backs coach whose only NFL defensive coordinator job came in an interim role with the Dolphins in 2015. The team took some time interviewing candidates and reportedly had some coaches turn down the offer before ultimately landing Anarumo.

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The preseason gave little indication what to expect in terms of how the defense would look, and the only real hint Anarumo gave to how he might line up against Seattle came with the decision to keep 11 defensive linemen and just four linebackers on the Week 1 roster.

It turns out his defense is fluid and some players will be asked to play multiple roles as his schemes change to adjust to what the offense is doing, but Anarumo is playing to the strength of his personnel – the depth of the defensive line.

“Every game plan is going to be different based on who we are playing, but by that token the strength of our team is up front,” Anarumo said. “Based on what the offense is doing we’ll be using the personnel we have to fit what they are doing to try to attack us so it could be different each week. (Sunday’s) plan was to get some big guys out there because if you didn’t notice, Seattle has some big guys up front. Our plan was to stop the run. That will be our plan every week is to stop the run and the rest will take care of itself.”

The Bengals often lined up with five up front and used two linebackers most of the game. Seattle, a team that led the league in rushing last year with 160 yards per game, managed just 72 yards rushing Sunday.

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Anarumo said the 49ers “bring a whole different bag of stuff” compared to Seattle, so there may or may not be some carryover from the opener in how the Bengals approach this game. San Francisco uses a lot of different formations and motions and tight end George Kittle is one of the best in the league, so he’ll cause some problems for the linebackers, but Nick Vigil is confident Anarumo will have them prepared.

“Lou brings a really good energy to the meeting rooms and the field; he expects a lot out of us,” Vigil said. “He’s made it as simple as possible to play as fast as possible, which has been good. We did some good things (Sunday), but now we have to do enough to get the win because there are no moral victories in football.”

Taylor, who also was on that staff at Miami, looked forward to Anarumo’s debut almost as much as his own. He recalled the Dolphins’ defense playing “out of their minds” the first two games under Anarumo’s command in 2015, wins over the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans in which they had five turnovers combined and allowed no more than 322 yards of offense.

Taylor was hopeful for the same kind of production out of the Bengals’ defense Sunday.

“We knew what Lou had in store for these guys,” Taylor said. “He got them to respond and play well, play with energy and be a connected defense. I was really pleased with the outcome. …Those guys played their tails off. If they play like that consistently over the course of the season, they’re going to put us in a position to win a lot of games.”

That’s saying a lot for a defense that at one point gave up 500-plus yards in three straight games last year, but Anarumo said he knew he had enough to work with talentwise when he watched old game film upon taking the job.

“We’ve got guys on each level of the defense that have played good winning football here and played good defense here,” Anarumo said. “It’s our job as coaches to get them to do that again and (Sunday) was our first step toward that.”


49ers at Bengals, 1 p.m., Fox, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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