The Cincinnati Bengals’ draft focus on versatility should keep the defense running at championship level

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CINCINNATI – Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo had every reason to smile the first night of the NFL Draft.

After all, Anarumo’s unit was one of the main reasons Bengal’s season ticket holders lined up for photos with the AFC Championship trophy at the team’s draft party last Thursday. Cincinnati forced nine turnovers in the off-season and limited the teams to 1.86 points per game. drive in their unlikely run for the Super Bowl, which ended in a 23-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

Cincinnati’s 2022 draft class gave Anarumo even more reasons to laugh. Five of the team’s six picks were defensive players, including the top three picks. This year’s draft gives Anarumo the pieces to keep conflicting offenses on their toes in 2022 and beyond.

The Bengals’ draft strategy supports Anarumo’s belief that versatility is the best way to defend the powerful offenses that have defined the NFL in recent years.

“The more they can do, the better,” Anarumo said of the team’s defensive moves.

This phrase could serve as the unofficial motto of the fourth-year coordinator’s defensive philosophy. Cincinnati’s first Super Bowl appearance in 33 years was largely due to Anarumo’s ability to adjust his schedule from week to week.

The two games Cincinnati played against the Kansas City Chiefs were examples of that flexibility. In the second half of the first competition, in Week 17, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes faced significantly more Cover 3 looks than man-to-man coverage with two deep assists, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That game plan reversed, however, when the Bengals played against the Chiefs four weeks later in the AFC title game.

While the methods changed, the results were the same. In every game, a confused Kansas City offense failed to score a touchdown after the break. The most telling thing about the approach was that Anarumo achieved these splits by using pretty much the same staff, with the top four defenders – safety Jessie Bates III, safety Vonn Bell and outside cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Eli Apple – playing every snap.

Each of the defensive players that the Bengals drafted last weekend showed the ability to line up in different places over the course of their college careers.

Cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt, Cincinnati’s second inning from Nebraska, did a variety of things in Cornhusker secondary.

“He’s a good press corner, but he’s also shown some flexibility in playing in deep zones and some safety things, but also as a corner,” said Anarumo. “So he’s done a little bit of everything, which’s great.”

Equally important, this year’s draft class is eager to embrace the idea of ​​playing multiple roles in the NFL. Daxton Hill, Cincinnati’s first-round pick, played safety and slot cornerback in Michigan. As a rookie, Hill could be shown in penny packs with six defensive backs and could also be asked to handle other tasks in Bengal’s backfield.

“I do not really want to limit myself because I know I can play other positions – whatever it may be, whenever it may be,” Hill said after being drafted. “I’m ready for the journey.”

Hill, Taylor-Britt and safety Tycen Anderson, the team’s fifth-round pick from Toledo, all ran the 40-yard line in 4.4 seconds during their pre-draft practice. That speed will allow the Bengals to keep pace in a league filled with dynamic – and fast – wide receivers.

But as valuable as all of these qualities are, it is equally important to have the ability to learn multiple roles and tasks. Bengal head coach Zac Taylor believes Cincinnati has put together an intelligent team that can handle the workload.

“We think it matters,” Taylor said. “It’s important to just get to line-pre-snap and make the right post-snap adjustments. So when you’re fighting it with the talent that’s on the other side of the ball, you have guys who can play fast and safe. and communicate. ”

Last year, Anarumo’s unity was without a doubt the biggest surprise as the Bengals transformed from the NFL’s worst team in 2019 to a possession from winning the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati will not sneak up on anyone this season. But this draft class could help their DCs ever-changing defense continue to play at championship level.

This is the type of staff and planning they will need if they want an even bigger trophy to show during next year’s draft.

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