While the Cincinnati Bengals offense rightfully gets most of the attention, the Bengals defense has quietly become one of the better units in the entire league. The unit finished eighth in total defensive EPA per play, and has given QBs like Patrick Mahomes problems before.
On Sunday, the Bengals put together one of their finer defensive performances, holding the Buffalo Bills to 325 total yards of offense and ten points in a decisive 27-10 victory in a snowy Highmark Stadium. The explosive Bills passing offense was limited to only six completions over over ten air yards, and the Bills run game was limited to 52 total yards.
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has the Bengals defensive unit performing extremely well at the right time, and one of the things Anarumo and the Bengals defense did to essentially fry the brain of Josh Allen and the Bills offense is disguising coverages and pressures.
Josh Allen was pressured on 26 of his 47 dropbacks, despite very rarely blitzing five or more players at the same time. What Anarumo did to confuse Allen and the Bills offense is bring blitzers from different depths, while maintaining the coverage shell of a more tame coverage.
This play was on one of the earlier drives of the entire game, a third down. The Bengals are in a 3-2-6 formation (3 down DL, 2 LBs, 6 DBs), but both linebackers are walked up in front of the uncovered linemen. This immediately shouts “blitz and cover 1 behind it” to the Bills offense, even more so when the DB shadowing the receiver in motion goes with him. Then, the picture changes at the snap. Cincinnati drops both LBs as hole defenders, taking away any crossing routes, and because they were lined up with five men across the line of scrimmage, this gives the DL a one on one with their pass rush matchup. So yeah, the Bengals play Cover 1 behind it, but now there’s multiple guys in the intermediate windows, blanketing every route.
Where Anarumo and the Bengals really got into their bag was in bringing second level defenders on blitzes, and the Bengals DBs were up for the challenge. Before the ball was snapped on this Mike Hilton pressure, this is what the picture looked like. Not exactly a blitz package.
However, at the snap, the Bengals run a fire zone blitz, where a defensive back blitzes from the field, and the weakside defensive end drops into coverage. This not only gets pressure on the QB, but it also takes away the hot route to cook and the TE away from the trips side. Mike Hilton gets a great jump on the snap, and Allen doesn’t even feel the blitz coming, a blitz that he normally sees.
Here, the Bengals send two DBs, one from each side, to get pressure onto Allen. Again, the pre-snap looks mundane, but then when the ball is snapped, the picture shifts quickly and forces Josh Allen into panic mode. The blitz to the field gets a DL free and forces Allen to bail, right into the DB who doesn’t rush all the way, to force Allen into an errant throw.
Then, in the most important moments of the game, the Bengals defense would show blitzes, then drop immediately, and force Allen to rethink his entire plan. This was a perfect example of Anarumo breaking the brain of Allen and the Bills.
The Bengals will once again be taking on the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC title, and while Patrick Mahomes is the best QB in the league, Anarumo could possibly take some concepts from the Bills game and put them to use against Mahomes, who could still be hobbled.
Anarumo will be ready, though, because that’s what he always does: prepares his defense for any situation.