As an homage to his hometown, we call Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's scheme "The Staten Island Stew," because he's been a master chef at mixing up different packages with varying ingredients to fire up a spice that brings a wallop.
In Sunday's 35-17 win over the Falcons, the Bengals became the third team in the 52 years since the NFL merger to string together at least seven straight games without allowing a second-half touchdown. And they did it with five backups working at least 45 percent of the snaps and three of them just joined the team this season via the draft or the waiver wire
With nose tackles D.J. Reader and Josh Tupou out, third- rounder Zach Carter started and played 34 snaps while waiver pickup Jay Tufele played 21 more snaps after last week's Bengals debut of 23.
With middle linebacker Logan Wilson out, 2020 draft picks Akeem Davis Gaither and Markus Bailey started and played 32 and 21 snaps, respectively, while second-round cornerback Cam Taylor-Brit made his NFL debut with 28 snaps compared to starter Eli Apple's 16.
They also celebrated 2021 third-rounder Joseph Ossai's first NFL sack.
In a nice display of development, the Bengals stood up to the Falcons' third-best-in-the-league run game on 2.7 yards per carry with Davis-Gaither's team-high eight tackles, Tufele's second straight game of six tackles and one for a loss, Bailey's touchdown-saving tackle on special teams, and Carter's five tackles to go with Taylor-Britt's three stops.
None of them had a missed tackle.
"I think it starts with Duke and all those guys upstairs and how well that they pick those guys," said Anarumo of director of player personnel Duke Tobin and his scouts. "And we take a look at them and we're usually on the same page with that stuff. And so all credit goes to them when it comes to that stuff and we're just there to lend a helping hand or 'hey, what do we think or how we would be able to use a guy?' So, again if you're together like that on those things, it usually plays out. Nothing's 100 percent but we've been fortunate."
Also playing his first six snaps of the season was linebacker Joe Bachie coming off ACL surgery. Like Tufele Bachie is another waiver wire pickup head coach Zac Taylor talked about in the draft process before someone else selected him.
"I think what Duke and those guys do, they're just so well researched on the types of players they want coming out of college," Taylor said. "A lot of it stems back to that: Just making sure that even if we don't get them in the draft, there's still so many guys that come back to us. Joe Bachie for example, or even Jay Tufele. Guys that we really liked. I remember talking about them, but we just didn't get them. Now they're back to us. Duke does a really good job of having conviction with the guys he likes and having conviction to get them back."
CTB AS ADVERTISED: Coming out of Nebraska, Taylor-Britt had a charismatic rep with some swag and excellent reviews coming up to play the run. All that was on display after Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota chose not to throw the ball his way.
"But I like the ball, too," Taylor-Britt said. "I just didn't get a chance."
Taylor-Britt acted like he'd been there before. Just another game, he said. The speed? No big deal.
"It slows a down, honestly, when we have the defense we have," Taylor-Britt said. "With the older guys the communication was great. As long as we talk, everything is OK. That helps my job because I know they're going to do theirs."
CTB admits his mind wasn't always in the right place when he battled an injury that wiped out most of his training camp and put him on injured reserve for the first month of the season after he had surgery on his core.
"Everybody hits the rookie wall. I hit mine kind of early without even playing," Taylor-Britt said. "Maybe I'll hit it again when I'm playing, but it was just tough not being able to play the game you love and being on the sidelines."
Taylor-Britt says he's been watching the starting cornerbacks, Apple and Chidobe Awuzie ("They've seen everything I haven't") and Awuzie has noticed a big jump since training camp.
"It's been amazing," Awuzie said. "When Cam first started, he was very curious of everything going on and kind of finding his way. I've been watching very closely and I'm starting to see him develop a routine, which is important in this league. You can't really be consistent with your results, but your process can be consistent and I think that's one of the biggest things I've seen with him is his process is starting to be consistent."
Apple gave up the longest pass against the Bengals in 18 years, a 75-yarder with 39 seconds left in the first half, but that's not why Taylor-Britt played. Apple had already been told before the game that the rookie was going to play some.
"This is the NFL. Every corner gives up plays," said Anarumo, who says Apple is playing well. "Go look at all of them. The best. Show me one that didn't and I'll show you a corner that has. It's a tough league when you're playing DB and they're all going to get beat at some point. It's just how they respond, so that's what's important."
Look for the same thing in Cleveland Monday night.
"We're just going like we do every position going through the week and those guys, I expect them both to play," Anarumo said. "I don't see anything different. I want to keep getting Cam reps. That was the plan this week and that will be the plan next week and we'll go from there.
"He's a confident guy and covered. He didn't get challenged really in terms of balls thrown his way. He's very, very aggressive, obviously can run and all that stuff. Obviously there's a whole lot more that goes into it, but it was a good first game for him."
Anarumo has said in the past he'll rotate all spots but the secondary. Yet he's had to be flexible in his development of CTB.
"In a perfect world you don't want to be able to do that. But this is not a perfect world and we're in a situation where you've got a young guy who had no preseason," Anarumo said. "You've got to get him snaps at some point other than scout team reps, so yesterday was a perfect opportunity. That's kind of how it all played out."
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