One of the best showings of the NFL divisional round came not from any of the players on the eight teams, but from Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, whose unit held quarterback Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills to just 10 points after they had scored 34 the week prior.
Per PFF’s Arjun Menon, Cincinnati's defense “perfectly covered” the Bills on 66.67% of passing plays in the 27-10 win. (For more on perfectly covered plays, click here.) That was the best mark of the divisional weekend, as well as the Bengals’ highest mark of the season.
Lou Anarumo, take a freaking bow. Perfectly covering 66.67% of an opponent's offensive dropbacks is the 2nd highest mark all season. Doing it on the road in the playoffs as 6 point underdogs is insane pic.twitter.com/LNRgeiiibu
— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) January 23, 2023
The Bengals mostly stuck to their tendencies in coverage, playing zone at a 70%-plus rate and man defense at a 20%-plus rate with an uptick of man coverage on third and fourth downs.
These well-covered zone plays forced Allen to check the ball down nine times, plays on which he went just 5-of-9 for 31 yards, resulting in -0.385 expected points added per play.
Where the Bengals did change it up was in their pressure packages. They had eight plays where they blitzed at least one defensive back from the slot. And six of them resulted in pressure. This effort was led by Mike Hilton, who tallied four pressures on six pass rushes.
The Bengals were most successful in these slot blitzes when they sent them as simulated pressures (blitzes from non-down linemen, with only four total pass rushers). Cincinnati sent five simulated pressures with blitzes from the slot, which resulted in one completion on three attempts for nine yards, a sack and a six-yard scramble for an EPA per play of -0.498.
These slot blitzes were effective in limiting Allen’s effectiveness scrambling out of the pocket. He was forced to do so on nine pass plays, and he went 2-for-5 for 28 yards with four rushes for only 19 yards, averaging -0.2 EPA per play.
The Bengals' pass rush was a strong complement to the backend, as well. As a team, Cincinnati finished with a 52.1% pass-rush win rate, which was only a tick up from the defense's regular season average of 50.1%. But the Bengals' coverage and confusion allowed them to convert those into a much higher rate of pressure than during the regular season.
|Regular Season||vs. Bills|
|Pass-Rush Win Rate||50.1%||52.1%|
Allen did have his opportunities, though, and he simply did not convert enough of them. When throwing to receivers deemed “open,” he was much less effective than his season average.
|Regular Season||vs. Bills|
|PFF Passing Grade||97.1||77.9|
|Yards Per Attempt||9.0||6.7|
This was highlighted in overthrowing Stefon Diggs twice when he was behind the defense, and underthrowing a ball to Gabriel Davis, allowing Cam Taylor-Britt to get back into the play and break up the pass.