After coming up one game short of the Super Bowl this season, the Cincinnati Bengals have to reconfigure their plans heading into a critical 2023-24 campaign.
The Cincinnati Bengals went out with a bang, as they talked their way to the top of the bulletin board in Arrowhead Stadium. As catchy as ‘Burrowhead’ sounded throughout the week, it was bound to get the best of a Cincinnati team which went up against a gauntlet in the Kansas City Chiefs.
Even with Patrick Mahomes suffering a high ankle sprain against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City’s offense looked capable, and made the necessary adjustments. Some controversial calls in the fourth quarter put the Bengals behind the eight ball, and despite one final chance to pull off a memorable upset, Joe Burrow could not lead a game-winning drive this time around, as he has so many times before.
Entering a critical offseason, the Bengals must decide which players they want to prioritize, and who they can afford to lose. Jessie Bates, their All-Pro safety, is at the top of that list.
Cincinnati Bengals who won’t be back: Lou Anarumo
Lou Anarumo is the mad scientist behind the Bengals defensive improvement over the past few seasons, and it’s about time he receives a head coaching gig. If it’s not this offseason, then perhaps next.
Anarumo specializes in creative blitz packages. While he was receiving very little head coaching interest around the league prior to the Bengals game against the Chiefs on Sunday, his scheme exploited Kansas City’s offense at times, and perhaps earned him a second look. With a distinct lack of capable head coaching candidates on the market right now, Anarumo could be the next big name. Just ask Zac Taylor:
“He’s constantly evolving [the scheme] to make sure we put our guys in position to do things that hit their strengths,” Taylor said of Anarumo. “He does a great job adjusting over the course of the week, over the course of the game. It’s not fun being a defensive coordinator in the AFC. Every week is a challenge. He never blinks. I think the players feel that from him. I feel that from him. He’s always going to give our guys a chance to go play well.”
The Bengals players love playing for Anarumo, as well, which speaks volumes. As of this writing, the Arizona Cardinals have already requested an interview. There’s more to come.
Bengals rumors: Eli Apple on his way out?
Eli Apple has played his way back onto an NFL field.
While Apple did have a tough week in the lead-up to the AFC Championship, the loud-mouthed cornerback does provide plenty of value at his price point. Apple can line up on the outside or the slot, and Lou Anarumo used him in just about every situation imaginable this season.
It’s easy to overlook Apple, as he’s frequently clowned on social media and by opposing players. He’s on the wrong end of a number of Pro Football Focus breakdowns. As mentioned above, Apple is often forced to play out of position, and it’s that flexibility that makes him valuable. He will land on another team, it just won’t be the Bengals.
The ‘why’ as it pertains to Apple is relatively simple — not only did he talk smack all week to Kansas City, which out Cincinnati in a tough position, he’s also outplayed his price tag. Odds are, the Bengals can replace Apple in the draft relatively easily, and pay half the price.
Bengals rumors: Sign a new backup QB
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is one of the best gunslingers in the game, but he’s also injury prone, given his season-ending injury in his rookie year. Because of this, the Bengals need to have a capable backup signal-caller. Brandon Allen can step in when required, but Cincinnati can do better.
If the Bengals learned anything from the NFC Championship, it’s that a stable veteran backup is essential to any team’s success. The 49ers, for one, went through four quarterbacks this year, ending with Josh Johnson, who also suffered a concussion.
Allen is a free agent, and it would be fair to let him walk. An ideal replacement would be Case Keenum, who has starting experience and spent last season with the Buffalo Bills, where he received rave reviews. In Cincinnati, he could serve as a mentor to Burrow — not that he really needs one at this point — and a positive presence in the quarterback room.
If called upon, Keenum could keep the Bengals afloat while Burrow recovers. A quarterback injury is always a worst-case scenario for any NFL team. Cincinnati has lived that nightmare, and now they must prepare for it while their championship window is open.