The Cincinnati Bengals got hot late in 2021 and wound up in Super Bowl LVI. And one of the team’s free-agent pickups last offseason was a major reason why.
A year after finishing 4-11-1 during head coach Zac Taylor’s second season in the Queen City, the Cincinnati Bengals wound up back in the playoffs for the first time since 2015. And thanks to a strong postseason run, thanks to the franchise’s first postseason win since 1990, the team wound up making a third Super Bowl appearance and first since 1988.
Yes, Taylor’s club couldn’t stop Rams’ wide receiver Cooper Kupp in the closing minutes of Super Bowl LVI. Then again, not many teams stopped the All-Pro wideout in 2021. But for those believing that the Bengals’ near NFL title was just a game of pitch and catch between second-year quarterback Joe Burrow and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase, here’s some food for thought.
In 2020, the Cincinnati defense was ranked 26th in the league in yards allowed. The club allowed the fourth-most rushing yards in the NFL. And Taylor’s club managed a paltry 17 sacks in 16 contests.
Enter free-agent defensive end Trey Hendrickson, who enjoyed a breakout year with the Saints in ’20 via 13.5 sacks in 15 outings. The Bengals inked him to a lucrative four-year, $60 million deal last offseason (via Spotrac). And he changed the mindset of Cincinnati’s front and arguably the entire defense.
Hendrickson played in 16 games and made 14 starts. There were 34 tackles, a career-best 14 sacks and three forced fumbles. He added 3.5 QB traps during Cincinnati’s four-game postseason run. And he was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time. All told, the Bengals improved to fifth in the NFL vs. the run and came up with an impressive 42 sacks in 17 games.
As we saw in the second half of Super Bowl LVI, defense still rules the day when it comes to hoisting a Lombardi Trophy (see Aaron Donald and Von Miller in the Bengals’ backfield). Hendrickson led a harassing defensive unit that looked to improve its secondary this offseason. And those new defensive backs have to be happy with this young standout leading the way in front of them.