The Cincinnati Bengals put forth Sunday's most impressive performance, thoroughly dominating their AFC North division rival Pittsburgh Steelers to the shocking tune of 41-10. The 31-point margin of victory represented Cincinnati's largest point differential in a single contest this season, as Zac Taylor's men were in commanding control on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the Bengals held Pittsburgh to 301 total yards of offense, while stifling rookie ball-carrier Najee Harris, who accounted for a season-low of just 37 yards.
Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo possesses several talented defenders on his unit, but one free-agent signing in particular is currently championing this squad forward.
Defensive end Trey Hendrickson has been in outstanding form in his first year as a Bengal. The former Florida Atlantic standout has recorded an astounding 10.5 sacks in Cincinnati's first 11 games and is well on pace to top his personal-best mark of 13.5 sacks, which he accumulated in 2020. Hendrickson trails Myles Garrett for the league-lead in sacks by just three-and-a-half quarterback takedowns. Hendrickson has impressively notched at least one sack in seven consecutive contests, and we love his chances of topping the 15-sack mark for the first time in his professional career.
A third-round selection of the New Orleans Saints in the 2017 NFL Draft, Bengals general manager Duke Tobin received his fair share of criticism for signing Hendrickson to a lucrative four-year contract that reached $60 million in March of this year. There was concern that Hendrickson would eventually earn the dreaded "one-year wonder" tag after experiencing a career-best season in 2020, but that has not been the case. Instead, Hendrickson has helped boost a Bengals team that currently holds the fifth seed in the AFC playoff picture while terrorizing opposing quarterbacks on a snap-by-snap basis.
Several franchises dealt out a plethora of guaranteed money to various high-profile pass rushers who reached free agency this past offseason, and one could now make the argument that Hendrickson has provided the Bengals with the best return on their investment thus far (along with Matthew Judon in New England). Carl Lawson unfortunately suffered a season-ending injury before he could take his first official snap as a member of the New York Jets. The Tennessee Titans dished out more than $80 million to lure Bud Dupree away from Pittsburgh, but Dupree has recorded just one sack as a Titan and continues to deal with the fallout of last year's season-ending knee injury.
The Bengals are currently experiencing their most fruitful and exciting season since 2015 and may be providing the best storyline of 2021—which has served as a stark turnaround from last year's disappointing 4-11-1 campaign. Cincinnati has plenty to play for down the stretch and appears capable of defeating any contender in the AFC. Sunday's resounding victory over the Steelers signifies a team that is getting hot at the opportune moment. Hendrickson's miraculous season and current form have served as a major contributing factor.