Bengals Safeties Returning to Dominance


Nov 1, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals strong safety Shawn Williams (36) intercepts a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Bengals won 16-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals are 7-0, and there are a lot of people in Cincinnati to thank for it. Andy Dalton commands the Bengals’ offense, and his weapons out wide (A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones) have been balling out all season long. Cincinnati’s running backs have improved after getting off to a slow start, and its offensive line has performed like one of the NFL’s best.

But one of the biggest surprises in Cincinnati through the first half of the season has to be that Cincinnati’s safety tandem–once among the NFL’s best–wasn’t making very many plays. On Sunday in Pittsburgh, however, everything changed.

Reggie Nelson and George Iloka teamed up to form an imposing back end of the Bengals’ secondary in 2014, recording the most collective pass defenses and interceptions of any safety tandem in the NFL. However, through the first seven games of 2015, Nelson and Iloka combined to make 52 tackles, zero sacks, a run stuff, zero forced fumbles, an interception and three pass deflections.

To put things in perspective, through four games last season, the tandem made 84 tackles, one-and-a-half sacks, two run stuffs, 0 forced fumbles, four interceptions and nine pass deflections. And while the duo’s slow 2015 start can be partially attributed to injuries, it’s blatantly obvious that these two guys made a much bigger impact in last season’s first seven games than the first seven games of 2015.

But on Sunday, Cincinnati’s safeties finally showed something. Reggie Nelson was the MVP of Sunday’s game, recording five tackles, two interceptions and two pass deflections; Iloka recorded four tackles and a potential touchdown-saving pass defense and backup Shawn Williams added a tackle, a pass defense and a huge interception.

The Bengals’ safeties will face off against two mediocre teams in the Browns and Texans–both of whom are also led by mediocre quarterbacks–over the course of the next two weeks; they’ll have an opportunity to really show the NFL what they’re made of in prime time.

And considering Cincinnati’s success against Pittsburgh, it wouldn’t be surprising to see as many as three-to-five interceptions by the Bengals’ safeties alone over the course of the next two games. Cincinnati’s safeties are talented; they don’t give up the big plays, and they’re finally starting to force some turnovers when it matters.