Bengals: Free-agent signings have helped pave the way to 5-2 start

Chidobe Awuzie, Cincinnati Bengals (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Chidobe Awuzie, Cincinnati Bengals (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

After the Cincinnati Bengals escaped Week 1 with an overtime win against the Vikings, the tea leaves concerning them read something along the lines of: different. That win was foretold of a different type of season and outlook for the team. It also felt eerily different than what the Bengals experienced last season when they were 2-5-1 in games decided by less than eight points.

This season, although they sit at 1-2 in such games, they’ve already eclipsed last season’s win total of four wins and stand at 5-2 entering in Week 8. Those two losses came at the hands of the Bears and Packers for a combined loss-margin of six points.

With a 41-17 win over a divisional rival, the Baltimore Ravens, it is evident that the 2021-22 Bengals are different than last year’s team and a big reason for that are the free-agent signings during the offseason.

Here are the free-agent signings that have helped the Bengals to a 5-2 start.

3 key free-agent signings that have helped the Bengals

3. Riley Reiff

Now, by no measure is the Bengals’ offensive line currently considered an elite blocking unit, however, they’re pulling their weight and have been vital to Cincinnati being the 10th-ranked offense. Riley Reiff, who came over from the Vikings during the offseason has been key to that steady success.

On Sunday, in one of their best performances this season, the line was efficient to the tune of blocking for 5.0 yards per carry while allowing only one sack against a blitz-happy Ravens defense.

The spotlight’s been on Reiff all season because he was the only actual addition to the Bengals’ o-line this offseason (at least in free agency). Every snap the tackle plays is met with its fair share of scrutiny and he’s played well enough to assuage Bengals fans’ concerns for star quarterback Joe Burrow.

2. Chidobe Awuzie

Ranked 17th in passing yards allowed, the Bengals feature a middle-of-the-pack passing defense, however, they’ve allowed the second-fewest touchdown passes in the league. Part of this is because, while receivers may be catching passes, they’re not getting much after the catch. That’s in part thanks to the sure coverage and tackling of Chidobe Awuzie, who was signed after three years in Dallas.

Through Cincinnati’s six games, Awuzie has allowed 22 catches on 36 targets (61% completion rate) but has allowed only 8.6 yards per completion — by far the lowest mark he’s given up in his career. He’s had only one touchdown scored against him and has continued his career trend of one interception on the season.

1. Trey Hendrickson

The tone of this year’s defense looks completely different than last year’s and the numbers prove that. Last season, the Bengals were 26th in yards allowed and gave up 26.5 points a game, ranked 11th most in the league. As of today, they bolster a top 10 defense in terms of yards given up and allow the fifth-least points in the league with 18.3 a game.

So much of this improvement on the defensive side of the ball comes from the leadership and play of former Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson.

With 19 sacks as a team, the Bengals are tied for the third-most sacks in the league. Hendrickson leads the way for Cincinnati with 6.5 sacks and he’s pressured opposing quarterbacks 21 times.

He’s not just been an upgrade to the defensive line but he’s been a leader and rejuvenated the entire defensive unit to one of the best in the league.

The rest

Luckily for the Bengals, the bill doesn’t stop here with the free-agent contributions; some of the other newcomers that have faired really well include defensive tackle Larry Ognujobi, who picked up 1.5 sacks on Sunday; one of the best slot corners in the league, Mike Hilton; and cornerback Eli Apple, who’s playing to prove his worth in this league even if he has had his fair share of missed tackles.

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The Bengals spent a lot of money in free agency and now we’re seeing it pay dividends.