For years, the safety position has been an Achilles heel of the Bengals' defense. They have only used one first round draft pick at the position in the history of their team (Darryl Williams), and have preferred the option of veteran free agents to man the spot. Throughout the 1990s and into much of Marvin Lewis' tenure as Cincinnati's head coach, it was a weak link on the defense--a unit that made Lewis a Super Bowl champion and eventual head coach.
As they have done since about 2008, the Bengals looked to fill the void in the form of a former high pick whose welcome fizzled out with the team who selected him. That was Reggie Nelson, a former first round pick and one-time Pro Bowl-consideration safety with the Jaguars. When final cuts were being made before the 2010 season, Cincinnati struck a deal with Jacksonville, sending them cornerback David Jones in exchange for Nelson.
Since his arrival, Nelson has been a mainstay on a defense consistently ranked within the top-half of the league, cracking the top-10 in most years. Perhaps Nelson's biggest contribution to the Bengals has been his performances against the rival Steelers.
Here's a glance at Nelson's overall stats with the Bengals (2010-2015), as well as his performances in games against Pittsburgh:
|Career with CIN||89||22||7||5||5.5|
|Against the Steelers with CIN||10||5||0||0||0|
23 percent of Nelson's total interceptions with the Bengals have come against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Moreover, you have to note the clutch nature of those five picks. Here's one example from the team's win over the Steelers a month ago:
Three of the five Nelson picks against Ben Roethlisberger have directly led to big Bengals wins in recent years. Obviously, his two at Heinz Field in the first matchup of 2015 went a long way in a close Cincinnati win, 16-10. In fact, his second of the day came with under three minutes to play and netted the Bengals a critical field goal just a minute later. The situation forced Pittsburgh to try for the touchdown instead of a field goal to send it to overtime.
Looking back to the 2012 season, Nelson secured another late interception to set the Bengals up with prime field position to win it. Andy Dalton made a huge throw to A.J. Green to set up a game-winning Josh Brown field goal. The win cemented their appearance in the postseason that year.
Nelson is averaging a 50 percent rate, in terms of interceptions against the Steelers in games played, whereas he's getting interceptions at a 22 percent rate against all other teams he's played against as a Bengal. You could argue Nelson is one of the best trade acquisitions the team has made in its history, especially because of his big plays against such an important team on Cincinnati's yearly schedule.
The cynic would point to Nelson's two picks in Week 8 as a result to Roethlisberger's rustiness from missing almost a month's worth of games. However, when looking at the background information, it points to a trend with Nelson against the Steelers. With all of the injuries hitting the secondary lately, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has to hope Nelson will pull another rabbit out of his helmet this Sunday in a very important rematch against the Steelers this Sunday.