You can credit the coaching, Ryan Finley, or Giovani Bernard for the big win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football.
But the Bengals’ glorious and long-overdue victory was largely the result of Cincinnati’s secondary absolutely dominating Ben Roethlisberger. And two of the biggest contributors were free agent acquisitions: Vonn Bell and Mackensie Alexander.
Bell, of course, had one of the most iconic moments in the franchise’s history, when he absolutely blew up JuJu Smith-Schuster just a short while after the Steelers wide receiver danced on the Bengals’ logo.
The best part is that Bell warned Smith-Schuster and said he’d have to “hit him and let him know where he stands.” And then the safety went out and did it.
When’s the last time we’ve seen a Bengals player talk big and back it up?! That kind of confidence and pride is precisely what was missing from the Bengals in recent years, nay, decades.
Alexander, meanwhile, came up with a huge interception of Roethlisberger in the second quarter. He also had an outstanding day in the slot, keeping James Washington without a reception on three targets.
We talked about how the secondary was the biggest key to the victory in our most recent show, which you can watch below:
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This game proved that spending wisely in free agency is a big component in building a complete team in today’s NFL. Bell and Alexander were two of the three biggest playmakers on defense, the other being Carl Lawson, and their aggressiveness was arguably what fueled the attitude change in the Bengals in primetime; while normally the team looks like an abused cat just trying to find shelter, this time Cincinnati was the one dishing out the hits.
And we still haven’t even seen what these free agent additions can do. The biggest one, D.J. Reader, was thriving before he went down with a quad injury in October. And the second biggest addition, cornerback Trae Waynes, has yet to suit up.
Hopefully the big win justifies opening up the pocketbook last offseason, and Mike Brown and the Blackburns reach back into the money bin to fix that offensive line and bolster the pass rush. Joe Burrow with protection plus a playmaking defense would mean that such primetime wins will no longer come as a surprise.