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Trey Hendrickson injury forces others to step up

And they’re answering the call so far.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Cincinnati Bengals
Sam Hubbard celebrates his sack of Falcons’ quarterback Marcus Mariota
Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer

As important as Trey Hendrickson has been to the Cincinnati Bengals, they may be able to overcome a brief injury absence thanks to an emerging bench.

Hendrickson recorded the game’s first sack of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota early in the third quarter to raise his season total to 3.5, but suffered a neck injury with 3:06 left in the quarter that ended his afternoon.

Joseph Ossai, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, did pick up his first NFL sack in Hendrickson’s absence, but it was fellow defensive end Sam Hubbard who really had to step up his game with the 2021 Pro Bowler on the sidelines. Just how valuable has Hubbard become to the Bengals’ defense?

“Incredibly valuable,” said head coach Zac Taylor. “He steps up and continues to make key plays. In the run game, he doesn’t always get credit because he might not always get the tackles, but I promise that if you run to the right, you feel his presence.”

Not only is he a force in the running game (Hubbard is tied for 6th in the league among defensive ends with 17 total tackles, according to Pro Football Focus), but he is also a threat to get to the quarterback. Hubbard improved his sack total to 2.5 on the season when he took Mariota down late in the third quarter, and boasts an overall PFF grade of 73.9.

“He affects the quarterback and protections, with that big sack he had this game.” Taylor said. “Really cannot say enough about Sam Hubbard and the role he plays for me as the head coach, this team in the locker room and fan base.”

In addition to losing Hendrickson late, Cincinnati was also without the services of DJ Reader, who will probably not return until after the bye week, Week 11 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Defensive tackle Josh Tupou sustained a calf injury against the Saints last week and is expected to miss a couple of weeks, and linebacker Logan Wilson is week to week with a shoulder injury sustained in that same game.

So the Bengals have had to turn to some new faces along the defensive line, guys like Jay Tufele, who the Bengals picked up at cut-down day from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and rookie third-round selection Zachary Carter from Florida.

“They’ve taken advantage of the opportunities they’re given,” Taylor said. “Jay Tufele is a guy who was just acquired at the cut-down, has been in-and-out of being inactive, never knows when his opportunity is coming. And he finds himself in a role and takes advantage of it.

“Same with Zach Carter. Zach was used in different roles early in the season, and now with Josh (Tupou) and DJ (Reader) being down, he’s had to step up as well. Just very pleased with the job that Marion (Hobby) has done with those guys and how they’ve stepped up to the plate.”

Never was it more evident than Sunday, when this handful of newcomers stepped up to help the Bengals’ defense hold its seventh straight opponent without a touchdown in the second half.