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Matchup Of The Game: Bengals' Hendrickson Keeps Impacting Games as Center Of Attention

No. 91 has been a billboard for foes.
No. 91 has been a billboard for foes.


It has been a week of looks as the Bengals look to stare down the Jets Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) at MetLife Stadium.

Wide receiver Tee Higgins says his quarterback has "that look," but he can't begin to describe Joe Burrow's face as the Bengals look in the mirror for last year's magic.

And, Bengals defensive line coach Marion Hobby only has to peek at the ping-pong games as he walks through the locker room and see his top sacker Hendrickson smashing away with a face tighter than the laces of a football.

"I see him in there playing some time and he gets that look on his face," Hobby says. "He's just competitor. That's always good."

Hendrickson's look is rather notorious in a Bengals locker room where his presence has had a massive impact.

Free safety Jessie Bates III has talked about his "blackouts," at practice, where it will seem like you're out there with a complete stranger, make that a peeved complete stranger, and then he'll apologize to you an hour later in the locker room and the next day you show up and he may have bought the veteran defensive linemen something like lounge chairs.

"He's all about football, loves football. Passionate. Gets along with his teammates great,' says defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo of his resident game-breaker. "I'm glad he's on our side."

Hendrickson and Lawson changed sides on the first day of free agency in March of 2021 in what turned out to be one of the most impactful unofficial trades in Bengals history.

Lawson, a wonderful competitor and teammate, was coming off a career-high 5.5 sacks for the Bengals and got big money in New York. The Bengals gave it to Hendrickson, coming off a 13.5-sack season in New Orleans.

Now their teams meet in New York Sunday and Lawson is playing just his third game since he left after suffering a horrible torn Achilles' early in his first New York training camp. He's looking for his first full sack as a Jet while Hendrickson is looking for his first sack of the season after not getting one in back-to-back games for the first time since the last two games of the 2019 regular season.

While Lawson looks to get his footing, Hendrickson is looking simply to breathe. Double teams have been the norm. Triple teams have not been uncommon. Talk about impact. Anarumo runs through just a couple of snaps in Dallas.

"A few times in the game he had the tight end, back and the tackle and still was able to get pressure," Anarumo says. "That's what happens when you sack the quarterback as much as he has the last few years.

"They are not going to let him and Sam (Hubbard) wreck the game. Especially Trey, they are paying extra attention with sometimes three people.

Counting the playoffs in this decade, Hendrickson has an unreal 31 sacks in 37 games. Only T.J. Watt (39.5) and Myles Garrett (32) have more. If you look strictly at the numbers, some of the big reasons the Bengals went to the Super Bowl were the statistical performances of, in no particular order, Burrow and the three newcomers, wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, kicker Evan McPherson and Hendrickson with his franchise record 14 sacks and 3.5 more in the playoffs.

"He has the best chip on his shoulder and he's letting it show," says strong safety Vonn Bell, his old Saints teammate. "He's relentless. He's a warrior, man. He loves ball. He's looking to get out there and make plays for his guys … he had a huge tackle for a loss (in Dallas) in that put them back to midfield. He's geared up for sure. I'd leave him alone right now."

That's why we're not talking to Hendrickson and, instead, talking to one of the young D-lineman like Cam Sample to talk impact.

"He has that drive and energy. Every day he comes in with the same attitude trying to get better. You can tell it means a lot to him," Sample says. "That's an easy guy to rally behind. His intensity is infectious. He's one of the tone-setters on our D-line and our defense and I think that carries over to the team."

A big reason the Bengals have just two sacks in the first two games after getting 42 last season is they haven't had a lead yet. Plus, Hendrickson isn't exactly in disguise. No. 91 might as well be an I-75 billboard. And they've basically gone against two backup quarterbacks just looking to get the ball out fast. Anarumo expects the same from savvy 15-year pro Joe Flacco on Sunday

"The ball is getting out so quick. The first game (against the Steelers' Mitch Trubisky) it is a bunch of RPOs where there is no drop back pass where you are getting a chance to rush the quarterback," Anarumo says. "It's just a little bit different when they are catching and throwing, catching and throwing. Where those guys don't have really a chance to rush.

"We were the least penalized team, but we are finding some penalties this year putting them back in third-and-5 where you don't get a chance to rush on third-and-5 because the ball is getting out. Third and 8, third and 10, third and 12, you get a chance to get a sack."

The Jets haven't been hitting the quarterback, either. Lawson has a half of three sacks and one of nine hits on the quarterback. Hendrickson has two of the Bengals' 10. Bengals left tackle Jonah Williams has gone against them both in practice.

"Really strong with an explosive upper body. Great burst up field. Solid overall player. Great motor, for sure," Williams says of Lawson. "He's a little more of a body rusher than Trey. Carl's more long-armed and tries to bull through you. Trey likes to get around the edge. They're similar in how fast they get off the line with that first step."

Williams' offensive line is under huge pressure to stop the pressure on Burrow. He thinks they had a good practice Wednesday and he hopes to build off it Thursday. He agrees with offensive line coach Frank Pollack that they're more physical than in years past.

"The physicality hasn't been a problem, it's been the execution that we're trying to clean up," Williams says.

He thinks his experience with Lawson is big "because it helps to understand what makes him a good player." The common denominator with Hendrickson is they keep coming at you.

"He loves football. That's his deal," Hobby says of Hendrickson. "He's explosive, he's smart. He's getting some attention. We work on that. He expects that. It's a respect factor. We'd love to have him one-on-one. He's had a few. Just keep working at it."

The ping-pong balls have been flying. Hendrickson bought a table for the locker room when the wait was too long for the only one they had in there. "If he plays you in checkers," Hobby says, "he wants to beat you."

He bought a cabinet for strength coach Joey Boese's office so they had a place for the growing nest of coffee mugs, one his havens where he can glower and they're glad he does. On Sunday, he'll simplify chess to checkers with the help of the advice of Hobby and senior defensive assistant Mark Duffner.

"The biggest thing is, don't press. Keep doing the same things, just don't press. They'll come."

"If you ask Trey, he'll tell you he wants to fix 0-2 and not talk about sacks," Hobby says. "He knows when the Ws come, the rest takes care of itself."

But we'll let Bell ask him. The last time Hendrickson went three straight games without a sack, it was November of 2019.

"He's near, he's near," Bell says.