How Bengals Safety Dax Hill Took the Next Step in His Growth, and Why the Rams Paid for It

Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo didn't blitz a lot Monday night, but when he did, 2022 first-round pick Dax Hill made it count.

Two weeks after nabbing his first career interception, Cincinnati Bengals 2022 first-round pick safety Dax Hill landed his first sack, and it came on a play that defined the defensive performance in a 19-16 victory against the Los Angeles Rams.

Leading 6-3 late in the second half, the Rams had a chance to double up on the Bengals as they would be getting the ball first to start the second half. But on second and 10 from the LA 21-yard line, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo put seven players on the line, with Hill the furthest out to the left.

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How Did Dax Hill Run So Free on His Two Biggest Plays of the Night?

There was nothing disguised about the look, which is why Hill was so stunned to get a free run at Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford for a big shot and his first career sack.

“I was like ‘Oh, snap. Is this really happening right now?’” Hill said when asked about his reaction to being unblocked with a free run at the quarterback. “I thought the running back was coming out to me. He looked dead at me and then looked away. I’m like, ‘I don’t know if he’s got it blocked it up right or what,’ but I came free and made the play.”

The sack was the first of six on the night for the Bengals, and the first of Hill’s career after playing sparingly as a rookie.

“I was just so excited after the play,” Hill said. “To be honest, it happened so fast I didn’t know what happened after the play. It felt good gettin’ that first sack. Many more to come.”

The eight-yard loss forced the Rams into third-and-18. Of the Rams’ 11 third downs, five were third-and-10 or longer and three were third-and-17 or longer.

MORE: Cincinnati Bengals Depth Chart

Backed up at their own 13, the Rams ran a draw play and punted, enabling the Bengals to be the team to get points right before halftime as they drove for an Evan McPherson 53-yard field goal at the gun to tie it 6-6.

Hill led the team with eight tackles, two of which were for losses. About five minutes before his sack, Hill came free off the right side of the defense and dropped Kyren Williams for a three-yard loss to set up third-and-9, and the Bengals got off the field as they did all night, holding Los Angeles without a third-down conversion on 10 of its first 11 tries.

The Bengals had 10 in the box, and the Rams tried to run a toss sweep with the left tackle kicking out to be a lead blocker. Hill came as a free runner right through the area vacated by the tackle and dropped Williams.

“It wasn’t a blitz, it was just a different type of rush,” Hill said. “Really just came free. It was a good play call.”

The instincts and speed Hill showed Monday were the reason the Bengals took him in in the first round out of Michigan.

Not only has he been solid in his regular safety role, Anarumo has used him as his cover guy against tight ends on third down, something he showed he can do in the Divisional Round win against the Bills last year with a big pass breakup against Dawson Knox.

Adding Hill as part of a pressure package is the next step as Anarumo went deep on his call sheet Monday night against a veteran quarterback with great recognition skills.

“That third quarter, that’s when we really started to rush at them,” Hill said. “We were going back and forth that entire first half, so we really had to change it up and make them uncomfortable a little bit.

“He knows what we’re in. I mean he’s been doin’ it for so long, but really just trying to disguise the best we can. You can only do so much, but I felt like we did a pretty good job in terms of pressure.”

The Bengals had 20 pressures in the game, a career-high 10 of which were from Trey Hendrickson (video below), who recorded two of the team’s six sacks.

If you’re looking for a parallel, the 20 pressures were the team’s most since registering 21 last year against the Jets in Week 3, when the Bengals also were desperate for a win after an 0-2 start.

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