For the first time this season, the Bengals excelled at stopping the run in Sunday’s 27-10 win at New Orleans.
For the first time in five games, Rey Maualuga was in the middle of the Bengals’ defense.
So how much of a difference did Rey’s return make?
“Like night and day,” said Adam Jones. “When we get 5-5 back (Vontaze Burfict) we’ll be right back on stride. But I take my hat off to the other guys too. They play hard and play to the best of their ability but Rey makes a big difference. He’s one of the most physical guys that you’re ever going to meet and that’s what we need right now. Somebody that’s going to go full speed and go downhill at that position.”
Maualuga gets roasted on talk radio and message boards for his deficiencies in pass coverage, but for the NFL’s 31st-rated run defense going into the New Orleans game, he was exactly what the doctor ordered.
“All of you Rey Maualuga haters – how do you like him now?” said my broadcasting partner Dave Lapham. “You don’t realize how important he is in defending the run until he’s not in there. He’s a 260 pound downhill linebacker that will rattle your fillings. That’s exactly what he did and everybody started feeding off him. Domata Peko had his best game of the season in my estimation and it’s a huge ripple effect.”
“We had to get better at stopping the running game and I thought we did today,” said Marvin Lewis. “That was big and Rey was a big part of that. His presence and his abilities – both mentally and physically – showed up out there.”
But Rey’s impact wasn’t limited to running plays.
The defensive play of the game came early in the second quarter when the Saints went for a touchdown on 4th-and-goal from the one yard line with the Bengals leading 7-3. Drew Brees threw a swing pass to fullback Erik Lorig and Maualuga drilled him for a one yard loss to keep New Orleans off of the scoreboard.
“Sometimes it’s a guessing game,” said Maualuga. “You have to figure out, ‘OK, what kind of plays could they do here?’ Shawn Williams came over late and ended up taking my responsibility which was the seven route by the tight end. The fullback went out into the flat and we just swapped responsibilities and I took his job. We were heads-up and didn’t go too fast downhill. It was a play-action play and we did a good job. I think it started from there. It gave a spark to our defense that we could come out and stop a high-powered offense.”
After allowing at least 23 points in six straight games, the Bengals held the NFL’s second-ranked offense to a season-low 10 points.
“Despite what we’re ranked and what we’ve done, we’re a damn good defense” said Maualuga. “Sometimes people make mistakes and it shows in the stats, but we still have more games to fix what we need to fix. Somebody said that we were 31st in the league against the run and I promise at the end of the year we won’t be 31st.
“It’s just a sense of want-to. It was there on Monday after we had a couple of days to replenish ourselves after the Thursday night game. Coach (Guenther) said if somebody wasn’t doing the job or being coachable than you weren’t going to be in the game. I think that hit everybody hard and we had a good week.”
Having #58 back in the lineup was a big reason why.
“I’m just excited to be playing with my brothers and my teammates,” said Maualuga. “I’m glad to be back.”
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