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Bengals’ Rey Maualuga Is What He Is

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Jan 4, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (58) against the Indianapolis Colts during the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Rey Maualuga is a name that causes consternation with Cincinnati Bengals fans around the country. He was once hailed as the nextRay Lewis” and Bengals fans thought they struck gold when he was drafted in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. While Maualuga has been a solid NFL pro, he has never been able to satisfy the expectations set out for him. Should we just embrace Maualuga for who he is, a solid run stopper and a deficient pass defender?

Maualuga was expected to be the dominant inside linebacker for the Bengals that the team could build around for the future. His tackle numbers are mediocre, with his highest number of total tackles (122) coming in 2012. Those 122 tackles ranked as 20th among NFL linebackers for that year, still seven behind Vontaze Burfict. Ever since 2012, however, Maualuga’s numbers have started to decline with his 2014 season being hampered by injury.

The problem with Maualuga is he has become a one trick pony with his inability to cover anyone in pass coverage. In 2013 he allowed the most first downs amongst linebackers. He cannot be employed on a third and long situation, and he has become a national pinata for the Bengals’ pass defense woes.

The interesting part of the equation is the coaches relentless protection of Maualuga since his arrival in Cincinnati. Marvin Lewis has been Maualuga’s only coach and defends him whenever necessary. Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer obtained this quote from Lewis regarding Maualuga:

"Marvin Lewis praised “How hard (Maualuga) has worked to be a good player,” even as the coach wondered about the wisdom of re-signing him in 2013. “My opinion of Rey has always been higher than what Pro Football Focus’ is,”"

I, for one, am impressed with his coaches’ ability to ignore statistics. His numbers at middle linebacker, as shown above, are less than adequate. The coaching staff has been utilizing, from what I can tell, an interesting strategy with Maualuga: they need him to be a leader on the defense (especially with Burfict coming back from injury), yet his confidence is extremely variable. It seems they have to support Maualuga because they don’t have a better option currently.

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If Burfict is able to come back healthy and Paul Dawson emerges, it’s likely that they count on Maualuga much less. My hope is that this scenario plays out for the Bengals, but in the meantime, the Bengals must build Maualuga’s confidence. To Maualuga’s credit, he has adopted the right mindset: to ignore the critics.

So where does that leave us currently? In the 2015 season, we must accept Maualuga starting in his usual spot. I am hoping that Burfict comes back and Dawson becomes a star with Vincent Rey or Emmanuel Lamur playing the outside linebacker position. Whether this scenario actually plays out or not remains to be seen. For the time being, get used to #58 starting for the Bengals.

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