Jason divulged the Friday Bengals Injury report yesterday, and with it came some grim news. Starting linebacker Rey Maualuga and starting tight end Jermaine Gresham are both doubtful for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans. Both injuries came as a bit of a surprise as both were announced late in their respective weeks. Gresham especially was a surprise as he became a game-time decision.
Though he had the benefit of using their bye week for his recovery, Maualuga is on the verge of being out for the past month and missing his third game. Over that time, we have received word that his recovery is going well, but an ankle injury like his is usually tricky and can become a nagging type of thing. He's been missed, but the Bengals are erring on the side of caution and appearing to wait to get him back for the slate of upcoming divisional games.
Gresham is nursing a hamstring pull, which also has a tendency to become a nagging injury. It seemed as if he was close to playing against the Seahawks, but "wasn't comfortable", so both he and the team again erred on the side of caution. The offense missed him, but as it's been with Maualuga's case, other players stepped up in his absence.
Dan Skuta has been filling in for Maualuga over the past few weeks and has done so admirably. He isn't the leader that Maualuga is, nor does he make some of the big plays that Maualuga has this season, but the defense hasn't really missed much of a beat to this point. They've retained their top five ranking and just last week held Seattle's Marshawn Lynch to just 25 rushing yards.
Donald Lee stepped into the starting role last week for Gresham and also played well. He had a couple of clutch catches that helped the offense on scoring drives. While he's a solid veteran, he still isn't the threat and talent that Gresham is. It's often said that a great tight end is a rookie quarterback's best friend and Gresham has proved his worth this year. Outside of A.J. Green, Gresham has been Dalton's favorite target--especially in the red zone. Even with missing the last game and potentially this one, Gresham is slated to surpass his solid rookie numbers of last season.
Regardless of how well their replacements have stepped up, these two starters will be missed on Sunday if they don't play against the Titans. It's debatable who would be missed more, but on our podcast Thursday night, Jimmy from SB Nation's Music City Miracles joined us and explained the weaknesses in the Tennessee defense. He explained that the Titans are weak in defending the middle of the field. Gresham besides being a great red zone target, excels in catching passes across the middle and moving the sticks.
As it's been well documented, Titans running back Chris Johnson has struggled so far this season and his breakout game could come at any time. With Maualuga probably out again this week, the defense will need to cope with his loss exceptionally well in order to make sure that Johnson doesn't get back on track. Most people will agree that bottling up Johnson is the key to a Bengals victory this week and without Maualuga to man the middle, that could prove difficult.