DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 18: Running back Willis McGahee #23 of the Denver Broncos rushes with the ball as Frostee Rucker #92 and Manny Lawson #99 of the Cincinnati Bengals move in for the tackle at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. McGahee rushed for 101 yards as the Broncos defeated the Bengals 24-22. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
"I was frustrated with how I performed. I take full responsibility for the running game. I had a couple plays where I had him to a 1-yard gain (and missed the tackle). I’m bigger than him, no way he can run through me but I let him do that. I didn’t wrap up, I didn’t move my feet, I stopped. If I made all the tackles I would have missed, I would have had a solid game. I hope I get my butt ripped when we watch the film. I was just another dude out there."
The Bengals allowed 131 yards against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. It's the first time the Bengals allowed over 100 yards rushing to a team since December 12, 2010 against the Pittsburgh Steelers (121) and the most the Bengals allowed 146 yards to the New Orleans Saints on December 5, 2010. Last year the Bengals allowed 11 opponents to reach over 100 yards rushing. A more reasonable baseline of a successful defensive story in 2009, the Bengals only allowed 100 yards rushing in four games.
Even with seven tackles on the day, Maualuga's performance was noticeably disappointing. Missed tackles, bad angles ruled the afternoon and when he did make a majority of his tackles, he was shedding off blocks long after the ball carrier broke the line of scrimmage for at least five-yard gain. For instance with 9:32 left in the first quarter, Maualuga angled into the wrong hole that opened a running lane over the middle for Willis McGahee to pick up 12 yards. During Denver's game-opening touchdown drive, the Broncos ran twice inside Cincinnati's three-yard line -- both times Maualuga was ineffective (and once he was blocked well into the endzone).
That's not to say Rey Maualuga didn't make nice plays. With 14:04 left in the second quarter, the Broncos ran up the middle. Maualuga's instinct penetrated the Broncos' blocking scheme, wrapping McGahee for a limited three-yard gain. The Broncos couldn't pick up another first down during that possession. Now with 6:33 in the second quarter, Maualuga showed patience and instinct, holding his ground and waiting for McGahee to cutback. Maualuga limited McGahee to two yards after the cutback on a play he typically over-pursues. With over 12 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Maualuga patiently shadowed over the middle, strafing left, then right and dropping Ball for a three-yard gain once the point of attack was established. With 2:41 remaining in the first half, Orton handed off to McGahee on first down. Maualuga made first contact during a gang-tackle that limited the running back to only two yards.
And that's not to say Maualuga was the lone culprit of a pedestrian run defense. Thomas Howard was the least aggressive linebacker on the field, strafing from left to right, right to left and often on the receiving end of a blocker's aggression. Though the Bengals safeties offered support, they didn't provide much.
I wanted to detail two aspects however. Rey Maualuga, who is this team's defensive leader and (hopefully soon) best defensive player and the team's struggles to contain the run as the first half expired.
+ With 12:31 remaining in the first quarter, the Denver Broncos were in the middle of their 15-play drive to start the game. At Denver's 45-yard line on first down, Kyle Orton faked the handoff left and rolled out right on a naked bootleg. Tight end Julian Thomas moved into the flats and Rey Maualuga was in perfect position to limit the reception to no-gain; if not a one-yard loss. Maualuga's angle was poor and Thomas' move was impossible to account for -- he moved to his right -- forcing the Bengals middle linebacker to miss. Manny Lawson completed the tackle after a five-yard gain.
What Could Have Happened: A one-yard loss
What Actually Happened: A five-yard gain
+ Same drive with 10:10 left in the first quarter. Kyle Orton hands off to Lance Ball, who aims for the left side of the offensive line. Maualuga's instincts dominated the play, moving to his left and finding the point of attack a yard before Ball reached the line of scrimmage. Maualuga collided with Ball near the line of scrimmage and the running back pushed off the tackle; Gibril Wilson and Thomas Howard combined on the stop. On the following play Maualuga angled into the wrong hole, cut off from the rushing lane, which allowed Willis McGahee 12 yards up the middle (though we should point out that it very well could have been a stunt and the responsibility of another player).
What Could Have Happened: A no-gain
What Actually Happened: A four-yard gain
+ Rush Defense Collapses Late In The First Half. This isn't so much a missed tackle as it is a defensive series that opened massive rushing lanes that nearly bit the Bengals defense. With just under 1:30 left in the second quarter, the Broncos had one timeout remaining while on their own 32-yard line. If they run the football, it would seem obvious that they're settling for a field goal. Now it's not outside the realm of possibility that a place kicker could convert a 49-yard field goal. It's also noted that the closer towards the end zone you are, the higher the conversion rates are. On first down Orton hands off to McGahee up the middle. Nothing flashy, no tricks (ala, draw or delay). Maualuga sprinted into the line of scrimmage at the snap, close to the point of attack. Right guard Chris Kuper knocked Maualuga out of the play. Now this was a complete defensive effort, with Domata Peko pushed five yards off the ball, Pat Sims turned away from the point of attack and Manny Lawson playing more of an observer's role than attacking linebacker. Denver picked up nine yards on the play.
What's worse is that the Broncos kept running with ease as time tick away towards half time. With :38 seconds remaining in the second quarter, Lance Ball takes an inside handoff and finds a gap behind the left side of the offensive line. Away from the play, Maualuga had no shot. Thomas Howard waited until he was blocked, effectively neutralizing him. Michael Johnson faked an upfield move and spun around inside, opening containment and taking himself out of the play. Reggie Nelson came up in run support but completely missed, taking an angle that even Maualuga would say, "now that's bad." Ball picked up 17 yards and stepped out of bounds with :33 seconds remaining at Cincinnati's eight-yard line.
Thanks to Geno Atkins' quarterback sack on third down that lost eight yards, the Broncos were forced to convert a 34-yard field goal rather than taking a 14-3 lead into half time.
+ Disappointing Pass Defense Stages Bengals Loss. Now the Bengals rush defense did eventually improve in the second half, limiting Denver to a 3.4 yard/rush average. Yet for some reason, the pass defense completely lost their minds.
With 11:03 remaining in the third quarter, wide receiver Eric Decker lines up wide right and fights off Nate Clements off the line of scrimmage. The move enabled Decker the advantage of a wide open passing lane over the middle. As the receiver slanted in, catching the football near the 12-yard line, Clements fell a good step behind Decker. Reggie Nelson was in position to make a stop, but Decker made the impossible-to-defend move of stepping to his left. Broncos take a 17-3 lead.
Now with 13:40 remaining in the game, the Broncos are up 17-15. Kyle Orton fakes the handoff left and rolls out right on a naked bootleg. Carlos Dunlap is doubled and no defensive player is near Orton. The pass was slightly underthrown to Decker, so the receiver turned around and went after the ball. Any chance for Nate Clements to make the tackle was negated when Chris Crocker took an angle on Decker so bad that you were convinced Crocker was blocking for Decker.