The 2011 Bengals linebackers were completely different from the 2010 linebackers. For one, middle linebacker Dhani Jones left the Bengals as a free agent, which caused the Bengals to move Rey Maualuga to the middle from outside. Also, outside linebacker Keith Rivers injured his wrist before the season and was played on the PUP list, which caused the Bengals front office to search the free agent market for a replacement.
They signed two free agent linebackers to play on either side of Rey Maualuga, Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson, and they both had solid seasons and helped the Bengals achieve another top-10 defensive ranking. The linebackers were a big part of the team's success but at times they also struggled, especially Maualuga.
Here are each linebackers' individual grades and the unit's grade as a whole.
Middle Linebacker Rey Maualuga: Maualuga had some good games and some terribly bad games. When the Bengals first played the Texans in Week 14, Maualuga single handedly gave the Bengals a chance at a win. He forced two fumbles, recovering one, on two great plays against one of the league's best running offenses. However, there were other games in which Maualuga looked lost and couldn't stop anybody. His ProFootballFocus.com run defense score was 2.7 but his pass coverage score was -5.7 and his pass rush score was -1.5 for a total grade of -6.3.
Outside Linebacker Thomas Howard: Howard had a good season in Cincinnati in 2011. He played so well that when Rivers came back from injury, the team placed him on IR instead of activating him. Howard had a run defense score of 0.7, a pass rushing score of -0.2 and a pass coverage score of 0.2. His overall score was 2.4.
Outside Linebacker Manny Lawson: Lawson took Maualuga's spot at outside linebacker when Rey moved to the middle to replace Jones. Lawson was impressive, especially when it came to run defense. He scored a score of 8.1 for run defense, a 1.1 for pass rushing and a -0.6 for pass defense for a total score of 10.6.
Outside Linebacker Brandon Johnson: Johnson was re-signed by the Bengals in the offseason and was used primarily in passing situations. He had a run defense score of 2.9, a pass rush score of -0.6 and a pass defense score of -2.8 for an overall grade of 0.5.
Middle Linebacker Dan Skuta: Skuta played as Maualuga's backup and started three games in the middle of the season when Rey was out with an ankle injury. Other than that he mostly played on special teams or special defensive packages. He had a run defense score of 2.9, a pass rush score of 2.7 and a coverage score of -3.2 for an overall grade of 2.5. He also had a special teams score of 1.0.
Outside Linebacker Vincent Rey: Rey only took two snaps as a linebacker in 2011 and didn't accumulate any stats. He did have an overall special teams score of 1.0, though.
While the Bengals' two starting outside linebackers, Howard and Lawson, both had good years, Maualuga was wildly inconsistent. He was a force in some games and he was really terrible in others. As a whole, the Bengals defensive front seven was very good and helped the defense keep the offense in a position to win the majority of their games and they were a big part of the team making it to the playoffs.
For their performance in the 2011 NFL season, the Bengals linebackers deserve a grade of B-/C+. What grade would you give them?