Middle Linebackers Will Showcase Rebound Against Chiefs Running Game

Andy Lyons

Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga will be critical for Cincinnati's defensive successes against the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend.

It's a safe bet that the Kansas City Chiefs will utilize their fourth-ranked rushing defense against the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday. It's not unlike my bold prediction that at least two fans will send a boo bird at Paul Brown Stadium against the Oakland Raiders. Just a feeling though.

Running back Jamaal Charles posted his third 100-yard rushing game last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers; the 13th of his career. Since 2010 Charles is averaging 108.1 yards from scrimmage, including a 124-yard effort against the Bengals in 2009. And the last time that Charles and Peyton Hillis (then with the Cleveland Browns) played Cincinnati, each generated 102 yards rushing.

Yet Cincinnati's rushing defense hasn't been the a model of consistency. Currently ranked No. 20 in the NFL, allowing 118.3 yards rushing per game, Cincinnati's rushing defense has 10 rushing touchdowns (only three teams have allowed more). At this rate Cincinnati will allow 17 for the season, which will be the most during a season dating back 2003.

There is strength to be broadcasted here though -- especially in this context. During Cincinnati's last six games, including the four-game losing streak, the Bengals rushing defense allowed a yard/rush average greater than 3.8 yards only twice. And three of the last six the opposing rushing offenses (Jacksonville, Miami and Denver), generated less than 70 yards on the ground.

Clash!

Two players critical this weekend will be inside linebacker Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict (who plays outside linebacker by title only). The former had his best game against the Giants this year and the latter has been impressing the world with his play as an undrafted free agent.

"He's throwing his body around. I think he knows the story about Wally Pipp," Lewis says of the legendary Yankees first baseman that lost his job to a headache and Lou Gehrig's streak. "His teammates see that about him. There's no more passionate guy on this football team than Vontaze. And he's doing it like a veteran."

Maualuga, who according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer, lost nearly 20 pounds in the last two months, appears on track for an upswing.

Said Guenther: "I think it is his best game (against the Giants) since he’s been here. Certainly as (middle linebacker). He played some good games as a rookie at (outside linebacker). Overall there was very little error. He made good plays and covered well.

Guenther, the team's linebackers coach, argued much of Maualuga's issues earlier this year was largely due to fatigue.

"I think that was 90 percent why he wasn’t doing things the way we wanted him to, was fatigue," Guenther said. "You’ve got to get up off the ground, call the huddle, call the adjustments and play good. Now he’s doing it."

Bengals fans are a forgiving bunch (as long as your name doesn't sound like Sike Noun), and if Maualuga and Burfict lead a defense into a vast improvement that gives Cincinnati a run at the postseason, we'll take that and ditch the Maualuga talk for now.

"I will say this: I do think we have a run in us," Crocker said before Wednesday's practice. "It's about time. I really think we have a run in us. We've had so many close games. We just needed a win to get us jump-started."

No reason that run couldn't begin against the Kansas City Chiefs. As long as they stop the run first this Sunday.

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