CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 16: Trent Richardson #33 of the Cleveland Browns sidesteps the tackle attempt of Rey Maualuga #58 of the Cincinnati Bengals en route to a big gain in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium on September 16, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
File this one in the cabinet marked "obvious". As is their usual practice, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis addressed the media on Monday, the day after the team's victory against the Browns. Lewis was asked about a number of subjects, including the recent play of starting middle linebacker, Rey Maualuga. Though he hasn't been alone in performing poorly on defense, Maualuga has been singled out because he plays the most important position in the unit and frankly, he isn't doing it well.
Lewis was uncharacteristically candid when speaking on Maualuga, but was sure not to totally throw him under the bus.
"He’s got to make some more plays in the open field. That would be the biggest thing. He’s handling the things he’s doing well defensively, as far as what he needs to do and the interpretation of what we’re doing. But he’s got to make more plays. He can be more productive in the open field in getting guys on the ground. He’s got to play in a little better leverage position, understanding where his fit is and where he needs to be. How to play the block, how to shed the block. If the block is up on him, what are we going to turn the football back to? So mechanically, he’s got to play better."
Really, it's all of the things that the fans see when watching a Bengals game. Maualuga has trouble shedding blocks and making a solid play. Unfortunately, he has also been maddeningly tentative when in the open field coming up against a ball carrier and has missed some tackles that he should have made. Sunday was a good display of that when Trent Richardson came his way. These two problems are no-no's for an NFL middle linebacker to have, especially in his fourth year.
Lewis was then asked a follow-up question on if he feels that Maualuga is thinking too much out on the field:
"He’s going to push; that’s his nature. At some point he’s got to just continue to relax, take that deep breath and play."
We know that there is a lot to mentally digest as an NFL middle linebacker. We also know that it is an instinctual position where a player must rely on what their eyes are telling them and not take an extra second to think, but rather react to what's happening in front of them. A good middle linebacker knows how to balance the two and unfortunately, Maualuga hasn't found that balance yet.
To put it bluntly, Maualuga's time in Cincinnati is running out. He's in a contract year and has not played well through the first two games of 2012. The team also replaced their linebacker coach this year, in hopes that that would help the unit's development, so there's been an investment there as well. As if those two weren't enough, Maualuga also has this year's "teacher's pet", in Vontaze Burfict breathing down his neck. He would be wise to not talk any more trash to the opposition until he starts getting things together.