Rey Maualuga suffering an MCL sprain against the New York Jets on Sunday is a heart-breaker for the starting middle linebacker, who was starting to come into his own as a two-down linebacker. After absorbing so much criticism for his performance against the Houston Texans in January, compounded by his overall production as Dhani Jones' replacement in the middle, Maualuga returned to Cincinnati on a two-year deal with renewed focus and the backing of his entire coaching staff.
"I'm focused, determined and ready to wash out the nasty taste in my mouth from last year," Maualuga said in July. "I can sit here and talk all I want, but it's all about putting in the work and showing it on the field. That's what I am determined to do and that's what I'm going to do."
Nothing shows that more than his second quarter hit on Chris Ivory against the New York Jets from Sunday.
Read, attack, destroy.
From a two-year period from 2011-12, Maualuga had missed 30 tackles. This year, he's missed seven. According to Pro Football Focus, Maualuga has recorded 19 stops already (these are tackles that constitute as a failure for the opposing offense). That ranks third on the team and the two players above him, Vontaze Burfict (27 stops) and Carlos Dunlap (21), have nearly 100 more defensive snaps than Maualuga this year. And heading into Sunday's game against the Jets, Maualuga had already amassed 72 tackles, which put him on pace to set a career-high 164 tackles (had 152 in 2012) with far fewer snaps.
We're not here to convince you that Maualuga is the best inside linebacker in the NFL; we already have that in Burfict. Yet Maualuga was becoming a heck of a complimentary player, worthy of the coach's decision to give him a second chance.
Fortunately for Maualuga, the MCL sprain is not of the season-ending variety. NFL insiders are giving Maualuga a 3-4 week timeline for his eventual return, which puts him around San Diego in week 13 and Indianapolis in week 14. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is disputing that time-frame (thinks he'll be back sooner than that).
Taylor Mays' shoulder injury could be the greater concern. Many are comparing it to Emmanuel Lamur, who had suffered a season-ending injury against the Indianapolis Colts during the preseason finale. It's concerning, not for the comparison, rather the lack of information regarding it. We know that he hasn't practiced this week and that he's already been declared out against the Miami Dolphins.
Furthermore of a concern is that Cincinnati lacks a coverage linebacker.
Mays was given days to make the transition from safety to hybrid linebacker safety... thing (we need a name for his position) after Lamur went down. And Mays thrived. From 2010-12, quarterbacks generated a perfect 158.3 passer rating against Mays (I used three different calculators and they all came up with the same result). In 2013, quarterbacks have an opposing rating of 83.6 when throwing to receivers covered by Mays. Against the Lions, Mays deflected two passes and allowed only one of five completions against receivers that he was covering. It was his best game yet. In fact, Mays had only allowed one completion in the last three games.
With Michael Boley missing his second practice on Tuesday with a hamstring, the Bengals have Vinnie/Vinny/Vincent Rey taking snaps at the position during practice. Jayson DiManche and the recently promoted J.K. Schaffer may get some looks this Thursday also; though not necessarily in coverage. DiManche could get work at linebacker if the team moves James Harrison to defensive end for a couple of snaps with Wallace Gilberry being hurt.
Based on the lack of information and the quickness in which the team elected to announce Mays this Thursday, we can only conclude that the injury is significant enough to miss a couple of games.
I also have a feeling that Cincinnati might be using Thursday and the subsequent 10 days before the Baltimore Ravens, to give injured players rest, instead of forcing the issue. Factoring the season's overall picture, the two-plus game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North, Cincinnati has room to sit some starters before digging into the second half of the season.
Let's be clear. I'm not suggesting this Thursday will be a non-exhibition preseason game. However, even if Andrew Whitworth, Mays, Maualuga, Gilberry, and wide receiver Mohammed Sanu could fight through their respective injuries, what sense does it make to play them and risk further injury? The Bengals will do their best to win the game and everyone else will start. But Cincinnati needs these guys much more towards the end of the season, not right now.
Another practice squad player leaves
In the grande scheme of things, the loss of Reid Fragel on Tuesday was insignificant in regards to this season. However, there's just something about monstrous offensive linemen being taller than most men, even while in a two-point stances on a passing play. But it goes to show the level of talent that Cincinnati has accumulated when other teams are pillaging players off the practice squad.
Daniel "Boom" Herron was signed by the Indianapolis Colts in response to Ahmad Bradshaw's season-ending injury earlier this month. He's only played one game this year, but hasn't run the ball yet.
Life-long fan gets the experience of a life-time
Remember Steve Kinney?
A life-long Bengals fan that has never attended a game, finally had the opportunity when his son surprised him with plane and game tickets to the Jets game last Sunday -- what a first-time experience!
Kinney called 700 WLW's Sports Talk with Lance McAlister and recounted his experiences, which Lance tweeted during (or after) the call. We'll get to those in a moment.
The level of interaction between the team and fans (all of us) is amazing to me. Such a divide between fans and the team, an us versus them mentality with our overall presence feeling tolerated, is gone.
From offering family night during training camp and the pep rally that preceded that, to Steve's amazing experience, these bridges are being repaired and there's a true sense of community between the fans and team. We're not just cheering the players on this team. We're cheering their character now; a beautiful evolution that's come out of this.
#Bengals show video clip, doors open, he & son introduced to team by Marvin. Teams cheers. Got 2 talk 2 team! Told how much appreciates them— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) October 29, 2013
Steve hugged James Harrison, said "I'm told he's not the most huggable kind of guy," #Bengals— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) October 29, 2013
Steve believes 1st time franchise history an outsider has been allowed to meet/speak team night before a game #Bengals— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) October 29, 2013
Marvin: "Steve, do you have anything to say to the team?" Steve: "Why yes coach, I do. "#Bengals Said he felt light headed/hyperventilating— Lance McAlister (@LanceMcAlister) October 29, 2013
Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap took this video of the speech.