How will Maualuga and Still's return impact the defense?

Jonathan Daniel

Taking a look at Rey Maualuga and Devon Still's eventual return.

WELCOME BACK MAUALUGA: Now, where should you go?

Since Rey Maualuga suffered an MCL sprain against the New York Jets, backup Vinny Rey has gone from special teams ace to they'd be insane for sitting him. In three games against the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns, Rey has generated 36 tackles. Against the Ravens, Rey became the first player in franchise history to record three sacks and an interception in the same game.

Remember those feelings of exasperation seeing Maualuga on the field? Much like Thomas Howard's knee injury in 2012, injuries can benefit the rise of someone else. In that case it was Vontaze Burfict. Now the Bengals have to figure out how Vincent Rey and Rey Maualuga are going to coexist. Perhaps they're thinking something in the neighborhood of using Maualuga in obvious rushing downs, or at least a two-down linebacker again, and using Vincent Rey in every other role.

There has to be a balance here. Replace Maualuga entirely? I don't see it. He's still a good down-hill linebacker in running situations that makes enough of an impact. Nor do I see the need for Cincinnati to rush Maualuga into 50-60 snaps on defense. Beyond that, Vincent Rey has earned the playing time.

BACK TO THE PROVEN RING: You're up Devon Still

The scene during Hard Knocks, when defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was trying to get more out of defensive tackle Devon Still, sits in the back of our mind. Since Geno Atkins suffered his ACL injury, Still wasn't afforded any opportunity to prove himself due to his own injury.

Still and Brandon Thompson were always viewed as tied at the hip. Both were selected in the 2012 NFL draft, with Still (second round) taken a round ahead of Thompson. Both fought extremely difficult battles for playing time during their rookie years, but the departure of Pat Sims really opened that door this year.

But then it really didn't help. Earlier this season, Cincinnati often used Atkins and Domata Peko during running downs and replacing Peko with Wallace Gilberry on passes. Atkins would rotate out during first and second downs to give him a breather, and that's when Thompson and Still saw most of their snaps.

Atkins' injury upset that balance, further compounded with Still having suffered a dislocated elbow earlier this season.

As Still is projected back, there's a symbiotic relationship developing. Thompson is your run stopper, Still is your pass rusher... and their respective grades earned by Pro Football Focus supports the notion.

It'll be interesting to see how they co-exist and how the team uses personnel packages.

DEFENSE WILL MAKE YOUR OFFENSE, OFFENSIVE: A trek to corny Kirk-phrases.

Despite Cincinnati allowed 20 or more points in five of the past six games, the Bengals defense is clearly reigning supreme. In the past three games, Cincinnati has held opposing offenses to 10 of 48 on third down. In the past four games, they've sacked the quarterback 16 times and during that same stretch, have given up only two second half touchdowns.

Cincinnati will have two threats on tap in Indianapolis and San Diego before the season reverts to teams with struggling offenses.

OPP DATE OVERALL SCORING PASSING RUSHING
Chargers Dec. 1 399.4 (7th) 22.8 (17th) 287.9 (4th) 111.5 (t-16th)
Colts Dec. 8 349.9 (13th) 25.2 (9th) 237.0 (17th) 112.9 (14th)
Steelers Dec. 15 343.2 (15th) 21.6 (20th) 266.7 (7th) 76.5 (30th)
Vikings Dec. 22 317.7 (26th) 24.0 (14th) 206.2 (25th) 111.5 (t-16th)
Ravens Dec. 29 308.5 (30th) 20.8 (24th) 225.3 (19th) 83.2 (27th)
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