The Bengals need to admit that Rey Maualuga at middle linebacker is no longer going to work. Not if this team wants to take the next step and not get run over to the tune of 196 rushing yards in a playoff loss to the Chargers again.
The two previous playoff losses to the Texans weren't any better. Those two games saw the Bengals get gashed for 188 and 158 yards right up the middle of their "vaunted" defense.
The commonality in all three of those games: Maualuga manning the middle. What he's done better resembles manning a toll booth as running backs blazed past him in rush-hour traffic.
The good news is the Bengals already have his replacemrnt signed for two more years. Vincent Rey needs to be manning the middle going forward, and here's why.
But while Maualuga doesn't need to play in the middle, perhaps he'll be more effective moving back to the outside. Entering the NFL in 2009, Maualuga was the starting strongside linebacker while Dhani Jones manned the middle.
In 2009, Maualuga had 6 missed tackles in 476 defensive snaps with a +5.6 grade from Pro Football Focus, the best grade he's had in his 5-year career.
In 2010, he lowered that number to 4 MT in 623 snaps with a and a +5.3 grade. Again, this was at SLB.
But then his drop-off began in 2011, when he missed 12 tackles in 746 snaps and a -12.8 grade. That was when he moved to the middle after Jones was let go.
It rose to 18 in 1,110 snaps in 2012 (-29.7 grade) and 14 in just 659 snaps in 2013 (-10.3 grade).
Another telling statistic are stops, which are tackles that constitute and offensive failure. Tackling a running back 1 yard short on 3rd-and-2 is an example of a stop, and as time has gone on, he's gotten less stops each year.
In '09, he had 32 stops in 476 snaps and 32 more in 623 snaps in '10.
It increased to just 43 in 746 snaps in '11 and 43 more in 1,110 snaps in '12.
He had a better year in '13 with 38 stops in 659 snaps, including 9 in his last 2 games.
Looking at of the above data, it's hard (more like bat-s%&t crazy) to say Maualuga should remain the starting MLB. But that doesn't mean he can't be a good player on this defense at SLB.