Rey Maualuga. If the defense had a face to blame for Baltimore's 44-point explosion Monday Night, it's clear to everyone. It's Maualuga. He was a second round pick, the Dhani Jones heir, a linebacker of such intense expectations that every single poor defensive play, no matter what his responsibilities were, his name would be shouted like Cosmo Spacely's impatient roar.
If that's the overall perspective, fine. It's also unfair because while Maualuga had a bad game, every defensive player was equally as poor. Especially in the running game. Reggie Nelson? He had his share of bad angles that led to big gains (more on that later). Thomas Howard and Manny Lawson never attacked; standing idle waiting for their blind date to block them out of the play. Aside from two quarterback sacks, Atkisn went unnoticed throughout much of the game, often blocked away from the point of attack -- and that was during single-blocking schemes.
It was a total team effort Monday.
With 11:48 remaining in the first quarter, wide receiver Torrey Smith motioned from left to right, settling into a two-point stance just prior to the snap. Joe Flacco fakes the handoff right and gives to Torrey Smith. The obsession to account for Rice, one we deemed as justified, forced the entire defense to shadow. As a result the entire backside, notably Manny Lawson and Michael Johnson collapsed, leaving a wide open running lane for Smith down the left sidelines.
Rey Maualuga accounted for a one-yard stop on Ray Rice with 8:43 remaining in the first quarter, but not from a singular effort. Again, it was a total team effort. From the Bengals 26-yard line on second down, Rice takes the delayed handoff and finds Michael Johnson penetrating the backfield. It forced brief hesitation out of Rice, scanning for an alternate route and conceding for a limited gain, which Maualuga ensured.
See. Team effort.
On the 12th play of Baltimore's second possession, Flacco was under center against a Bengals base 4-3 defense and Maualuga in the middle on Cincinnati's seven-yard line. Marshal Yanda and Matt Birk doubled Domata Peko at the point of attack while Kelechi Osemele badly collapsed Robert Geathers inside. I have no idea what Thomas Howard was doing. The point of attack was directed right at Howard and despite not being blocked at all, Howard completely missed the tackle. By the point Ray Rice penetrated the line of scrimmage and found a lane, Yanda knocked Maualuga to his backside. It was too easy. There's no other way to say this: The Cincinnati Bengals defense was outmanned, manhandled, owned, by the Baltimore Ravens offensive line. Rice's seven-yard touchdown gave the Ravens a 10-point lead. Bad play by Maualuga? Yes. Horrible play by the entire defense? Perhaps the worst of the night.
After Cincinnati converted a 34-yard field goal, reducing Baltimore's lead to seven points, the Ravens began their ensuing possession from their own 18-yard line with 14:46 remaining in the second. Maualuga momentarily approached the line of scrimmage, not before Ramon Harewood easily blocked the staring middle linebacker by obstructing his pursuit. Rice passed within arm's length of Maualuga. It wasn't as bad Devon Still, drilled by Marshal Yanda's pulling block or Reggie Nelson's terrible angle.
And by terrible angle, we mean that he came up to make the stop, then realized as Rice was sprinting away, that it was a bad angle. For comparison: Imagine a center fielder running forward to catch a pop fly but then realizing, as the ball was flying over his head, the immense mistake that he had made. Now the 16-yard gain didn't become an 82-yard touchdown thanks to Taylor Mays' ankle tackle.
Back to Nelson for a moment. It wasn't the only time that Nelson took himself out of a play. Midway through the third quarter, Ray Rice runs a screen to the left with Reggie Nelson stepping up into the play. However his momentum wedged himself between Torrey Smith's destructive block on Leon Hall and Ray Rice, taking himself out of the play. In other words, the Ravens aren't doing anything to prevent Nelson from doing his job.
Let's fast-forward to the 7:21 mark in the third quarter with Baltmore on Cincinnati's 44-yard line. Joe Flacco gives the delayed handoff to Ray Rice, following Vonta Leach's lead block who is aiming for Rey Maualuga. What happens? Leach dives for Maualuga's legs, who in turn accepts the inevitability and avoids the block with a dive over the fullback. It was a ten-point score, bro. Beautfiul. Rice gained another 13 yards. Again. In fairness to Maualuga, it's hardly a singular effort. Geno Atkins and Domata Peko were split outside at the whim of Baltimore's inside blockers. Both Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard were easily neuatrlized by receiving the blockers, rather than attacking.
Rice gained another ten yards with 2:26 remaining in the third quarter, from Cincinnati's 36-yard line. Based on his reactions to the run, we believe that Maualuga had a contain assignment, which indirectly took himself out of the play, buried behind Dennis Pitta's quality block against Robert Geathers. Matt Birk swung around and whiplashed the pedestrian Maualuga on the outside. Again. Team effort. Devon Still was obliterated, Geathers was owned and Peko neutralized (though holding his ground, despite being away from the play). Reggie Nelson was, again, taking bad angles and Thomas Howard was bench pressed a good four yards by Michael Oher.
Maualuga is getting his share of the blame from Monday Night's loss. But if you're going to be fair, then one better start suggesting that the organization trade the entire defense. That's the only over-reactionary recourse acceptable after last night's effort.