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4 additional thoughts following Bengals’ loss to Texans

The Bengals need to play Rex Burkhead more in their regular season finale on New Year’s day.

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Following Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss to the Texans, here are some additional thoughts on the Bengals as they head into their regular-season finale against the Ravens in Week 17.

Dennard’s future

One of the big eyebrow-raisers from Saturday was Darqueze Dennard getting the starting nod at boundary corner, the same spot Dre Kirkpatrick has held down all season long. It’s unclear why that happened, but it didn’t last long.

Dennard has struggled badly whenever he’s played primarily in the slot this year, but that’s no surprise since he wasn’t meant to be a slot guy. Stiff hips were one of his biggest issues coming out of Michigan State, and that’s a big no-no when you’re in the slot against smaller and quicker receivers. He’s just not quick enough to keep up with guys like Jarvis Landry, Sterling Shepard, Cole Beasley, or Doug Baldwin.

That doesn’t mean he’s great on the boundary either, but in what little we’ve seen of them there, it hasn’t been bad. He was solid against the Texans Saturday, and he played well starting there in place of Kirkpatrick in the Week 4 win over the Dolphins.

Dennard’s future is on the boundary, and he may be starting there full time as soon as next year if Kirkpatrick lands a big free agent deal elsewhere. The Bengals probably see this is very possible, which led to Dennard getting the starting nod and playing 28 snaps on the boundary and slot. The Bengals also need to decide if they want to utilize Dennard’s fifth year option this offseason.

Give Rex a shot

Rex Burkhead has quietly been the Bengals’ best running back since Giovani Bernard tore his ACL in Week 11. With Jeremy Hill battling a variety of injuries and playing behind a bad offensive line, Burkhead has been better due to his better speed, elusiveness and quickness, not to mention his pass-catching skills.

Since Week 12, Burkhead has averaged 56.4 total yards per game on just 10.8 touches per game. Hill is averaging 65.8 yards per game on 20.2 touches per game. He’s needing 10 more touches per game just to get 10 more yards than Burkhead. That’s hardly unacceptable from a starting running back.

It’s time for Burkhead to start and get a full workload to see what he can do. Hill is still under contract next year, and they should know by now what they have in him. Give Burkhead a chance to show what he can do so he can have a fair market in free agency this offseason and possibly re-sign with Cincinnati.

Defensive line close to being scary

Saturday night was a reminder of how dominant this defensive line can still be with Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap leading the way. If they have a good supporting cast around them like they did on Saturday, they can dominate teams.

But Michael Johnson and Wallace Gilberry can only do so much, which is why the line only controlled Houston for three quarters and not four. They badly need another guy who can make an impact along the line, either on the edge or inside to replace Domata Peko.

Add someone like Derek Barnett in the NFL Draft, and this suddenly becomes the kind of line everyone in the NFL fears, again.

Goodbye Maualuga

With Vincent Rey battling a hamstring injury and Vontaze Burfict out with a concussion, it looked like a given that Rey Maualuga would be getting a typical starter’s amount of snaps on Saturday. But even with Burfict out and Vinny limited, Maualuga still could only muster up 15 snaps.

Rookie Nick Vigil even got more snaps (20). And it wasn’t any kind of youth movement since Karlos Dansby (45) tripled Maualgua’s snap count. It’s looking more and more like Maualuga is on his way out this offseason. Rey, Burfict, Vigil, Marquis Flowers, P.J. Dawson, and Trevor Roach will all be under contract next year.

There’s no sense in keeping Maualuga for him to get 10-15 snaps per game on run downs. Maualuga is under contract in 2017, but if he's released, there would be no dead cap money due to the structure of his deal. He has a $3.7 million cap hit if he is on the roster though, and there's no reason the Bengals should continue to pay him that much money for the amount of snaps he’s contributing.