BENGALS MLB REY MAUALUGA VS. RAVENS RB RAY RICE
There is no doubt how the Bengals defense is approaching Monday's opener (7 p.m.-ESPN) in Baltimore. Head coach Marvin Lewis gave it away during his Wednesday news conference when asked about the big runs Rice used to sweep the Bengals out of AFC North contention last season.
Lewis had the exact lengths of the bolts right up the middle.
"59, 51 and 70," he allowed, so you know the Bengals have been simmering on it for nine months.
That first one came in the first game and the last two were in the regular-season finale, and that means the Bengals have spent the offseason making their top priority stopping No. 27. The first step was Maualuga's surgery on his injured ankle and now he'll have to doctor the middle to make sure Rice doesn't repeat history.
How good is Rice? Lewis says he's the Ravens equivalent of gamebreaking tight ends Tony Gonzalez and Rob Gronkowski after leading the Ravens in rushing with 1,364 yards and receiving with 76 catches.
Now, Maualuga isn't the only guy that has to step up in the matchup. Taylor Mays, in his first Bengals start at safety, also has to play big, as well as Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who should have the edge on old friend Bobbie Williams making the move to left guard after a career at right guard. Or he might get a rookie in second-rounder Kelechi Osemele.
(But the lineman to watch is Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, the guy that Rice followed on his 70-yarder that came on the fourth snap of the finale.)
Here is how the 6-2, 260-pound Maualuga breaks it down against the 5-8, 212-pound Rice:
"You have to tackle him. He's shorter than you and that makes it a challenge. Everyone has to do their homework. Coach always says to know your opponent better than yourself. But we can't base things on years past because people get better and improve.
"He's a small guy and, at times, when you think you know where he's at, he slides out of the pile and the next thing you know he's running for another 20, 30 yards.
"He catches the ball very well out of the backfield. You can't let him get out in space because he'll be very hard to tackle. You have to stay on top of him wherever he goes. If you're dropping into zone coverage, be sure you don't drop too far and when he gets the ball; it's all about tackling and turnovers.
"Yes, he's easy to overrun because sometimes you try to match up your speed with his speed. He'll cut it back after three steps and you're taking like five, six, seven steps. We just have to play slow. Play slow. When you see it, go get it."