Rey Maualuga has authored some big stops the last two weeks.
Before we wish ageless nose tackle Domata Peko a 30th birthday on Thanksgiving Day, let's go back to the seminal play of last week's 22-13 victory in Houston.
That's when the Bengals defense knocked back the Texans defensive line into the end zone and scored tackle Geno Atkins' safety of rookie running back Alfred Blue.
All week, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis had been on his defensive line to get push against a zone-blocking scheme that had flayed the Bengals in two of their last three playoff appearances. When defensive coordinator Paul Guenther faked a blitz from safety Reggie Nelson into the right side of the line, the dye was cast.
Guenther knew Texans quarterback Ryan Mallett would check a run to the opposite side and so did Peko and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga.
Peko cheated to the other side of Pro Bowl center Chris Myers and with help from Maualuga, he basically drove Myers into Blue and made him trip in the end zone. Peko has been a beast the last few weeks and there has been some thought that Guenther moving him around in his changing fronts has helped him.
One big difference from Guenther and mentor Mike Zimmer is that Guenther doesn't mind changing fronts, so you'll see Peko and other linemen shaded in different spots instead of lining up in the same gaps.
"Just mixing it up, mixing up our fronts so we are not stationary targets all the time in the same fronts," Guenther said. "I think guys have been doing a good job. We've been doing a good job in practice. We've put a big emphasis on it. Typically we haven't had problems against the run but we've had some different people in there and had that little lull. The amount of emphasis we've been putting in practice and the amount of understanding in what they are trying to do in the run game has helped."
Of course, Maualuga's contribution the past two weeks can't be underestimated. It's no coincidence that the Bengals fell to 31st against the run with him and Pro Bowl WILL backer Vontaze Burfict out of there and in the two weeks he's been back they've allowed 3.1 yards per rush and are now 27th in the league. And don't forget a massive play on a goal line in each game back.
Profootballfocus.com has Maualuga rated 30th against the run of the 61 NFL inside backers, raising the hackles of head coach Marvin Lewis.
"My opinion of Rey has always been higher than what Pro Football Focus is. That's why I coach and they do what they do," Lewis said. "He's doing a great job. He's not a finished product, and none of our guys are, and that's the good thing, and he understands that, but he takes coaching. He's one of the guys that from the very start I've had a great rapport with. He spends extra time with me just watching tape, and trying to understand and see things the way I see them and how it should be. That's good and it helps him. He spends time working at his craft, and that's the good thing. That's what's really impressed me about Rey through time has been how hard he's worked at wanting to be a good player."
When Maualuga injured his hamstring against Carolina, the Bengals initially thought it was a two-month problem and they'd be lucky to get him back for the Dec. 7 game against the Steelers. But he pounded his way back three games early, just in the nick of time for Burfict to be back for Pittsburgh.
"He's so doggone physical," Lewis said of Maualuga. "The thing he has also done is mentally he's so advanced that way of understanding what we need to get done up front, and any kind of adjustment to things and, being able to make that adjustment. And then the calmness that he brings to the rest of the group and not only at linebacker, but that he brings to the entire defensive huddle with his experience."
BOLING FOR VERSATILITY: With right tackle Andre Smith on injured reserve, the backup to Marshall Newhouse appears to be left guard Clint Boling. When he suddenly had to move over there last Sunday in Houston for one play when Newhouse got poked in the eye by J.J. Watt, it was Boling's first NFL snap at tackle but a more than familiar task.
Boling started 49 games for Georgia with at least nine of them at three different positions. While becoming the rarest of breeds (an active player named to a school's all-decade team), he started 28 games at right guard, 12 at left tackle, and nine at right tackle.
The only different deal here is that Watt, the best defensive player in the universe, was standing over him.
"It's all part of the job,' said Boling, wo has played right tackle in some pre-season games. "You adjust. I haven't played it a whole lot, but at the same time I'm used it. Guys get hurt and there are emergencies and you have to be ready to adjust."
INJURY UPDATE: Burfict (knee) didn't practice Wednesday, but Lewis wouldn't rule him out of work the rest of the week as the Bengals began preparations for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Tampa. Burfict has missed the last four games with arthroscopic surgery.
Also not practicing were backup guard Mike Pollak, who rests his knee one day a week, third cornerback Adam Jones, starting wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, and rotational defensive lineman Robert Geathers (toe). Jones and Sanu don't have injuries. Jones has a tooth issue and Sanu was ill. Long snapper Clark Harris was also ill, and it looks like backup right end Margus Hunt (ankle) is going to miss his second straight game since he also sat out Wednesday.
Starting safety George Iloka (groin) went limited.The Bengals rallied around defensive tackle Devon Still Wednesday in the wake of a New York Daily News report in which the mother of Leah Still accused Devon Still of not paying child support since August,
STILL RALLY: The Bengals rallied around defensive tackle Devon Still Wednesday in the wake of a New York Daily News report in which the mother of Leah Still accused Devon Still of not paying child support since August. Lewis said he's proud how Still has conducted himself as both he and his daughter found themselves in the national spotlight as she battles cancer.
"He's got support form everybody here. The good thing about I think Devon has grown up so much through this unfortunate illness that his daughter's dealing with," Lewis said in his Wednesday news conference. "It's really grown him as a man and as a person and I told him that just today how he's handled everything and I'm so impressed.
"He's a really a beacon for a lot of people, he will be for a lot of young guys as they face different trials and tribulations as an NFL player because there are all the outside pressures that no one understands that guys go through. There's this kind of pressure, there's the pressure of playing, there's the pressure of performing, all those things that occur and this one is really outside of football."
Still released a statement through the Bengals:
"My daughter's battle with cancer has been inspirational to many all over the world. When she gets older I want her to be able to look back and read about her positive impact on the world, not about the private issues her parents were going through. I am not going to retaliate against the mother of my daughter, and the untruthful reports in the New York Daily News article, by criticizing her character. I am going to continue to allow the court system to handle this matter, as it has been doing the past couple of months."