Another year, another multi-game suspension handed down to Vontaze Burfict.
2018 marks the third-straight season the Bengals star linebacker has been sidelined by a suspension. 2016 and 2017 were marred by on-field transgressions, but this time around Burfict has no one to blame but himself after testing positive for an illegal substance on December 27th of last year. The Bengals are a whole different monster when Burfict’s consistent play is available and they’ll have to navigate some tough opponents without him.
Burfict tested positive for a banned substance that stemmed from a medication he took after suffering a shoulder sprain against the Detroit Lions. The really frustrating part about this is Burfict could have refrained from taking the medication for a few more days and been safe from any potential league penalty.
Sadly, hindsight is 20/20 and that’s exactly the kind of precision the rest of this Bengals linebacking corps needs to have if they are going to weather the storm during the first four games. There is talent on that side of the depth chart so let’s take a look at who Teryl Austin is counting on to pick up the slack.
The Bengals followed the trend they have established over the last few years by signing a proven middle linebacker to a one-year deal.
First it was Karlos Dansby then Kevin Minter and now Preston Brown.
What sets Brown apart from the previous two stopgaps is durability, Brown was the leader of the Buffalo Bills defense last year and has started 62-of-64 games since being drafted by the Bills in 2014. On top of that durability, Brown has always been around the football and he tied for the league lead in tackles with 144 last season. On first glance, the Brown signing seemed like a home run, but despite notching all of those tackles, Brown really struggled in pass coverage last year. That was a big reason why he ranked 42nd among linebackers according to Pro Football Focus.
For Brown to live up to expectations, his pass coverage in space has to improve. Look for him to pick up the pass defense production a little bit after a full offseason with linebackers coach Jim Haslett, and rest easy knowing he won’t add to the countless missed tackles we’ve seen from this defense in the Marvin Lewis era.
The longest-tenured player in this linebacker corps, Rey has been a model of consistency for this Bengals defense, missing just two games since dealing with injuries in his rookie season. It might be too much to ask of a 30-year old but Cincinnati needs Rey to show more productive stability than the consistency we so often talked about with former-Bengals center Russell Bodine.
Both players have been lauded for essentially showing up every day.
Sure Rey has made some impact plays here or there but not enough to move the needle in the eyes of evaluators. The former Duke Blue Devil received a 45.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus last season, that ranked 62nd among qualified linebackers.
Rey makes up a third of the veteran presence in this linebacking corps and that gives him an advantage on some of the younger talent heading into the Summer. Consistency is his calling card but that only gets you so far in this league and there are plenty of hungry young players waiting behind him.
Nick Vigil was a versatile, every-down linebacker when the Bengals drafted him out of Utah State in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. After a developmental rookie year, the former Aggie became a weekly starter until his season ended due to injury in Week 11 and finished fourth on the team in tackles despite missing the final five games.
On the surface Vigil seems like a solid option on the strong side but he’s never made an impact around the ball like his counterpart Carl Lawson. That is a big reason why he was ranked 84th among linebackers according to Pro Football Focus last year. The experts at PFF pegged him as the lowest of low-end starters and it was a contributing factor in the decision to use another third-round pick on a linebacker this year.
Malik Jefferson is one of the most intriguing athletes to be drafted in 2018 and Nick Vigil likely needs to prove he belongs in a starting role early on to stave off the rookie. The spotlight will be especially bright on him with Burfict on the sideline. One of these young linebackers needs to step up and Vigil should get the chance to be that guy.
Speaking of the athletic rookie, I truly believe the Bengals used a second-day pick on the former Longhorn because they think he can be a solid contributor for a squad with eyes on the playoffs.
Rey is expected to handle the bulk of the snaps left behind by Burfict, but a strong camp and some early impact plays could vault him into a starter’s role. The physical gifts are there, 4.52 40-yard dash, 27 reps on the bench press, and a 36-inch vertical pop off the page. While many will see those numbers and the 110 tackles (10 for loss) and think “third-rounder, what gives?”
What gives is one key attribute of an NFL linebacker: Focus.
Too often Jefferson struggled to make quick decisions during his time with the Longhorns, relying on his physical gifts to make the majority of his plays. Jefferson’s playing time this season will largely boil down to his willingness to slow things down and absorb all of the knowledge Haslett is dropping on him.
As the former number one high school linebacker in the country and a top-20 recruit in his own right, Jefferson has the talent to craft a similar success story to his oft-suspended teammate.
The first page is ready to be written on September 1st.
Not Another Bengals, Chiefs Preview
Week seven of the NFL regular season is upon us and the Cincinnati Bengals have a golden opportunity this Sunday on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs. Guessing that’s not where your mind went when you thought of this game?
The Bengals and Chiefs have squared off 28 times, over the years, with the Bengals holding a slight 15-13 advantage. Cincinnati holds a four-game winning streak over Kansas City with the last loss coming at Arrowhead in 2007. Marvin Lewis is 6-2 against the Chiefs and 2-2 at Arrowhead. The Lewis-led Bengals have outscored the Chiefs 167 to 136, in their eight meetings.
The last game between these two teams was in week four of the 2015 season. The Bengals won in Paul Brown Stadium 36-21 with four of the touchdowns coming from running plays. Three TDs were scored by Jeremy Hill and the other came from Giovanni Bernard. The lone TD pass was a 55-yarder to Brandon Tate from Andy Dalton.
This is a marvelous chance for Andy and the offense to get back on track. They managed just nine total yards in the third quarter against the Steelers, but will be facing a very pedestrian defensive squad, this coming Sunday night. In two games career games against the Chiefs, Dalton has completed 66% of his passes for 551 yards and three scores. He will face a Chiefs defense that ranks stone cold last in pass defense, allowing 340 yards per game, through the air.
Joe Mixon will be happy, though, as the Chiefs also allow an average of 127 rushing yards, per game. In fact, the Bengals offense, as a whole, should feast on Sunday. They’re averaging 29 points per game and the Chiefs allow 28.7 per game.
They’re banged up, and they’re outgunned in this matchup. Statistically, Cincinnati’s defense has fared only slightly better than Kansas City’s. The Bengals are allowing just over 400 total yards, a game, and 26 points per game. Couple that with the high-flying offense of Patrick Mahomes, who averages 418 total yards and 35 points per game, and I’d say you should bet the over, whatever Vegas has it set as.
Nick Vigil and Darqueze Dennard have been ruled out and Shawn Williams is listed as questionable. Given that eight different defensive starters came off the field last Sunday, at different points in the game, and this coming game may be crazy, simply from a health standpoint.
This matchup has a real chance at being a playoff preview as well as a carbon copy of the Falcons game, a few weeks back. The Chiefs will be in a battle with the Chargers, all season, for the AFC West and the Bengals, though on top for the moment, have no room for comfort with the Ravens and Steelers knocking on the door. Whoever has the ball last in this pivotal game could very well end up the winner.
I’d expect to see a lot of William Jackson and Tyreek Hill matchups. Some have said Hill is the best receiver, in the game, this year so Jackson will need to be on his toes for all 60 minutes. Meanwhile, Kansas City receiving threat 1-B, Travis Kelce, will probably be Teryl Austin’s biggest headache. The Bengals, no matter the personnel or the coaching staff, have always struggled to cover the opposing tight end. Enter, arguably, the best tight end in the NFL with his 468 receiving yards and three TDs. I’m no expert fantasy football predictor, but I’d bet he is a top scorer, this week. And I haven’t even mentioned the Chiefs’ stud running back, Kareem Hunt. Dude is a threat to run all over the place (456 yds, 4th in NFL) and be a pain to the Bengals pass defense (17 yards per catch). Pray for Austin and the Bengals defense.
Bringing it Home
That being said, this is a winnable game for the Bengals. They have the firepower to hang with Kansas City. If you jumped off the wagon after the loss to the Steelers and think the Bengals are going to get absolutely crushed by the Chiefs, you won’t agree with me, so whatevs, but this game isn’t that big of a mismatch. John Ross will be on the field for Cincinnati, giving them their bonafide deep threat to contend with the Chiefs’ big play abilities. AJ Green has nobody to worry about on the Chiefs defense, and will be able to roam free, looking for holes in the coverage. Which just means Tyler Boyd will be able to give as much of his safety blanket-ness to Andy as he can. Should the line have a rough day protecting the pocket, Dalton will have plenty of chances to scramble and make something happen while extending the play. One of these two teams will begin the game hot only to try to slow it down with the rushing game, but I believe both defenses will be porous enough to allow some highlight reel plays deep. This is going to be an entertaining game to watch, if your pacemaker doesn’t give out in the first half. Call me crazy, call me a homer (whatevs, I’m no professional), but I say the Bengals win.
Prediction: Bengals 42, Chiefs 38
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WATCH: Houshmandzadeh says the Bengals are going to beat the Chiefs
Former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh says the Bengals are going to beat the Chiefs on Sunday night football. He also thinks Andy Dalton’s struggles in primetime games are just a ‘coincidence.’ He was a guest on ‘The Herd’ on Fox Sports One. Watch the video below.
‘Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be’
Vontaze Burfict has been talked about a lot this week. Not for his dominant play, but for a questionable hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 14, 2018
This isn’t new for Burfict. His play has been discussed for years. He’s been fined or suspended 11 times in his career, which has cost him over $1 million in salary.
Some people believe Burfict should be suspended for the rest of the season. Others think he should be out of the NFL forever. There’s no denying that he’s earned his reputation.
Burfict doesn’t like how he’s viewed in the media. If he wants to change it, he can start by playing like an elite linebacker against Kansas City. He doesn’t look like the player he once was. It’s probably because he’s missed so much time over the past few years. Burfict has appeared in 11 games or fewer in his last four seasons due to suspensions and injuries. He hasn’t forced a turnover since 2016, which is the last time he was playing at an elite level.
That leads me to a question that has been asked a lot this week: Is Burfict worth the headache? His teammates certainly think so.
“Vontaze can be as great as he wants to be,” Carlos Dunlap said earlier this week. “And as you’ve seen up to this level he’s played as one of the best linebackers in the league. And I feel like he has the potential to be even better.”
Sunday is an opportunity for Burfict to put on a show. It’s a chance for him to remind people that he is one of the best linebackers in the league. If he goes out there, dominates and does it without any questionable hits, then the entire country will see why the Bengals signed him to two contract extensions. Leading a struggling defense into Kansas City and getting a win would be huge for how people view him. Fans and media could discuss his stellar play, instead of a late-hit or a PED suspension.
He needs to remind people, including fans, that he can be a great player. Burfict just turned 28-years-old. He signed a contract extension with the Bengals last season. There has been plenty of chatter about Burfict this week, but that isn’t bothering rookie safety Jessie Bates.
“He’s so smart and he makes things easier for me communication wise,” Bates said on Wednesday. “Obviously he’s been doing this for a long time. He plays very violent and some people don’t like that. I’m glad that he’s on our team.”
It’s hard to envision Burfict changing at this point, but he can use Sunday to his advantage. He can show a national television audience that he’s able to play the game at a high level and do so without getting fined, flagged or suspended for questionable play.
Once upon a time Burfict was an undrafted free agent who impressed coaches with his knowledge of the game. Fast forward to present day and he’s a ‘dirty player’ who should be suspended or worse. Burfict has a chance to remind everyone of how good he can be. Whether or not he takes advantage of it is up to him.
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