Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap early-week action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective.
AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Coming off last weekend’s shellacking at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns will look to right the ship in their second-straight matchup against a AFC North rival in the Bengals.
Cleveland still owns the league’s top rushing attack at 169.5 yards per game, even after their disastrous ground performance at Heinz Field last week where they mustered just 75. The Browns run game will have a great opportunity to get back on track in the Bengal’s defense, which is fifth-worst in the league against the run. Cleveland ran for 215 yards and three touchdowns on Cincinnati in Week Three.
They will also need to see a bounce back showing from quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has reverted back to his cavalier attitude with the football that plagued the Browns in 2019, throwing four interceptions over the last two games. He had just two over the first four games of the season.
As for Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, he performed well in the first meeting between these two clubs on Sept. 17 in what was just his second start. Burrow passed for 316 yards and three touchdowns, but had 61 total attempts. Cincinnati will have to establish the run game early and force mistakes of Mayfield to support Burrow and earn their second win of the season.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Ravaged by injuries and coming off a beatdown at the hands of Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, the reeling Cowboys will hit the road for the first time in three weeks at Washington.
Without their leader Dak Prescott for the foreseeable future, the Dallas offense will have to rely on their run game to support backup quarterback Andy Dalton, which they were unable to do against Arizona. Star running back Ezekiel Elliot rushed for just 49 yards and coughed up the football twice. As for Dalton himself, he will need to be more accurate and protective of the football. The former Bengal went 34 of 54 for 266 and a touchdown with two costly interceptions.
While Titans-Steelers will be a battle of strengths executing and defending in the run game, Sunday’s game between the Cowboys and Washington can be described as a battle of weaknesses. Between Dallas’ horrendous, last-ranked defense and Washington’s 30th-ranked offense, somethings got to give. Dallas is allowing a league-high 36.3 points per game, while Washington has scored just 108 points all season.
If the Dallas wants to salvage their season and remain competitive in the NFC East race, their defense must improve and they need to lean on their handsomely paid offensive weapons. They can take the first step towards improvement and stability against the lowly Football Team this weekend.
San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots, 4:25 p.m., KDKA-TV
Following Pittsburgh and Tennessee’s slugfest, fans in the Pittsburgh area will be treated to Jimmy Garoppolo’s homecoming game when the 49ers travel cross country to face the Patriots.
Approaching the three-year anniversary of the trade that landed him in San Francisco for a second-round pick, Garoppolo’s 49ers tenure has been a roller coaster ride, and this season is no exception. A year after leading his team to an appearance in Super Bowl LIV, the quarterback has been fairly average to start 2020. Garoppolo is completing 63.6% of his passes and has tossed seven touchdowns, but he is only throwing for 183.8 yards per game. He has also been hampered by an ankle injury that forced him to miss two games.
Garoppolo is not the only quarterback with something to prove in Sunday’s contest, as Patriots quarterback Cam Newton is also looking to get back on track after a bout with COVID-19. Newton only missed one game with the virus, but looked shaky in his return to action versus Denver last week. The former Panther looked great through his first three games in a Patriot uniform with six total touchdowns and just two interceptions, but he threw two picks, fumbled twice and was sacked four times against the Broncos.
Newton should have a good opportunity to reestablish himself against a 49ers defense that has been decimated by injuries, while Garoppolo will attempt to navigate a Bill Belichick-led defense for the first time in his career as an opponent.
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m., CBS Regional
Just when it seemed like the Kansas City offense couldn’t get anymore explosive, they go out and sign former Jets and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. The two-time All-Pro is expected to make his Chiefs debut in Denver on Sunday.
Now Bell will be utilized by the offensive genius Andy Reid, as opposed to the consistently outwitted Adam Gase, who amazingly got no 100-yard rushing performances or runs over 19 yards out of him. Still, Bell will not be the feature back in Kansas City, understandably splitting touches with rookie phenom Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who leads the league with 682 yards from scrimmage. Both will face their toughest of the season to date in the Broncos defense, which is fifth-best in the NFL.
Even without starting quarterback Drew Lock, the Broncos are looking to win their third-straight behind their revitalized rushing attack. Coming off back-to-back 100-yard performances by running backs Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay, respectively, Denver will need to rely on their ground game again facing the league’s 29th-ranked rush defense in Kansas City. Not only will a strong run scheme give the Broncos a much needed boost offensively, but it will more importantly keep the ball away from Mahomes.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Las Vegas Raiders, 4:05 p.m., FOX Regional
Jacksonville Jaguars at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:25 p.m., CBS Regional
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
NFL Considering Making Roughing the Passer Reviewable
The NFL is considering making roughing the passer calls subject to replay review, according to NFL.com’s Judy Battista.
Battista reports that owners are expected to vote on the potential rule change at the annual league meetings later this month.
There is no denying that roughing the passer calls have become increasingly questionable over recent years, as the league continues to emphasize the protection of its most valuable assets – the quarterbacks.
Still, the concept does conjure painful memories of 2019, when the league tried reviewing pass interference calls. The experiment proved to be an unmitigated disaster, and was scrapped after a single season.
While the new role could remedy some of the infuriating calls the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been levied with in recent year, the chance could also open up an unintended can of worms.
Reviewing roughing the passer calls is not the only potential rule change the owner will reportedly consider.
According to Battista, owners will also discuss switching overtime back to sudden death, creating an alternative to the onside kick and voting on a rule reportedly proposed by the Buffalo Bills to delay coaching and general manager interviews until the conference championship round.
NFL Insider John Clayton Predicts Steelers Could Cut Joe Haden, Vince Williams
John Clayton, one of the longest tenured NFL Insiders, offered a prediction on how the Steelers will handle their roster in the coming weeks during his weekly appearance on 93.7 The Fan.
When referring to player cuts around the NFL, Clayton said he expects many notable players to be released by their current teams. Clayton proclaimed “it will be a bloodbath around the league” and that could include a couple key veterans being handed their walking papers by the Steelers.
— Andrew Fillipponi (@ThePoniExpress) March 3, 2021
Joe Haden and Vince Williams could both be forced to find new teams as soon as next week, according to Clayton. Haden has spent the past 4 seasons in Pittsburgh after spending his first 7 years with the Browns. Williams has played his entire 8-year NFL career with the Steelers after being drafted in the 6th round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
J.J. Watt Explains Cardinals Signing on Adam Schefter’s Podcast
Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt joined The Adam Schefter Podcast on to discuss his decision to sign with the NFC West’s Arizona Cardinals.
While he had numerous suitors across the league, Watt says he was drawn to Arizona by the promise of young quarterback Kyler Murray and his familiarity with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
“All the signs pointed there,” Watt said. “There’s a ton of exciting young talent here. In this league you need a quarterback to have a chance, and they’ve got a very talented young quarterback, who can continue to take the next step. Defense, I’m very familiar with Vance Joseph, who was with me down in Houston with Wade Philips early in my career.”
Watt believes the Cardinals are a team on the cusp of greatness, and that he is the piece to finally put them over the top.
“I think it’s just a team ready to grow and take that next step,” Watt added. “You look at the last three years, they’ve continued to increase win totals every year and are on that trajectory. And I’m looking to help fast track that trajectory.”
Schefter also asked Watt if it was ever realistic he would join his brothers T.J. and Derek with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The star defensive end demonstrated his elusiveness, avoiding addressing the idea head on.
“There was a lot of thought given to every single scenario,” he said. “So we could really sit down and look through all the options and speak with all the teams and gather all the information we possibly could. And there were definitely a lot of great options, there were a lot of opportunities to play. But at the end of the day, I’m very, very excited to be here in Arizona.”
The Cardinals now boast one of the league’s top pass-rushing tandems, pairing Watt alongside elite edge rusher Chandler Jones, who has 97 career sacks.
Arizona had the fourth-most sacks in football last season before Watt’s arrival with 48.
Watt exits Houston as one of the greatest players in franchise history. He was selected to five Pro Bowls, named First-Team All-Pro on five occasions and earned three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.
A future Hall of Famer, Watt is the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles-for-loss (172) and forced fumbles (25).
Watt recorded 52 total tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown last season.