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
Tennessee Titans at Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Handed their first loss of the season by the Steelers last week, the Titans will look to get back on track against the futile but dangerous Bengals in Cincinnati early Sunday.
Even though he was limited by the Pittsburgh defense a week ago, the Tennessee offense still hinders on running back Derrick Henry, who leads the league in rushing attempts (143) and yards (663). He is tied for second in the NFL with seven rushing scores this season. Expect him to feast again this weekend, facing a Bengals run defense that has surrendered the sixth-most yards in the league.
After Joe Burrow tore up the SEC last season, there was optimism that he could quickly adjust to NFL defenses at a faster rate than usual. The No. 1 pick has exceeded expectations through his first seven games, and seems to be setting new records by the week. Burrow entered Week Eight leading the league with 197 completions and fourth in passing yards with 2023. His five games with over 300 yards passing are tied for the second-most by a rookie in NFL history, and he is coming off the first 400-yard passing performance by a Bengal rookie ever.
Burrow gets a favorable draw facing a fragile Titans pass defense that has surrendered 15 passing touchdowns this season, but he will be without running back Joe Mixon, who is out with a foot injury. The rookie will likely have to carry his club again Sunday, as the Bengals continue to fight for their second win of the season.
Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield will look to continue his hot run of form when they host the Raiders on Sunday. Mayfield overcame a rough start against the Bengals last week, but led the Browns to a shootout victory behind his record-sitting finish. The former No. 1 pick completed 22 of his final 23 passes for 297 yards and five touchdowns to secure the win, and did it all without wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
Even down his top pass catcher and star running back Nick Chubb, Mayfield can still rely on one of the league’s top rushing attacks for support. The Browns are second in the league in rushing and led by the dynamic Kareem Hunt, who became the fifth running back in NFL history with over 20 rushing touchdowns and more than 15 receiving scores in his first four seasons. He will have a favorable matchup Sunday in a Raiders run defense that has allowed the most rushing touchdowns in the league with 12.
On the other side, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has quietly had a strong season in his third year under Jon Gruden. Carr is second in the league with a 72% completion percentage and third with a 112.8 pass rating. He has thrown for 13 touchdowns and tossed just two picks all year. Carr is also averaging 287.7 yards per game, the highest of his career.
Carr will oppose a favorable matchup of his own, facing Cleveland’s 30th-ranked pass defense. He will just have to evade Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who paces the league with nine sacks and four forced fumbles.
New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears, 4:25 p.m., WPGH-TV
One of the most perplexing 5-2 teams in recent memory, the Bears amazingly own one of the NFL’s best records while simultaneously being lackluster offensively and boasting a negative point differential. Quarterback Nick Foles has been up-and-down since taking over as the starter four games ago. He has tossed six touchdowns and six interceptions. Chicago’s league-worst run game has been no help either, amassing just 84.1 yards per game and two touchdowns.
In comparison, the Saints will again be without star wide receiver Michael Thomas, who continues to battle an ankle injury that has sidelined him for the last five games, but quarterback Drew Brees has found a way to cope without his go-to target.
Brees has made it work with his hodgepodge group of weapons. throwing for 11 touchdowns and 269.7 yards per game, while completing a league-leading 72.6% of his passes. He has also had recent success against Chicago, winning four-straight against the Bears, tossing eight scores and no interceptions for over 300 yards a game.
While the Bears defense will do their best to slow down the potent Saints, the onus will be on Foles and the Chicago offense to keep pace on the scoreboard.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
Pittsburgh native and Pine-Richland product Ben DiNucci is expected to make his first-career start when the Cowboys visit the Eagles on Sunday Night Football, marking the first time a James Madison University quarterback will start a game in NFL history. He completed 2 of 3 passes for 39 yards last week.
For Dallas to survive with DiNucci and remain in the NFC East hunt, they will have to return to their roots and rely on running back Ezekiel Elliott and the ground game. He has been unusually quiet to start the 2020 campaign and the Cowboys would be wise to get him going. Elliot is averaging career lows across the board in yards per attempt (4.1), yards per game (65.4) and attempts per game (16.1). He has no 100-yard performances, and has as many fumbles as he has rushing touchdowns with five.
Elliot could finally get going Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field facing an Eagles run defense that has allowed the second-most rushing scores in the league at 11. Since 2016, he leads the NFL with 7,692 scrimmage yards & ranks second with 54 scrimmage touchdowns.
Leading the horrendous NFC East at 2-4-1, the Eagles could widen their lead with a win over the Cowboys in primetime. Ravaged by injuries across the board, Philadelphia has relied on quarterback Carson Wentz, who has picked up his play as of late following a rough start to the season. He has eight total touchdowns over the last three games, and just three interceptions.
Adding to his turnaround, Wentz has had to operate without top offensive weapons, including running back Miles Sanders and wideouts Desean Jackson and Alshon Jeffrey. Unheralded receiver Travis Fulgham has stepped up in their absence, catching 23 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns.
With a pair of vulnerable defenses, each offense will have their opportunities to capitalize. The team that takes advantage of the other’s weakness will take hold of the driver’s seat in the division.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
- Atlanta Falcons 25 Carolina Panthers 17
- New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
- Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
- Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
- New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
- Los Angeles Rams at Miami Dolphins, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
- Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional
- San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants, 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.