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 Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
After an abysmal performance last week in Indianapolis, quarterback Kirk Cousins is looking to bounce back in a big way this week when his Vikings host the Titans. Cousins went 11 of 26 for just 113 yards and three interceptions with no touchdowns against the Colts. He was also sacked three times.
Cousins has to be relieved to be returning to the friendly confines of U.S. Bank Stadium, where he has posted a passer rating of 100 or more in seven of his last eight starts. He has also won three-straight home games over AFC opponents.
While a bounce-back performance for Cousins may be in the cards for Sunday, the most intriguing storyline has to be the matchup between two of the NFL’s top running backs in Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook and Tennessee’s Derrick Henry.
Henry led the league in rushing yards (1,540) and rushing touchdowns (16) last season, while Cook’s 13 rushing scores were the third-most. Cook
Although neither team has defended the run well so far this season, the Vikings hold the fourth-worst in the league and lost linebacker Anthony Barr to a torn pectoral last week. Both backs should shine, but expect Henry to have the bigger day.
Henry and the Titans should savor Sunday’s opportunity while they can, as they will host the Steelers and their top-ranked rush defense on Oct. 4.
Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Beginning a stretch of three games in four weeks against AFC North opponents, the Eagles will start by hosting the Bengals on Sunday, with both teams still seeking their first win of the season.
Optimism abounds in Cincinnati, with No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow impressing just two games into his NFL career. The LSU product has tossed for 509 yards and three touchdowns, rushing for another.
There is significantly less positivity in Philadelphia, as franchise quarterback Carson Wentz has looked troublesome to start the 2020 campaign. He has thrown for 512 yards and just two scores with four interceptions, tied for the league lead. Wentz is only completing 58.8% of his passes and has been sacked eight times. He leads the league with 20 off-target throws, 15 of which came in a clean pocket.
Carson Wentz has made 20 off-target throws this season, most in the NFL.
15 have come inside a clean pocket (not pressured or under duress).
— Paul Hembekides (@PaulHembo) September 21, 2020
Philadelphia may be wise to turn rely on the run Sunday, lightening the load on Wentz’s shoudlers. Although he missed the season opener with an ailment, second-year running back Miles Sanders was great against the Rams last week, rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown. Facing one of the NFL’s worst rushing defenses in the Bengals, look for the Eagles to feature the Pittsburgh native.
In addition, former Steeler defensive tackle Javon Hargrave made his Philadelphia debut last week against the Rams, but failed to record a sack. The former third-round pick will be looking to make much more of an impact this weekend.
Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m., WPGH-TV
Following Steelers-Texans, local football fans who flip over to FOX will be treated to a battle of NFC heavyweights when Russell Wilson and the Seahawks host Dak Prescott and the Cowboys.
Wilson has put on quarterbacking clinic through two weeks, already passing for 609 yards and nine touchdowns in two victories. Even more impressive, he has completed 82.5% of his passes. It is mind-numbingly insane Wilson has never received a single MVP vote over his eight-year career.
Prescott’s 716 passing yards are the fourth-most in the league, but the true offensive star of America’s Team has been running back Ezekiel Elliot. The former Ohio State standout has rushed for 185 yards and scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) already.
Elliot will face his toughest hurdle yet Sunday afternoon when he opposes the league’s second-best run defense in the Seahawks.
If Seattle is able to stifle Elliot, Dallas will have to rely on the arm of Prescott and his trio of talented pass catchers. Wide receivers Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup have combined for 32 receptions and 454 yards, but amazingly have scored no touchdowns. That will likely need to change Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens, 8:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN
Monday night’s clash between the Chiefs and Ravens feels like a monumental game in what is still a very young 2020 season. Both teams will enter the game at 2-0, and are led by two of the league’s most electric, dominant young players.
The quarterback duel between the last two MVPs will garner the bulk of the attention leading up to Monday night, and deservedly so. Fresh off a Super Bowl win in February, Patrick Mahomes amazingly looks even better starting his fourth season, having thrown for 513 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions through two weeks. Last year’s phenom Lamar Jackson is off to a strong start as well, throwing for 479 yards and four scores with no turnovers.
Eye-catching as the two offenses are, Monday’s game will be decided by the defenses. Specifically, which unit is able to generate the ever-elusive takeaway off the opposing offense. The Chiefs have yet to turn the ball over, while the Ravens have just once.
Baltimore’s defense leads the league with five takeaways already this season, Kansas City has forced a passable two turnovers through two weeks.
In an explosive game that could very well be decided in the thirties, the club that steals a possession could be the one that snatches the win and the driver’s seat in the AFC.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Miami Dolphins 31, Jacksonville Jaguars 13
Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Los Angeles Rams at Buffalo Bills, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Washington at Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
Las Vegas Raiders at New England Patriots, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional
Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Denver Broncos, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
Green Bay Packers at New Orleans Saints, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
Report: Ravens Planning to Sign Dez Bryant to Practice Squad
The Baltimore Ravens are planning to sign veteran wide receiver Dez Bryant to their practice squad, according to a report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
The #Ravens plan to sign veteran WR Dez Bryant to the practice squad if his workout goes well and he passes a physical, source said. Baltimore previously worked out Bryant in August, so this is more of a check-in. He should land in Baltimore, finally.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) October 22, 2020
The 31-year-old had signed a one-year contract with the New Orleans Saints last season, but suffered a torn Achilles his first day on the practice field.
Baltimore explored adding Bryant back in August, but it never materialized, likely due to ongoing concerns regarding his health.
While he may not provide much of a boost to the Ravens passing game on the field, he could add some much needed experience and a veteran presence in a young receiver room.
Bryant spent the first eight years of his career with the Dallas Cowboys, catching 531 passes for 7,459 yards and 73 touchdowns. He has been selected to three Pro Bowls, and named First-Team All-Pro once.
Report: Ravens Trade for Vikings DE Yannick Ngakgoue
The Baltimore Ravens are reportedly trading for Minnesota Vikings defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, according the ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Ravens will send a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round pick to the Vikings in acquiring Ngakoue.
Vikings and Ravens finalizing a trade to send DE Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round pick, sources tell ESPN.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 22, 2020
Vikings initially sent 2021 second-round pick and 2022 conditional fifth-round pick to Jags. Now get most back.
Minnesota had just sent a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 conditional fifth-round pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a trade for Ngakoue this offseason, but are clearly trying to recoup their losses and sell high after their 1-5 start.
The Ravens will now pair Ngakoue alongside his former Jaguars teammate in star defensive end Calais Campbell, who they also added in a trade this offseason.
Ngakoue arrives in Baltimore to even more firepower to a defense that is already one of the best in the league. The Ravens are second in the league in scoring defense (17.3 points per game), second in takeaways (11) and second in sacks (22), trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers in all three categories.
Selected in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Maryland by the Jaguars, Ngakoue has become one of the league’s most fearsome pass rushers in a short amount of time. The one-time Pro Bowler has 42.5 career sacks, 16 forced fumbles and 47 tackles-for-loss. He also has two career interceptions.
According to Schefter, the Ravens have attempted to trade for Ngakoue multiple times and he had been positioning himself to land in Baltimore ever since thing went sour in Jacksonville. Having grown up in Bowie, Maryland, he is finally home at his desired destination after a short layover in Minneapolis.
Schefter also reports that Ngokoue will arrive in Baltimore sometime over the next 24 hours to undergo COVID-19 testing with the Ravens on their bye. If all is well on the virus front, Ngakoue will be in line to make his Ravens debut in a massive Week 8 matchup against Pittsburgh.
Baltimore has attempted to acquire Yannick Ngakoue multiple times in recent months; Ngakoue hoped to land in Baltimore all along. He grew up in Bowie, Md., starred at Maryland, then was drafted by Jacksonville. Baltimore is his third team in three months, but what he wanted. https://t.co/B3NQfDaRqG— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 22, 2020
Report: Seahawks Positioning to Sign Antonio Brown
The Seattle Seahawks are reportedly positioning themselves to make a run at free agent wide receiver Antonio Brown, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Brown is currently serving a suspension for multiple violations of the league’s personal conduct policy, but will be eligible to return after Week 8.
With Antonio Brown’s suspension eligible to end after week 8, the Seattle Seahawks are now positioned to make a push to sign him, though they’re not alone, league sources tell ESPN. Other teams also are interested. pic.twitter.com/ykn1NJ6LUm— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 21, 2020
Adding the four-time All-Pro would give Seattle an embarrassment of riches, considering they already boast the MVP frontrunner in quarterback Russell Wilson and a tandem of dynamic wide receivers in Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf.
Wilson leads the league with 19 passing touchdowns and 129.8 passer rating. He is also completing an absurd 72.8% of his passes. Metcalf and Lockett have five and four touchdowns thus far, respectively.
The Brown-to-Seattle rumors are nothing new, as the star wideout generated buzz when he was seen working out with Wilson in California this summer.
Selected by the Steelers in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, Brown spent the first nine years of his career in Pittsburg before playing a single game with the New England Patriots last season. He is second in franchise history in receptions (837), yards (11,207) and receiving touchdowns (74), trailing only Steeler legend Hines Ward, although Brown played 87-fewer games.
If Seattle is in fact pursuing the troubled wide receiver, it would appear the unbeaten Seahawks are thinking Super Bowl or bust in 2020.