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 Baltimore Ravens, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
When Baltimore hosts Tennessee in a rematch of last season’s divisional round playoff matchup, two of the league’s top rushing attacks will go head-to-head. Both teams have been undeniably dominant on the ground this season, but they do so in vastly different way.
The Titans sixth-ranked run game notably subscribes to the workhorse, bell cow mentality with running back Derrick Henry. Last year’s rushing leader is currently second in the league with 946 rushing yards. He also leads the NFL with 201 total rushing attempts, and has scored eight touchdowns on the ground. That being said, the drop off is steep in the Tennessee ground attack beyond Henry. Backup running backs Jeremy McNichols and D’Onta Foreman have rushed for 239 yards combined and no scores. Luckily for Tennessee, Henry feasted on the Ravens defense in last season’s playoff upset, rushing for 195 yards. He also passed for a touchdown for good measure.
As for Baltimore, they rely on their dynamic quarterback and a running back by committee approach to get the job done on the ground. Quarterback Lamar Jackson rushed for 1,206 yards in his MVP season a year ago, and is second among quarterbacks with 524 in 2020. When it comes to the running backs, Baltimore is a bona fide committee with Gus Edwards, J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram. Each have led the Ravens in rushing at least once this season and all are averaging at least 4.2 yards per carry.
The Ravens defense will need to continue forcing turnovers and find a way to slow down Henry if they want to avoid losing three games in four weeks for the first time since 2018. Both will be quite the challenge, as the Titans have turned the ball over just four times this season, the fewest in the league.
Cincinnati Bengals at Washington, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Bruised and battered by the Steelers last week, quarterback Joe Burrow and the Bengals will face another stiff defense and vicious pass rush in Washington on Sunday.
Burrow had excelled through the first eight games of his career, but he ran into a buzz saw in the form of the Pittsburgh. The rookie completed just 21 of 40 passes for 213 yards and touchdown. He was also sacked four times and hit on ten occasions. Burrows 52.5% completion percentage is his lowest in a game since he completed 51.4% in a loss to Alabama on Nov. 3, 2018.
Washington’s defense has been strong all season, and will pose a similar challenged for the top pick. They own the leagues top pass defense, and have picked off nine passes, tied for the third-most in football. Washington is also fifth in the league with 28 sacks, 3.5 of which belong to Burrows former Buckeye teammate Chase Young, who leads all rookies in the department.
The onus will once again be placed on Burrow to will Cincinnati to an elusive win, as they will again be without running back Joe Mixon, who has missed the last three games with a foot injury. Burrow has done a solid job of protecting the football of late, as he is aiming for his third-straight game without an interception. Washington has forced only nine turnovers all season.
Quarterback Alex Smith will again start for Washington this Sunday, after setting career-highs in completions (38) and passing
yards (390) last week. He should be able to find success again, opposing a Cincinnati defense that has been ravaged by injuries and gave up four touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger last Sunday. Young wideout Terry McLaurin caught seven passes for 95 yards against Detroit, and should find similar success versus the Bengals. He is seeking his third-straight at home with seven or more receptions, over 90 yards and a touchdown grab.
Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns, 1:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
Even though the Browns mustered just ten points in their win over the Texans a week ago, the return of stud running back Nick Chubb was a spark for the offense, and one they will need again when the Eagles arrive in Cleveland on Sunday.
Chubb was tremendous versus Houston, carrying 19 times for a season-high 126 yards and a score after missing the previous four game with a knee injury. He has been his best at home too, rushing for 358 yards (119.3 per game) and five scores in three games at First Energy Stadium this season. The Eagles do not present much of a challenge to Chubb and the Browns’ ground game on paper, owning the ninth-worst rush defense in football and having surrendered 14 rushing touchdowns.
Leading the NFC East at an abysmal 3-5-1, Philadelphia has plenty of room for improvement. That improvement has to start with quarterback Carson Wentz, who has been the dictionary definition of inconsistent. He has the 32nd-ranked completion percentage in the league at just 58.2%, and has tossed 12 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Wentz has also been sacked 35 times on the year, which leads the league. He has one game this season without a turnover.
Cleveland proves to be another tough draw Wentz and Philadelphia, with defensive end Myles Garrett currently paces the NFL with 9.5 sacks and is tied for the league-lead with four forced fumbles. For the Eagles to have any chance of pulling off the upset Sunday, Wentz will have to improve and find a way to protect the football.
Green Bay Packers at Indianapolis Colts, 4:25 p.m., WPGH-TV
Following Steelers-Jaguars, Pittsburgh fans itching for more football can flip over to FOX for the weekend’s premier quarterback dual, as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Indianapolis’ Philip Rivers face off for just the second time ever.
Rodgers continues to show no signs of aging, as the 36-year-old has been playing exceptional leading the Packers to a 7-2 record. He is second in the NFL with 26 touchdown passes, while having thrown just three interceptions. Rodgers is also completing 67.8% of his passes, which is the third-highest clip of his career. The 16-year veteran has been especially good on the road in 2020, as he has tosses at least three touchdown passes with no interceptions in four of his last five road starts this season.
While he has played at an MVP level, Rodgers has not been tested much when it comes to opposing defenses. When he did face a top defense in the Buccaneers Week 5, Rodgers played his worst game of the year, as he was picked off twice and was held without a touchdown pass. The Colts are just as fearsome, topping the league in total defense and picking off eleven passes. They have also allowed just eleven passing scores, the second-fewest this season.
Rivers, 39, has been a pleasant surprise for the Colts, and even made some history last week, surpassing Dan Marino for the fifth-most passing yards in league history. The 17-year veteran has thrown eleven touchdowns and seven interceptions, while completing 68.7% of his passes for 266.1 yards per game. He has been especially good of late, throwing for over 250 yards and toping a 105 passer rating in three of his last four.
Even with the two legendary passers facing off for potentially the final time, Sunday’s matchup could come down to the weapons, where Green Bay has the edge. The Packers’ Davante Adams has been stellar all season, joining Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss as the only players with over 700 yards and nine touchdowns through the first seven games of a season in the Super Bowl era last week. After missing three of the last six games with injury, star running back Aaron Jones is beginning to look like his old self again. He has accounted for seven total touchdowns, and accounted for 724 scrimmage yards. Advantage Green Bay.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
- Seattle Seahawks 28 Arizona Cardinals 21
- Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
- Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
- Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
- New England Patriots at Houston Texans, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
- Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional
- New York Jets at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m., CBS Regional
- Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings, 4:25 p.m., FOX Regional
- Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
- Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
NFL to Limit Early Week Team Facility Access in COVID-19 Protocol Updates
The NFL announced updates to their COVID-19 protocols Friday following the recent surge in cases league-wide, including a restriction on facilities access early in the week.
The league will now limit access to team facilities the two days immediately following a game, and will prohibit in-person meetings during these periods.
Restricted access will go into effect on the Monday and Tuesday after a Sunday game. The same applies for the Tuesday and Wednesday following a Monday night game, and so on.
The restrictions will not apply to clubs playing on a short week, such as a Thursday night game following a Sunday game.
Exceptions to the new limitations include players receiving treatment, coaches working independently, free agent tryouts and individuals performing critical facility functions, such as grounds crews, IT specialists, equipments staff and cleaning personnel.
Locker rooms and cafeterias will also be closed. Clubs will be allowed to provide grab-and-go meals to players, but they are not permitted to sit down and eat at the facility.
In addition to the new restrictions, the league lifted its 62-player limit on the number of players permitted to travel or attend games. Each team can now determine for itself how many players they want traveling or attending, but “should carefully consider the risks and benefits in doing so.”
Inactive players on the sideline or elsewhere in the stadium will still be required to wear tracking bracelets and PPE, while maintaining physical distance.
Beginning this week, teams traveling no longer limited to 62 players. Players only meet virtually Monday and Tuesday after Sunday, a continuation of policy enacted after Thanksgiving. Policies evolve to risk exposure. pic.twitter.com/ixLLeNlUJj— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 4, 2020
NFL, NFLPA Announce Alarming Rise in Cases from Last Testing Period
The NFL and NFLPA have announced alarming results from their latest round of COVID-19 testing, demonstrating a significant rise in cases league-wide.
The league had 156 new confirmed positive tests during the testing period spanning from Nov. 15-28. Of those positive results, 61 were from players and 95 of staff members
These new confirmed positives over the last two weeks make up more than a third of the league’s total cases dating back to Aug. 1, which is extremely concerning to say the least.
In total, 85,073 tests were administered to 15,705 players and team personnel over a two-week span. Approximately 715,400 total tests have been administered dating back to Aug. 1.
After showing very low case number to start the year, the league has seen a steady increase as the season has progressed, culminating in the recent outbreak among the Baltimore Ravens.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently dealing with some virus-related issues and absences of their own, as running back James Conner, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, center Maurkice Pouncey and offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins all missed Wednesday’s game after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Roger Goodell, Dr. Allen Sills Discuss Steelers-Ravens, Postseason Bubble
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills discussed a number of topics on a conference call with the media Wednesday, including Steelers-Ravens and the possibility of postseason bubbles for the NFL Playoffs.
With regards to the Ravens outbreak that caused their game with the Steelers to be rescheduled three times, Goodell told reporters that the league intended to postpone the game until the outbreak was deemed contained, which they believe took until Wednesday to be the case.
Roger Goodell says on conference call Ravens game was postponed until the NFL believed the spread of the virus was contained. Reiterates that they will play even if multiple position groups are compromised if they believe spread has been contained (like in Denver)— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) December 2, 2020
Supporting the league’s claim that the spread is under control, Dr. Sills added that they are confident there is “no active infection” amongst Ravens players and staff at Heinz Field today.
Dr. Allen Sills confirms all of the Ravens' point-of-care tests came back negative today. "Can say with confidence no active infection on Ravens sideline today," Sills said.— Lindsay Jones (@bylindsayhjones) December 2, 2020
As for the NFL Playoffs, Goodell said that the league is “considering a number of alternatives” to their traditional postseason format, including a variety of potential bubble formats.
When asked specifically about those bubbles, Goodell assured that league feels their protocols are working successfully, and apparently dismissed the idea of an NBA-style bubble in a single location.
Now Goodell throwing some cold water on the bubble idea, at least not in the sense that most people think of it, he says. Possible limit to the number of people who come into contact with players but no NBA-style lockdown: "We feel strongly that our protocols are working."— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) December 2, 2020
Instead each team would likely have their own individual bubbles in hotels, significantly further limiting outside contacts with players and staff.
Lastly, Dr. Sills affirmed that the league will not “cut the line” for a future COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. The first available vaccines will likely be designated strictly for front line workers and high-risk groups.
Dr. Allen Sills makes clear the NFL won’t “cut the line” on the looming COVID-19 vaccine. For those wondering.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 2, 2020