Welcome to Around the NFL, where Cale Berger of Steelers Now will recap the week’s action and take a look ahead at some of the most important matchups from the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective.
Baltimore Ravens 33, Houston Texans 16
Houston’s nightmarish start to the 2020 season went from bad to worse Sunday, as they have now started 0-2 with losses to the Chiefs and Ravens.
The Texans did fairly good job of keeping quarterback Lamar Jackson contained on the ground, but Baltimore’s plethora of running backs picked up the slack. Gus Edwards, Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins combined for 176 yards and a touchdown, averaging a startling 8.38 yards per carry.
Jackson still found a way to make an impact with his arm, throwing for 204 yards and a scores. He completed 75% of his passes and connected with nine different receivers.
Baltimore’s defense did their part as well, making like difficult for quarterback Deshaun Watson. They sacked him four times and intercepted him once. Former Steelers linebacker L.J. Fort also returned a Keke Coutee fumble for a touchdown.
With the Ravens firing on all cylinders and Pittsburgh also sitting at 2-0 on the year, their Oct. 25 meeting cannot come soon enough.
Things will not get easier for either team in Week Three. The Ravens are set for another heavyweight slugfest on Monday Night Football next week versus the Chiefs, while the Texan’s brutal opening slate continues against the Steelers at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Los Angeles Rams 37, Philadelphia Eagles 19
A week after he was sacked eight times by Washington in the season opener, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz struggled again on Sunday, but the pass protection was not to blame this time. Philadelphia’s patchwork offensive line did not allow a single sack to star defensive tackle Aaron Donald and company, yet Wentz still looked inaccurate and inconsistent.
The former No. 2-overall pick went 26 of 43 for 242 yards and no scores with two costly interceptions. Wentz was even booed off the field after missing a wide-open receiver on a crucial third down. Unfortunately for Wentz, there were no fans in attendance at Lincoln Financial Field.
Even in a pandemic, Philly gonna Philly.
Carson Wentz was getting booed off the field with NO FANS in Philly 💀pic.twitter.com/MZ7pfQruTn
— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) September 20, 2020
The man picked prior to Wentz in the 2016 NFL Draft looked great in contrast, as quarterback Jared Goff completed 20 of 27 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns. All three of Goff’s touchdown tosses went to tight end Tyler Higbee, who made his fantasy owners across the country jumping for joy.
Former Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave made his Eagles debut yesterday, but played sparingly and recorded no stats. In comparison, Hargrave’s replacement on the Pittsburgh defensive line Tyson Alualu was a problem for the Broncos’ offense all afternoon, posting a sack, a tackle-for-loss, batting down one pass and hitting the quarterback twice.
The Rams will travel to Buffalo next weekend. The Eagles will host the Bengals and visit the 49ers, before travelling to Pittsburgh in Week Five.
Arizona Cardinals 30, Washington 15
Reigning NFL Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray was stellar again on Sunday, accounting for three total touchdowns (one passing, two rushing) and accounted for 353 yards of offense, as the Cardinals improved to 2-0 to start the year.
Murray also looks to have seamlessly built a rapport with his newest weapon DeAndre Hopkins, who had eight receptions for 68 yards and touchdown in the win. The duo has already combined for 22 completions and 219 yards through two games.
Running back Kenyan Drake also rushed for 86 yards, as Arizona looks like a contender in a stacked NFC West division.
Washington’s offensive duo of the future did not disappoint either, with quarterback Dwayne Haskins completing 19 of 33 passes for 223 yards and a score. Fellow Ohio State Buckeye Terry McLaurin was the biggest beneficiary Sunday, catching seven passes for 125 yards and the score. Still, their connection was not enough to overcome their porous defense.
Washington will battle a pair of AFC North foes in the Browns next Sunday and the Ravens Week Four. Arizona faces Detroit next at home.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
Cleveland Browns 35, Cincinnati Bengals 30 (Thursday)
Chicago Bears 17, New York Giants 13
Dallas Cowboys 40, Atlanta Falcons 39
Green Bay Packers 42, Detroit Lions 21
Tennessee Titans 33, Jacksonville Jaguars 30
Indianapolis Colts 28, Minnesota Vikings 11
Buffalo Bills 31, Miami Dolphins 28
San Francisco 49ers 31, New York Jets 13
Pittsburgh Steelers 26, Denver Broncos 21
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31, Carolina Panthers 17
Kansas City Chiefs 23, Los Angeles Chargers 20 (OT)
Seattle Seahawks 35, New England Patriots 30
New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:15 p.m. Monday, ESPN
Around the NFL: Championship Game Sunday Features four Star QBs
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers, 3:05 p.m., WPGH-TV
It will be a Battle of the Bays in the early slot Sunday, as Tom Brady and the Buccaneers visit Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Tampa and their athletic defense got the better of Green Bay back in Week 6, winning handedly 38-10 and holding Rodgers to his worst performance of the season.
The Bucs’ relentless pass rush had Rodgers under constant duress, sacking to probable MVP four times and picking him off twice. Rodgers was also held without a touchdown pass for the only time in 2020.
As for Brady and the Bucs, he tossed for 166 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Tampa Bay running back Ronald Jones II had 113 yards and two scores on the ground.
Playing the best football of his career since that loss to Tampa Bay, Rodgers will assuredly be looking to avenge his poor performance back in October to reach his second Super Bowl. He carved up a stout Los Angeles Rams defense for 296 yards and three total touchdowns a week ago, and has tossed one interception over his last 210 pass attempts.
He will try to keep that unblemished streak alive against a Buccaneers defense that picked off New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees three times a week ago.
Tampa’s Tom Brady can reach his tenth Super Bowl with a win over the Packers. No stranger to performing in the elements, Brady will look to carve up the improving Green Bay defense with his patented surgical precision.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs, 6:40 p.m., KDKA-TV
While two legends are squaring off in the NFC, a pair of rising stars will go toe-to-toe in the AFC Championship game, as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs welcome Josh Allen and the Bills.
Cleared from concussion protocol after leaving last week’s win over the Cleveland Browns, Mahomes is still battling a toe injury that could hamper his signature mobility. Luckily for Kansas City, Buffalo is 22nd in the league in pressure rate.
Even without his scrambling, Mahomes is still a threat from the pocket, coming off a season where he threw 38 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
The Chiefs offense will get a boost to take the heat off Mahomes on Sunday night as well, with rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire set to make his return from injury.
Turning to the Bills, they are here behind an MVP-caliber season from Allen, who has made tremendous strides in his third season. His 45 total touchdowns this year are the most ever by a Buffalo quarterback, while he improved his completion percentage by 10.4 percentage points, now at 69.2%.
Allen has protected the football well this season with just ten interceptions, but he will have to be extra cautious opposing the safety Tyrann Mathieu and the Chiefs defense. The “Honey Badger” has five interceptions in his last six games.
Kansas City is looking reach their second-straight Super Bowl, while Buffalo is pursuing their first appearance since 1993.
Baltimore Ravens Sign WR Deon Cain to Reserve/Future Contract
The Baltimore Ravens have signed former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Deon Cain to a Reserve/Future contract, the club announced Friday.
We have signed WR Deon Cain to a Reserve/Future contract.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) January 22, 2021
Cain spent the last two seasons with Pittsburgh, spending the majority of the 2020 season on the practice squad. He appeared into two games this past season, including the season finale loss to the Cleveland Browns, but recorded no stats.
Cain saw more extended action in 2019, where he appeared in six games and made three starts. He tallied five receptions for 72 yards a season ago.
A star for the Clemson Tigers, Cain was selected in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. He caught 130 passes for 2,040 yards and 20 touchdowns during his Clemson career.
Washington’s Alex Smith Beats Ben Roethlisberger for PFWA Comeback Player of the Year
Washington quarterback Alex Smith has been named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America, edging out Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
After suffering a significant leg injury in 2018 and subsequent infection that nearly took his limb, Smith made his unlikely return to the field in 2020, leading Washington to a division title and playoff appearance.
Smith passed for 1,582 yards and six touchdowns with eight interceptions, but led Washington to a 5-1 record in his six starts. He is the first Washington player to win the award since its inception in 1992.
Roethlisberger was also believed to be a worthy candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, leading the Steelers to a 12-4 campaign and AFC North title after missing the majority of 2019 with a season-ending elbow injury. The 38-year-old threw for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns with ten interceptions.
Running back Jerome Bettis (1997) and quarterback Tommy Maddox (2003) are the only two Steelers to have previously been awarded Comeback Player of the Year.
Smith was not the only quarterback recognized by the PFWA on Friday, as Buffalo’s Josh Allen was awarded Most Improved Player of the Year.
Allen made a remarkable jump in 2020, passing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns with ten interceptions. He also accounted for eight scores on the ground.
Not only were his 37 touchdowns seven more than in his first two seasons combined, but Allen also completed a career-high 69.2% of his passes, a ten percentage-point increase from a season ago.
Allen will have another opportunity to demonstrate his jump in play Sunday when the Bills visit the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC Championship game.
Two Steelers have previously been named the league’s Most Improved Player, quarterback Kordell Stewart in 2002 and running back Le’Veon Bell in2015.