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.
THURSDAY NIGHT HIGHLIGHTS
Cleveland Browns 35, Cincinnati Bengals 30
An AFC North rivalry kicked off Week Two on Thursday night, as the Cleveland Browns rode their power running game to a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt made their case as the league’s best rushing tandem, carrying for a combined 210 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Hunt also caught a score. The Bengals, who had the worst rush defense in the league last year, had no answer for Cleveland one-two punch, which looks even better with the addition of fullback Andy Janovich this offseason.
Success in the running game led to play-action opportunities for quarterback Baker Mayfield, which he and his receivers took full advantage of. Mayfield finally got on the same page with wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., with the two connecting on a 43-yard score in the second quarter. Thursday showed that new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s system can work when the Browns are successful in the running game early and often.
The Browns defense battered quarterback Joe Burrow all night, sacking him three times and hitting on plenty more occasions. Still, Burrow was impressive in front of a national audience Thursday, remaining calm and collected under constant pressure from the ferocious Browns pass rush. He completed 37 of 61 passes for 316 yards and three touchdowns.
Cleveland will host Washington next, and Cincinnati will travels to Philadelphia for their second-straight road game.
AROUND THE NFL THIS WEEKEND
Los Angeles Rams at Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. FOX regional
A week after allowing quarterback Carson Wentz to be sacked eight times by Washington, the Philadelphia Eagles will welcome the league’s most fearsome pass rusher to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday when the Los Angeles Rams and defensive tackle Aaron Donald come to town.
Donald dominated the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football last week, recording a sack, a tackle-for-loss and four quarterback hits. His success opened up rush lanes for his teammates as well, as the Rams had three sacks, three tackles-for-loss and six hits as a team.
Luckily for the Eagles, reinforcements are on the way. Not only will they return tackle Lane Johnson, but they will also get back starting running back Miles Sanders. Both will have to provide a major boost in pass protection for Philadelphia to get back to their winning ways.
Also, former Steelers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave will make his Philadelphia debut on Sunday as well after missing their season opener with both a pectoral and hamstring injury. He should provide a big boost to an Eagles defense that allowed two rushing touchdowns to Washington last week.
Washington at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., WPGH-TV
Following the Steelers’ home opener against the Broncos, fans in the Pittsburgh area will be treated to a duel of young quarterbacks in the late afternoon slot when Washington visits the Arizona Cardinals. Both teams are also coming off upset victories over division rivals.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2019 behind 3,722 passing yards and 24 total touchdowns. Murray was just as good kicking off 2020, posting 321 total yards and two touchdowns in Arizona’s shocking 24-20 win over San Francisco.
While his numbers may not be as eye-popping as Murray, Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins also led his squad to a Week 1 win behind 178 passing yards and a touchdown.
The two 2019 first rounders have been solid early, but both have struggled to protect the football throughout their short careers. Murray has 15 turnovers in 17 career games, Haskins has nine giveaways in ten.
As is often the case with young quarterbacks, success for Murray and Haskins on Sunday and going forward will be predicated on and determined by their ability to take care of the football.
Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans, 4:25 p.m. Sunday, KDKA-TV
No team was dealt a tougher hand to start the season than the Houston Texans, who begin 2020 facing three AFC juggernauts. Sandwiched between their opening night loss to the Chiefs and a Week 3 visit to Pittsburgh, the Texans will battle reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday.
Sunday’s matchup will be decided by which team dominates the redzone. The Ravens were phenomenal in the redzone offensively last season, scoring a league-leading 43 touchdowns. Houston was not as stellar defensively, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 71.4% of their trips, the highest rate in the league.
The story was the same for Houston last week against Kansas City, as they allowed the Chiefs to score on seven of their eight redzone trips.
Baltimore also continued their trend of success from last season, scoring in the redzone at an 83% clip against the Browns last Sunday.
The Texans may have to do the impossible this week to get their first win of the season, which means stopping Jackson and Baltimore’s abundancy of running backs from finding the goal line.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
New York Giants at Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. CBS regional
Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m, FOX regional
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m., FOX regional
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m., CBS regional
Minnesota Vikings at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m., FOX regional
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m., CBS regional
San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets 1 p.m., FOX regional
Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m., KDKA-TV
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m., FOX regional
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:25 p.m., CBS regional
New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks, 8:20 p.m., NBC
New Orleans Saints at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:15 p.m. Monday, 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.