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
Cleveland Browns at Tennessee Titans, 1:00 p.m., KDKA-TV
The league’s top two rushing offenses will go head-to-head in Nashville, as the Browns look to keep their three-game win streak alive against the Titans.
Cleveland’s ground game has been exceptional all year, but it has been a different animal since the return of running back Nick Chubb from a knee injury against the Texans in Week 10. The Browns have rushed for 575 over their last three games, which have all been wins. Chubb has rushed for 384 over that span with a pair of scores. The former Georgia Bulldog has been especially good closing out games for Cleveland, as he leads the NFL averaging 12.6 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, according to Pro Football Focus. The next closest rusher is averaging just 6.7.
The Browns have been tremendous running the football, but it is Tennessee that owns the league’s premier rushing attack, led by human armored truck Derrick Henry. He leads the league in attempts (256), total rushing yards (1,257) and average yards per game (114.3), while reaching the century mark seven times this season.
Both defenses will first have to stop the run, and the Browns have the edge owning the ninth-ranked rush defense in the NFL. Tennessee is 16th. If the Titans have to turn to the pass, they should be just fine with quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has been surgical this season with 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
The question is if Baker Mayfield can do the same for Cleveland if they face a similar predicament. The jury is still out on if he can win a game with his arm when the run game is not there. That day of judgement will come, but likely not against Tennessee this weekend.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
Following a tough loss to the rival Titans a week ago, the Colts will look to keep pace in the AFC South race when they visit the Texans on Sunday.
Colts quarterback Philip Rivers may run the show, but it has been their backfield tandem carrying load offensively in Indianapolis, with rookie Johnathan Taylor and veteran Nyheim Hines forming one of the league’s best one-two punches. Taylor has built off his strong career at Wisconsin, ranking with among rookies with 745 scrimmage yards this season and rushing for a team-high four scores. A dangerous receiver, Hines leads the Colts with four receiving scores. Both should find success in a Texans rush defense that is the second-worst in football.
Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson continues to dominate, and last week was no different, as he torched the Lions for 318 yards and four touchdown passes on Thanksgiving. While stellar, his performance in Detroit was par for the course, as he has accounted for 16 total touchdowns and no turnovers the last six games. He owns a 118.4 passer rating since Week 3, the highest in the NFL over that span.
But keeping up his impressive form will be a tall task Sunday, as Watson opposes a stingy Colts defense that has picked off the fourth-most passes in the league and surrendered the fifth-fewest yards in football. He will have to be at his best again this week to deal Indianapolis’ division title hopes a series blow.
Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
While Sunday’s matchup was shaping up to be a clash of the top two quarterbacks taken in April’s draft just a few weeks ago, both team’s fortunes have changed drastically as of late. Although Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow is done for the year and Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa is questionable to start with a thumb injury, the game still proves compelling with Miami in the thick of a division race.
The Dolphins have been one of the surprises of the 2020 season, as second-year head coach Brian Flores looks to be one of the favorites for Coach of the Year. Tagovailoa was impressive over the team’s five-game win streak, but it has been the Miami defense that has brought them thus far, as they are second in the NFL in points allowed and third in takeaways (19).
Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is tied for eight in the league with eight sacks on the season and has three forced fumbles. Ogbah is also aiming for his fifth-straight home game with a sack, facing a Bengals offensive line that has allowed the second-most in the league at 38. Not to be outdone, cornerback Xavien Howard is performing like the league’s best as of late, as he looks for his fourth-straight game with at least two passes defended and an interception. He leads the league with seven picks and is tied for second with 15 passes defended on the year.
It is safe to say Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen will have his hands full, and he will have to improve upon his performance last week in Cincinnati’s loss to the Giants. Allen completed 17 of 29 passes for 136 yards and touchdown with a pick and a lost fumble. If he is to lead the Bengals to their first win without Burrow, Allen will have to find his outside playmakers early and protect the ball from the Fins’ opportunistic defense.
MONDAY NIGHT PREVIEW
Buffalo Bills at San Francisco 49ers, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Before a Sunday night showdown with the Steelers in Week 14, the Bills will first have to get through the shorthanded, but dangerous 49ers.
One of the quietest 8-3 teams in recent memory, Buffalo has flown under the radar all season, diminishing what has been a career year for quarterback Josh Allen. The former first-rounder has come into his own in his third season, completing an impressive 68.8% of his passes for 3,028 yards and a career-high 22 touchdowns. Also a capable dual-threat, Allen has rushed for an additional six scores. His 15 career games with both a passing and rushing score are the second-most by a player through his first three seasons in league history.
Much of Allen’s improved play can be attributed to his retooled, diverse receiving core of Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley. Diggs has been especially good in his first stint with Buffalo, catching 80 passes for 945 yards and four touchdowns. His streak of at least six catches in eight-straight games is the longest active in the league.
While double-digit players on injured reserve has certainly hampered a 49ers squad that was in the Super Bowl last February, they have over-achieved all year and find themselves just a game under .500. The Niners snapped a three-game losing streak last week against the Rams, in large part due to the four turnovers they forced. Unfortunately for head coach Kyle Shanahan, his offense has struggled to hold onto the ball themselves. San Francisco has committed 19 turnovers the last eight games and has seven the last two weeks.
The Niners will have to steal possessions and retain the ball themselves if they hope to pull off their second upset of a playoff-bound team in as many weeks.
REST OF THE SCHEDULE
- New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
- Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears, 1:00 p.m., FOX Regional
- Jacksonville Jaguars at Minnesota Vikings, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
- Las Vegas Raiders at New York Jets, 1:00 p.m., CBS Regional
- Los Angeles Rams at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m., FOX Regional
- New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks, 4:05p p.m., WPGH-TV
- Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers, 4:25 p.m., KDKA-TV
- New England Patriots at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:25 p.m., CBS Regional
- Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs, 8:20 p.m., WPXI-TV
- Washington at Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, 5:00 p.m., WPGH-TV
- Dallas Cowboys at Baltimore Ravens, Tuesday, 8:05 p.m., WPGH-TV
Mic Drop: Rooting for Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell Is Easy Choice
The idea that either Antonio Brown or Le’Veon Bell will become a Super Bowl champion after Super Bowl LV isn’t exactly something that makes Steelers fans excited for the big game. With that said, Mike Asti feels deciding who to root for should be an easy choice for Steelers fans. He wants to set the record straight once and for all of why Pittsburgh fans need to stop grouping the two former Steelers together.
While they both left the franchise in a cloud of drama, Le’Veon Bell doesn’t deserve to be treated as if he committed the same kind of sins against the Steelers that Antonio Brown did.
Former Steelers WR Martavis Bryant Signs with CFL’s Toronto Argonauts
Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Martavis Bryant is heading north for his next opportunity and signing with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, the team announced Monday.
While Bryant is currently suspended indefinitely from the NFL, he has nothing preventing him from continuing his career in Canada. He has not played since 2018 following multiple violations of the league’s drug policy.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Bryant spent the first three seasons of his career in Pittsburgh, catching 126 passes for 1,917 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Steelers traded Bryant to the Oakland Raiders prior to the 2018 season, but played in just eight games before the suspension.
Steelers Connections Abound in Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl
While the Pittsburgh Steelers saw their Super Bowl LV hopes dashed two weeks ago, fans will recognize plenty of familiar faces when the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet on Feb. 7.
Six players with Steelers ties are expected to take the field in either red or pewter on Super Bowl Sunday, with the two most notable examples being Tampa Bay wide receiver Antonio Brown and Kansas City running back Le’Veon Bell.
Both missed their respective championship games due to injury, but could return to health in time for the Super Bowl with two weeks to recover.
In addition, the Chiefs also boast guard Stefen Wisniewski and punter Dustin Colquitt, who both spent time in Pittsburgh earlier this season.
Wisniewski is in line to make his second-straight Super Bowl start in response to injuries along the Chiefs’ offensive line suffered Sunday, while Colquitt is on Kansas City’s practice squad.
Former Steelers defensive back Ross Cockrell and nose tackle Steve McLendon will take the field for the Buccaneers defensively.
But Tampa Bay’s Pittsburgh connections do not stop on the field, as the Buccaneers will also have six coaches with Steeler ties on the sideline for the big game, including head coach Bruce Arians.
Arians, who is in his second season in Tampa, spent eight years in Pittsburgh, serving as wide receivers coach (2004-06) before being elevated to offensive coordinator (2007-11).
Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich played under Arians in Pittsburgh, and had three separate stints with the Steelers as a backup quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger.
Tampa Bay also boasts assistant head coach and run game coordinator Harold Goodwin, outside linebackers coach Larry Foote, offensive assistant Antwaan Randle El and assistant coach Tom Moore.
Even with the Steelers at home watching along with the rest of the country, Pittsburgh should have no shortage of rooting interests when the Chiefs meet the Buccaneers in Tampa in two weeks time.