Hurting without Burfict?
It’s been an up and down run for the Bengals defense early this season, and losing a guy like Vontaze Burfict in the middle of the unit won’t help things.
After missing him last week, the Bengals are looking to have Burfict back in action when they host the Panthers on Sunday. They’ll need him in a big way after seeing what the Patriots were able to do without him.
Here’s what his practice week looked like last week, per Cincy Jungle:
Burfict “officially” did not practice this week, though he was seen working during Friday’s session with his helmet. Additionally, Burfict appeared to be undergoing tests on the field before the game, still dealing with the mysterious concussion protocol.
Next week’s keys
This week, the Bengals will game plan for the Panthers as Carolina comes into town fresh off of a tough win against the Bears.
Among the things to watch won’t be the running game, but instead the way Andy Dalton is looking to take command. The offense has been leaning towards the run early and often, but this game might just force Dalton to sling it through the air and make big plays.
Look for Jermaine Gresham and Mohamed Sanu to be a big part of things. Carolina should blanket A.J. Green, ultimately giving opportunities to the guys further down the depth chart.
On the Panthers side of the ball, it’s rookie WR/return man Philly Brown to keep an eye on. A gem out of Ohio State, Brown has used his speed to break out and become a deadly weapon.
Favorites against the Steelers
In a twist that nobody saw coming before the season, the Browns have officially opened as two-point favorites against the Steelers at home.
According to ESPN, the Steelers have only been underdogs vs. Cleveland three times in the last 20 years. This comes after Mike Pettine’s team pulled off a miraculous 29-28 comeback against the Tennessee Titans last week.
The Browns aren’t the only AFC North team favored this week. The Ravens are currently a 3.5-point favorite over the Buccaneers and the Bengals are favored by a touchdown over the Panthers.
Defense? What defense?
Despite the defensive play in Cleveland being the lone unit to look forward to for fans in the Factory of Sadness for the longest time, things have been far from solid on the defensive side of the ball this year.
The defense ranks 31st in the league in yards allowed per game. A big part of that ranking stems from the ugly Week One performance against Pittsburgh when the Steelers carved them up for over 500 total yards.
The key to this one will be offensive production – can the Browns keep up with the big numbers Pittsburgh might put up? If Brian Hoyer wants to have a chance, he’ll need to improve the 18% third-down conversion percentage he managed in the first meeting between these two.
Upset after a win?
It’s no secret that the Steelers are no longer defined by the rushing attack and the “Steel Curtain” defense.
Things have changed, and that has been quite evident in the team’s previous two games.
After falling to Tampa Bay, the Steelers just barely squeaked by the Jaguars 17-9 last week, sparking some concern inside and outside of the locker room.
Here’s what Ben Roethlisberger had to say via CBS Pittsburgh:
“It was nearly as bad as it felt afterwards,” Roethlisberger said. “We need to be better. Looking back on it, my personal opinion on it is there were 2 or 3 maybe 4 plays I would have liked to have had back, that maybe I could have done something better.”
Time for some concern in the Steel City?
Attacking the Browns
Leaning with the running game might be the best option this week, considering the Browns have been pretty much useless trying to stop the ground attack this season.
In the AFC, the Browns rank 2nd to only the Oakland Raiders for worst rush defense. They have allowed 152 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry. Because of this, it looks to be a favorable matchup for the Steelers.
On the ground for Pittsburgh, they’ve ran for over 135 yards per game. Look for a heavy dose of Le’Veon Bell in this one.