The Pittsburgh Steelers were not fortunate to be among the teams who got the opportunity to face the Cincinnati Bengals sans Vontaze Burfict, their talented but controversial inside linebacker, who was suspended for the first three games of the 2017 regular season. He also served a three-game suspension to start the 2016 season.
That first suspension tied very much directly to the Steelers, as it was triggered by a hit on wide receiver Antonio Brown in the playoffs the year before. The missed time was not due to that one incident alone, but rather due to an accumulation of incidents—which also included other encounters with Steelers players.
There is no love lost between the two sides, to be sure. Several players on the roster have very publicly gone after Burfict, for example, on social media. While quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was highly complimentary of him and what he does on the field yesterday, he knows that he himself has been on the receiving end of some of Burfict’s on-field misconduct.
His reputation is such that there is no need for special preparation to face him simply because the Steelers are already familiar with his work. A reporter asked Head Coach Mike Tomlin during his press conference yesterday if he would speak to his team about Burfict prior to the game.
“No, they know who he is”, the head coach replied, saying much by saying little. As the reporter pressed on, he continued as well, saying, “I don’ think it’s necessary”, with regard to educating his players about facing the inside linebacker. “I think anybody that’s played for us understands it, understands the nature of it, and those that don’t will be educated by you guys”, naturally getting a dig in at the end.
The former undrafted free agent has had a number of suitably high-profile incidents just in his games against the Steelers alone, enough that I am probably forgetting some. There was the knee to the shoulder of Roethlisberger, for example, and a low hit in the pocket. He and David DeCastro, of all people, have had some clashes.
For as much attention that he draw to himself for his extracurriculars—he even got under his own teammates’ skin in training camp when he tackled running back Giovani Bernard, coming back from an ACL tear, in a non-tackling drill—it is unfortunate, because he is actually a very good player.
In just the two games since he returned from suspension, for example, Burfict has already racked up 19 tackles, including 14 primary tackles, as well as a sack and a pass defensed. He is serving as a tackle captain this year for the Bengals.