“With the weather, with it raining, we figured we would stop the run and try to make them one-dimensional by throwing the ball. They made a great throw in the end zone, and I don’t think he could make that throw twice”.
That’s how the Cincinnati Bengals beat Buffalo on Sunday, with Vontaze Burfict leading the way, especially when it mattered in the fourth quarter.
The surprising Bills came to town with a solid recipe for success; pound the rock and take care of the football. Despite basically no weapons other than tight end Charles Clay, who went down with an injury in the first half, and running back LeSean McCoy, Buffalo had still beat the Broncos and the Falcons before their matchup against the Bengals.
With a defensive line that had to account for quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s speed and scrambling ability, the main task of stopping McCoy went to the linebackers, and they took care of their part, holding the talented running back to only 63 yards on 19 carries and 89 yards in 25 total touches.
Burfict showed on Sunday why he is your ideal linebacker; he’s always looking for the ball. That’s one of the reasons he ended up with 13 tackles.
He could have had even more hadn’t he been held by a Bills lineman in what turned to be McCoy’s longest carry of the day: 14 yards.
Despite his aggression, Burfict’s best skill is his football instinct. He knows where he’s supposed to be and what he’s supposed to do, and he won’t lose contain trying to make a play he’s not supposed to do.
That is something many linebackers and safeties often do, and it’s especially dangerous against backs like McCoy who love to bounce outside and get to the sideline. Burfict knows he has to set the edge and keep the back inside where he can be stopped.
The six-year veteran out of Arizona State wouldn’t be so important if he wasn’t pretty good in coverage, though. In today’s NFL, you need linebackers who can cover, no matter how bad the opposing team’s wide receivers are.
Taylor attempted 37 passes on Sunday, completing only 20 for 166 yards. Many were checkdown or really short throws that were shut down completely by the Bengals defense, led by Burfict. This is another part of his game where his instincts play a key role, as Burfict is far from being fast or uber-athletic like his teammate Nick Vigil, but he knows where to go and reacts faster than most.
A good example of this is the first third down the Bills had on Sunday, when Burfict took away a short throw that was probably going to allow Buffalo to convert, and Taylor ended up being sacked instead. Check out how quickly Burfict saw Taylor’s intentions and how fast he closed down on the receiver.
And with the Bengals holding on for dear life with a slight lead over the visiting Bills, Burfict stepped up his game. First, he got a sack that should have forced Buffalo to punt down by four and right after giving up a touchdown, but a roughing the passer penalty on Carl Lawson gave them the first down anyway.
Burfict played the mobile quarterback perfectly, and when the pocket collapsed while the receivers went the other way, Burfict smelled blood and attacked. Lawson would redeem himself in a big way a few plays later.
Cincinnati’s offense couldn’t move the ball though and punted shortly after. A big return by former Bengal Brandon Tate plus a 15-yard penalty put the Bills in great position to score a touchdown and retake the lead.
But Burfict had different plans, putting them in a 3rd-and-long situation and holding them to a field goal, thus keeping the lead. It was his third defensive stop of the day (sack or tackle for a loss).
The Bengals went on to score another field goal and eventually win despite losing the turnover battle 1-3. The defense was again a big factor in the victory, and The Enforcer, only in his second game back from a suspension, proved one more time he’s their natural leader.