Aug 24, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55) and offensive tackle Andre Smith (71) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Vontaze Burfict is back, and he’s already making an impact on defense for the Cincinnati Bengals. In Cincinnati’s Week 8 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, Burfict compiled five solo tackles while taking snaps at linebacker in Cincinnati’s 4-3 base packages. And while five tackles may not seem like much at first glance, there’s more to read behind the lines.
Burfict’s five tackles tied for the team lead in Pittsburgh, but he was more impactful than the box score may indicate. Burfict set the tone early, recording solo tackles in the first two plays of the game.
I got so excited about Burfict’s early impact that now every time I type “Burfict” on my phone, it is autocorrected to caps lock. Big mistake, but the caps lock is indicative of the energy Burfict brings to the table.
Burfict’s early impact set the tone for the Bengals on defense, giving the team energy and motivation to stay tenacious throughout the game. Cincinnati did a very good job defending the run against Pittsburgh, holding Le’Veon Bell to 45 yards on 10 carries before he left the game with a season-ending MCL injury. And while Burfict was involved in the tackle that tore Bell’s MCL, it was clearly a clean tackle.
Comedy aside, Burfict’s return to action shores up the Bengals’ run defense, which has been atrocious in years past, especially during the playoffs. The Bengals consistently struggle to stop the run in big games, which is an unheralded part of why Cincinnati has lost four straight playoff games and countless prime time games.
Oct 26, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (55) against the Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Even if Burfict just compiles a ton of tackles and stops opposing running backs without playing like an All-Pro, that is still an exponential upgrade from Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lamur, who have somehow forgotten how to tackle opposing running backs during Burfict’s absence.
But when fully healthy, Vontaze Burfict is a Pro Bowl player. In 2013, Burfict led the league with 115 tackles. He added eight pass defenses, an interception, three sacks, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries that season. Remember, Burfict just turned 25. He has the potential to be a perennial Pro Bowler if he can stay healthy.
Cincinnati ranked third in the NFL in team defense in 2013, but fell off to 22nd in 2014 and has rose to 17th in 2015. Burfict’s presence on the football field is vital for the Cincinnati Bengals, and his electric impact on defense could help Cincinnati’s D become one of the league’s best.