A lot of noise is being made around the league. The majority of it is being made about Vontaze Burfict. The maligned WILL linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals has been the center of the NFL universe since January 9. Has Burfict been stereotyped by the media?
Commissioner Rodger Goodell handed down a three-game suspension that was appealed and upheld. It was a bold move that turned out to be the second stiffest penalty ever doled out. According to Pro Football Talk, the longest suspension was dealt to Albert Haynesworth of the Titans. He was hit with a five-game spanking for stepping on the head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode.
Will the suspension turn things around? Is it all media hype?
Having the three-game vacation could be beneficial for Burfict. While sitting on the sideline, he’ll be able to see what his absence means to his teammates. Burfict’s importance to the Bengals’ defense is often overlooked by those who just see his wild side.
The Bengals’ defense made huge strides in 2015. They ended the regular season as the No. 2 ranked scoring unit. The year-long mantra from coordinator Paul Guenther was about keeping the opponent out of the end zone. Burfict was a huge part of that process.
Before Burfict returned from micro fracture knee surgery, the Bengals gave up 122 points in six games. A little math makes that 20.3 points per game. After his Week 8 return against the Steelers, the defense gave up 153 points. Over the 10 remaining games, that’s 15.3 points. Burfict’s presence shaved almost a touchdown from the average.
To further show his impact on the defense, take a look at the Week 14 Steelers game. Pittsburgh won the battle 33-20. Two of their scores were set up by costly AJ McCarron picks. One was a pick-six and the other was at the Bengals 18-yard line. Magically erase those 14 points and the defense’s scoring average drops to 13.3 points.
Burfict is a throwback to the days of hard-hitting football. He conjures images of Dick Butkus, Jack Lambert, and Mike Ditka. They were all players who had short fuses. That’s when players would take a hit, get evaluated on the sideline, and get back to war. Does that make him a dirty player?
Most of the NFL has embraced Vontaze Burfict as a reckless monster. The Steelers are quick to label him an “idiot” and headhunter. Burfict is far from either of those comparisons. Seattle’s Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman didn’t hesitate, while giving Burfict phrase, via SB Nation.
“Everybody on that ball field is out there doing what they can to win. You never judge a guy for one thing. How far do they go if he’s not there at all? How far do they go with him not playing defense? Without Vontaze?”
Sherman’s approval is a welcomed breath of fresh air for a situation mired in media bias. To say Burfict hasn’t made some dirty plays would be total denial. Yet, saying that Burfict is about dirt more than spectacular play is also going in the opposite direction.
Burfict’s hit on Antonio Brown was even deemed clean by Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
“By rule as they told me when I went down to New York that is a penalty. Personally, I don’t think it is because I don’t think you can get out of the way fast enough.”
Vontaze Burfict is a talented player, with an immense football IQ. The media has created an image of him that will undoubtedly be hard to remake. He’ll have three games to sit and think about the mess that’s resulted from a few bad decisions.
Will the suspension have a negative effect on Burfict? He seems smart enough to realize what he has to do. But, convincing the NFL and media will be a totally different game plan.
[Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP]