Thu Sep 26 6:43pm ET
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019., in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Munson)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph (2) passes against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) rushes during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
PITTSBURGH (AP) The familiar faces that fueled the hostility between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals are gone.
Vontaze Burfict is in Oakland. Adam ''Pacman'' Jones is retired. George Iloka is looking for work. Antonio Brown is off being Antonio Brown, stuck in self-induced NFL purgatory after flaming out in three cities in the span of six months. Le'Veon Bell took a year off, then took the New York Jets' money. Joey Porter is out of coaching. Ryan Shazier's career is on hold.
Together, they spent years toeing and sometimes crossing the line between playing with an edge and something considerably darker. The list of moments memorable for the wrong reasons includes Burfict's questionable celebration after ending Bell's season in the 2015 ; Porter taking a break from his job as Pittsburgh's outside linebacker coach to walk onto the field in the final minutes of a 2015 wild-card game to jaw at Burfict, the same game when Shazier's helmet-to-helmet hit with running back Giovani Bernard led to the NFL modifying the rules on such collisions.
Oh, and there was the Monday night meeting in December 2017, which featured Iloka violently slamming into Brown in the end zone as Brown hauled in the winning touchdown a couple hours removed from the harrowing sight of Shazier being carted off with a spinal injury from which he is still recovering.
Their absence likely means the bad blood between both sides has subsided. That's probably a good thing considering the current state of both teams. The Steelers and Bengals are a combined 0-6 heading into Monday night's meeting in Pittsburgh.
''Both of our backs are against the wall, which is kind of sad at this point of the season,'' Pittsburgh guard David DeCastro said. ''It will make for some good football, that's for sure. We both need a win very bad.''
The winner can at least point toward a bit of forward momentum heading into October, while the loser will be all but eliminated from AFC North contention with the leaves still on the trees. While the Bengals began the season with modest expectations under first-year coach Zac Taylor, the Steelers figured to be in the mix with Baltimore and Cleveland. Ben Roethlisberger's season-ending right-elbow injury and a defense that's been unable to get critical stops has Pittsburgh facing just its second 0-4 start in 1968.
No wonder Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin is, as he put it this week, ticked off. Taylor isn't quite there yet with his team, though he's also well aware of the weight facing the Steelers still carries regardless of the faces or the stakes.
''I certainly watched my fair share of games this offseason, trying to prepare myself for what's in store in this division,'' Taylor said. ''You get a pretty good sense of the feelings here. People aren't shy when you're out in the community in the offseason letting you know their thoughts on the Steelers.''
The noise will almost certainly get louder on Tuesday morning if the Bengals can't find a way to win in Pittsburgh for the first time since November 2015.
ON THE RUN
Cincinnati's biggest issue has been a nearly nonexistent running game that's forced Andy Dalton to carry almost the entire load. It was a bit better during a 21-17 loss at Buffalo , with Joe Mixon running for 61 yards and catching two passes for 34 yards and a touchdown. Mixon came into that game averaging 1.6 yards per carry. The Bengals will try to get the running game going to keep Pittsburgh's defense from locking in on Dalton.
''Once you start to get a rhythm in the run game and they start keying into it and saying, `We've got to stop the run, we've got to stop the run,' you get the balance of the complementary stuff that plays off it,'' Taylor said.
IN A TIGHT SPOT
A week after starting safety Minkah Fitzpatrick just days after acquiring him in a trade with Miami, the Steelers are giving another new arrival a crash course with plans to immediately throw him into the fray. Pittsburgh sent a fifth-round pick in the 2020 draft to Seattle for tight end Nick Vannett. Pittsburgh is in need of help at tight end with Vance McDonald nursing a left arm injury and Xavier Grimble on injured reserve with a calf problem.
Mason Rudolph overcame some early nerves to throw for 174 yards and two touchdowns in his first NFL start against San Francisco . The Steelers actually had the ball and the lead late in the fourth quarter before James Conner's fumble set up San Francisco for the winning touchdown. It was the second time the 49ers turned short fields courtesy of Pittsburgh turnovers into touchdowns. If those drives end in field goals instead, the Steelers aren't winless.
''When you have a guy in there, first time starting, you want to do everything you can to support him and make his job a lot easier,'' linebacker T.J. Watt said. ''Any way we can do that defensively, we're definitely going to try and do that. We've just got to do more of it.''
WORST MATCHUP ON WORST STAGE
The Bengals play the team that has dominated them, on the stage where they've been at their worst. The Bengals have lost eight straight and 11 of 12 against their AFC North rival. Oh, and the Bengals are 6-15 in prime-time games since 2011, when Andy Dalton was a rookie, including 2-5 on Monday night.
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert rushed six times for 13 yards and caught two passes for 14 yards in Week 11 against the Arizona Cardinals. With the Niners falling behind early, the running attack managed just 34 yards Sunday as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie wideout Deebo Samuel shined. Mosterts quiet day is a bummer considering the absence of Matt Breida (ankle), but the entire ground game got nothing going. Mostert continues to show flashes but has done little to merit serious fantasy attention. Hell be a volatile flex play if Breida is held out again in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers.
The San Francisco 49ers Defense recorded two takeaways and four sacks while allowing 26 points in Week 11s victory against the Arizona Cardinals. The Niners were sluggish early, getting blitzed by rookie quarterback Kyler Murray to a 0-16 deficit before tightening the screws in the second half. Both takeaways came late in the fourth quarter via fumble recoveries, including a laughable lateral play by the Cardinals that the Niners scooped up for a touchdown to end the game. Despite yielding points, the defense again made enough plays to win and remain fantasy-relevant. Theyll have another tough test in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers but remain a must-start unit.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne netted four of six targets for 31 yards and a touchdown in Week 11 against the Arizona Cardinals. Bourne was the clear No. 2 option behind rookie Deebo Samuel but played ahead of a hobbled Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) and Marquise Goodwin. His third score of the season came from two yards out in the fourth quarter. Bourne continues to see regular snaps as hes firmly surpassed Dante Pettis (zero targets) on the depth chart. He could merit a deep-league waiver claim but will just be a low-floor WR5 in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed 34 of 45 passes for 424 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in Week 11s victory against the Arizona Cardinals. The Niners fell behind early and managed just 34 rushing yards on the day, leaving it to Jimmy G to lead the comeback. He found backup tight end Ross Dwelley twice inside five yards for his first two scores before connecting with wideout Kendrick Bourne for his third touchdown. Garoppolos final score was the decisive game-winner when he found running back Jeffery Wilson darting down the middle for a 25-yard go-ahead touchdown. Despite the banner day, Garoppolos two picks give him 10 for the year, including a near fourth quarter back-breaker in the red-zone. However, he got the job done despite missing tight end George Kittle (ankle, knee). Garoppolo will be a QB2 in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (ribs) nabbed three balls for 33 yards before exiting with a rib injury. Entering the game questionable, Sanders saw five targets before aggravating his injury midway through the game. The 10-year veteran looked noticeably hobbled in limited snaps, gingerly getting up after each hit. In his absence, rookie wideout Deebo Samuel went off for 134 yards. Its probable Sanders will be limited this week in practice and be a game-time decision again in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers. Samuel will be a WR3 operating as the de facto No. 1 receiver.
The Los Angeles Rams Defense tallied three sacks and an interception while holding the Chicago Bears to just seven points in Week 11. The Rams will have a very tough test against the Baltimore Ravens next week and are probably best avoided.
Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald had two sacks against the Chicago Bears in Week 11. That makes five games in a row he has reached the quarterback. He added four tackles (three solo) and batted down a pass. Donald remains a solid DL1 in individual defensive formats.
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff was 11-for-18 for 173 yards, no touchdowns and one interception in Week 11 against the Chicago Bears. That was the fewest amount of attempts he has had as a starter. The Rams surprisingly relied on the run and were able to secure the victory. Goff's play has to worry his owners in fantasy as he's inconsistent and downright scary to play in poor matchups. He'll have another tough matchup next week, and he's a low-end QB1.
Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley rushed 25 times for 97 yards and a touchdown in the Week 11 win over the Chicago Bears. He did lose a fumble, however. Gurley also caught three balls for 36 yards. The three catches tied for the team lead as the team finally rode on his back. His 25 carries were a season high by a large margin, and maybe now the team is willing to utilize him normally after he was used so sparingly to this point. He'll face the Baltimore Ravens next week.
Detroit Lions rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson was quiet once again, posting just one catch on two targets for six yards in Week 11. There are just too many mouths to feed on this Lions squad for Hockenson to consistently get targets. Hockenson has surpassed the 32-yard receiving mark just once since his outlier Week 1 performance, while also putting up three single-digit receiving yard performances in that time. His floor is quite an ugly one with or without Matthew Stafford (back) in the lineup, making him a very hard sell going forward. The Lions will face the lowly Redskins in Week 12. Hockenson will be nothing more than a boom-or-bust TE2 option in that matchup.
Los Angeles Rams running back Malcolm Brown had five carries for 15 yards and a touchdown in Week 11. It was Brown's first useful day in fantasy since Week 1 when he vultured two touchdowns. You can't bank on that week to week, but he needs to be handcuffed to starting running back Todd Gurley. Rookie Darrell Henderson didn't see any action, which means Brown has first dibs on touches after Gurley again.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp was limited to three catches for 53 yards in Week 11 against the Chicago Bears. The Rams completed just 11 passes and clearly planned around the run with wide receivers Robert Woods (personal) and Brandin Cooks (concussion) out. He caught all of his targets, and one of them went for 50 yards. Kupp has now had two dreadful weeks in a row and hopes to turn the tides next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Gerald Everett caught the only ball thrown to him in Week 11 for 20 yards. The team clearly focused on running the ball, and they didn't take many shots down the field. Everett should have more opportunities next week against the Baltimore Ravens.
New York Jets tight end Daniel Brown caught his only target for a 20-yard touchdown in a win Sunday in Washington. Brown got the scoring going with a touchdown to cap a 75-yard opening drive touchdown, the fourth week in a row New York has found the end zone on their first drive. That would be all for Brown in the game, however, as starting tight end Ryan Griffin had a big afternoon. As a backup tight end on a disappointing offense, Brown has no fantasy value.
New York Jets wide receiver Demaryius Thomas made four catches for 44 yards in a win over the Redskins Sunday. Thomas was targeted five times as his target share continues to be wildly inconsistent from game-to-game. As the third wide receiver on the depth chart it's hard to trust Thomas in anything other than a very deep league as his targets have been too unpredictable and he's yet to find the end zone.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston completed 30-of-51 passes for 313 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions in the Bucs Week 11 loss to the Saints. Winston was unable to get out of his own way the entire afternoon, and all but sealed the win for the Saints after tossing a pick-six with just 5:07 remaining to put the Saints up by 17. Winston is currently on track to throw more than 28 interceptions on the season but has still been able to put up useful fantasy numbers. He will have a much easier matchup in Week 12 with the Falcons on deck. Fantasy owners can slot him in as a low-end QB1 for that one.
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder made five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown against his former team Sunday. Crowder has now scored a touchdown three straight weeks as he continues to be Sam Darnold's favorite target. Crowder has had 76 or more yards in five of seven games played with Darnold healthy and has been his most trusted receiver in the red zone. Fantasy managers should continue to start Crowder with confidence with a run of good matchups still to come for the Jets.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber did not have a rushing attempt the entire afternoon in Week 11 but was able to save his day with a six-yard touchdown catch. Barber caught 2-of-2 targets for 11 yards on the day but was totally uninvolved after scoring late in the fourth quarter with the Bucs in a deep hole. Barber's usage has continued to decrease weekly as Ronald Jones II has become the clear No.1 option in this backfield. Fantasy owners who are still holding on to Barber can drop him now. Needless to say, he will not be a recommended start in Week 12 against the Falcons.
New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson caught one of three targets for six yards and a touchdown in a win over the Redskins Sunday. Anderson has now reached the point in fantasy where he disappoints his owners even when he scores a touchdown as this is the second straight week he's made only one catch. Quarterback Sam Darnold just seems to have a better connection with Jamison Crowder and Ryan Griffin than with Anderson as Darnold has struggled to get the ball downfield to Anderson all season. He'll remain a boom-or-bust flex option in deeper leagues with more favorable matchups on the horizon.
New York Jets running back Le'Veon Bell carried the ball 18 times for 59 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Redskins. Bell also had two catches in the game to give him 20 total touches for the seventh time in 11 games this season. This is the second straight good-not-great performance from Bell where he saved his fantasy day with a touchdown. It's fair to wonder if the Jets start to split carries more with Bilal Powell, the latter received seven carries for the second straight week. Powell averaged six yards per carry to Bell's 3.3 so they may rely more on the fresh legs more moving forward. Despite the inefficiency from Bell, his typical volume makes him a must-start RB in fantasy.