We all remember the stunning way the Bengals’ season came to end. They were just seconds away from ending a 26-year playoff victory drought when 30 yards worth of controversial, but accurate unnecessary roughness penalties put the Steelers in range for a last second game-winning field goal.
The main character in the Bengals’ collapse was linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Burfict was a first round talent who went undrafted in 2012 due to character concerns while at Arizona State. Since catching on with the Bengals as undrafted free agent, he has been incredibly productive, but also incredibly frustrating to coaches, teammates, and fans.
Burfict is among the league leaders in personal foul penalties since entering the league. Things like his hit on Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown that eventually led to the end of the Bengals 2015 season are not rare occurrences. In addition to other personal fouls in that same game, he had a personal foul for riding a player out of bounds that got a late drive going for the Broncos in pivotal December game this past season.
He just has not proven to be a very smart football player to this point in his career. Opponents are starting to pick up on that. The Steelers veteran defenders and coaches baited him into penalties throughout the playoff game. Some may see that as unethical, I am more of a by any means necessary kind of guy. Following the playoff game, Burfict was suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season.
Some blame coaching for Burfict’s reckless and over-the-top playing tactics. I do not know how much Marvin Lewis and his staff are at fault. There are countless videos on YouTube of Lewis and other Bengals coaches telling players, and especially Burfict to keep their poise during the playoff game.
What else can a coach do? At a certain point common sense must kick in for players in situations like this.
A few things are obvious to me when it comes to Cincinnati’s embattled defensive leader. First, he clearly has a problem. When you are costing your team playoff games and there is an entire YouTube video dedicated to your dirty plays dating back to your college career, you have a problem. One such video is below from J.R. Miller’s YouTube channel. It includes the hit on Antonio Brown from the playoffs.
The other thing that is clear is the Bengals organization knows opponents have caught on to Burfict’s act. Again, I am not sure how much a coach can do here. However, the Bengals quietly went out and hired one of the best as their linebackers coach.
Jim Haslett has coached football in some form or fashion every year since 1988, not many coaches can say that. The highlight of his career was as a head coach where he led the Saints franchise to its first playoff win following the 2000 season. However, most of his work in the NFL has come as a defensive coordinator and/or linebackers coach.
Haslett has had his hands on some great linebackers over the years. London Fletcher, Bryan Cox, and James Laurinaitis have all been coached by Haslett. They are/were all very smart well respected players. Like Burfict, Cox was also once a bit rough around the edges.
Haslett clearly knows what he is doing. You don’t coach football nonstop for 28 years unless that is the case. His number one job in Cincy will be to reel in and refine Burfict’s Hall of Fame level talent. I am not sure if it can be done, but if there is a way Haslett will find it