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Steelers News: Why Vontaze Burfict continues to be a story in the Steelers vs. Bengals matchup

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Why can’t we can’t talk about Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati without the Bengals’ No. 55 grabbing the spotlight?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Just say the name Vontaze Burfict around a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and you will certainly get a strong reaction. Odds are the term “jagoff” will be utilized, or some other expletives which wouldn’t fit the guidelines of this website. But despite fine after fine, and even a recent suspension by the NFL, Burfict continues to haunt opposing teams.

Not haunt as in scare, but haunt as in you seem to be continually waiting for him to do something so stupid or idiotic and mainly with the intent to injure someone.

When people ask what’s the difference between the Steelers vs. Ravens and Steelers vs. Bengals rivalry, it’s exactly that. You never get the feeling the Baltimore Ravens are out with the intent to injure a member of the Steelers, but with the Bengals...all bets are off.

Burfict continues to hang around, and the next installment of this saga will be on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET at Heinz Field.

Time to check in on news surrounding the Black-and-gold outside the walls of BTSC:

Vontaze Burfict is so volatile that the Cincinnati Bengals linebacker should come with a danger warning label.

Burfict is preceded by a reputation for dirty play that has drawn eight fines, a pair of three-game NFL suspensions — one for his vicious hit on a defenseless Antonio Brown in a 2016 AFC wild-card game — and a forfeiture of $2,187,018 in salary.

Even so, the Steelers know what Burfict brings to the Bengals, who visit Sunday for an AFC North game at Heinz Field.

“I've got all the respect in the world for him as a football player,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “Listen, he's one of the best linebackers in the game. There's no doubt about that. I've been saying that for a while. He's a great football player. And that's what I think is the frustrating part about the extra-curricular stuff, is that it almost takes away from how great he is.”

The Steelers know they must avoid the temptation to retaliate to Burfict's borderline behavior.

“The extra stuff that comes with him, he'll deal with that. He'll get fined or whatever,” Steelers left guard Ramon Foster said. “That's our mentality moving forward because we can't make it a thing. We can't go looking for it. If we go looking for it, we've done exactly what he wants us to do: get us out of our game.”

The Bengals are better with Burfict, especially against the Steelers at Heinz Field. Since signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Cincinnati is 2-1 here with Burfict and 0-2 without him. After losing their first three games while Burfict was serving his suspension for a controversial hit on Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman, the Bengals have beaten the Browns and Bills the past two games as Burfict had 19 tackles (14 solo) and a sack.

“He's a great player, no doubt about it, that can impact any game and no different than any other very good player that we see,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “We make sure we spend time talking about how we've got to neutralize those players. As far as anything else, we coach our guys all the time to be smart and don't be the guy doing something that hurts our team.”

Remember when Mike Tomlin was a revolutionary? When the Steelers went for 2 at the end of touchdowns — regardless of what point in the game — on a regular basis? When Tomlin was a hero for the analytics-based crowd? When that was going to change the league forever?

Seems like forever ago now. It was early in the 2015 season (the first in which the extra-point kick was moved back 13 yards) that Tomlin went for 2 with regularity. Though that slowed by the end of 2015, the Steelers led the league in 2-point tries (11) and conversions (eight). No other team attempted more than six or was successful on more than four tries.

Last season, the Steelers were just 3 for 9 when going for 2. This season, their only try was just before halftime in Baltimore (it failed) — although they lined up to try one in the first quarter against Minnesota before a penalty thwarted it.

Thirteen teams haven't attempted a 2-point conversion this season. Only eight teams have tried more than one.

The Steelers have the highest-paid receiver and running back in the NFL. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell are making nearly $27 million in salary between them this season, and, through the first six games, they’re certainly earning their paychecks.

Bell and Brown are the first teammates since the 1970 merger to each post 700 yards from scrimmage in the first six games of a season. If they can maintain their current pace they’ll become one of the league’s best running back-receiver combinations in league history.

Bell has 706 yards from scrimmage and Brown 700. Brown is on pace for 1,866 receiving yards, which would be the best season of his career and the fourth-best single-season performance in league history. Bell is on pace for 1,882 yards from scrimmage.

But as much as Bell and Brown have produced gobs of yardage, it hasn’t translated to the scoreboard. The Steelers are 22nd in the NFL in scoring, averaging 19.7 points per game. They have scored more than 21 points just twice this season and have yet to score more than 26.

Against the Chiefs on Sunday, the Steelers amassed 439 yards of offense, including 194 rushing yards, but could only manage 19 points.

“Last week, we ran the heck out of the ball, but we missed multiple little detail things that I’ve talked about here in the media before that probably cost us scoring a bunch of points and probably made the game close,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.

“So, really that’s what we’re focused on as a staff and as a group — just really zeroing in on the little finer points that make a difference from a play-to-play basis in this league. Because you’ve got to be on to make good plays and big plays and score touchdowns. We just missed too many of those little details.”

A good friend sent me a facetious text about two minutes after the Steelers finished off the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night.

“I’ll bet a lot of people will give Tomlin credit for this win.”

I laughed.

I got the joke.

I’m still waiting for the first.

It was easy to beat up Mike Tomlin after the Steelers lost to Chicago and Jacksonville. You know the complaints. His teams are unprepared. They are undisciplined. They play down to the competition. They lose too many games they should win. And my all-time favorite … The only time Tomlin ever really won was with Cowher’s players.

It seems as if it’s much harder to give Tomlin the least little bit of praise when the Steelers win a game such as Sunday’s when they went on the road to a difficult stadium and beat the NFL’s only undefeated team. It’s always about the players. A.B.’s spectacular catch. Le’Veon’s power running. Ben’s bounce-back day. The fastest defense any of us have seen in years.

From there, it was on to the drama that always seems to follow the Steelers these days. The nerve of Martavis for requesting a trade. Mike Mitchell’s questionable hit on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. Todd Haley’s play-calling in the red zone. How in the world do you not give the ball to Le’Veon on first-and-goal from the 2?

The only thing missing was a little credit for Tomlin.

What else is new?