The Bengals and Steelers were not among the teams who made deals at the trade deadline, but each contender looked into buyer’s moves on defense. Specifically, the AFC North rivals were among the teams to pursue cornerback help, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. Both the 49ers and Bills discussed Jaylon Johnson with the Bears, and Buffalo ended up parting with a third-round pick (in a pick-swap move) to obtain Green Bay’s Rasul Douglas. That marked the only move for a corner at the deadline, though the Chargers did send J.C. Jackson to the Patriots in early October.
Chidobe Awuzie‘s return from ACL surgery has not resulted in the veteran regaining his form, and the Bengals have used younger corners Cam Taylor-Britt and DJ Turner as their starters alongside slot Mike Hilton in recent weeks. Pro Football Focus does not grade any of Cincy’s corners in the top 60 at the position. The Bengals rank 25th against the pass. More reliant on their defense without a Joe Burrow-like pilot on offense, the Steelers sit 27th. Joey Porter Jr. has replaced Levi Wallace opposite Patrick Peterson, who is in his age-33 season. With Wallace, Peterson and Chandon Sullivan short-term fixes, Porter represents Pittsburgh’s only long-term cog here post-Cameron Sutton.
Here is the latest from the AFC North:
- Joe Burrow has improved since the summer calf injury significantly restricted him early this season, but ahead of a pivotal Thursday-night matchup against the Ravens, the superstar Bengals QB was spotted wearing a brace or sleeve on his throwing hand. The Bengals shared video of their arrival in Baltimore but later deleted the tweet, though WCPO’s Caleb Noe spotted the fourth-year passer with the brace. This may not be especially important, as Burrow has not missed an NFL game due to injury since his rookie-year ACL tear. Seeing as the Bengals did not disclose a Burrow hand injury and deleted a video that may indicate one, this is worth monitoring.
- The Steelers are 6-3 despite being outgained in all nine games this season. Kenny Pickett ranks 28th in QBR, and while he has been without Diontae Johnson and Pat Freiermuth for extended stretches, the 2022 first-round pick has not shown tremendous progress in Year 2. The subject of Matt Canada‘s job security continues to come up, after Mike Tomlin gave him a third year following Pickett progress late last season. With the offense still a chief concern in Pittsburgh, The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly does not expect Canada to be retained for a fourth year. That said, the veteran reporter indicates (subscription required) a dramatic Pickett improvement would be Canada’s vehicle to staying. If Canada is let go, he will be the second three-and-done Steelers OC. The team initially promoted Canada from within to replace Randy Fichtner in 2021.
- On the subject of Steelers assistants, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac notes the team did not offer Brian Flores a promotion opportunity to convince him to stay. The Steelers did not dangle their DC job to keep Flores, whom Tomlin hired as linebackers coach following a surprising Dolphins dismissal. Viewed as a way for Flores to reestablish his value amid an ongoing discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and select teams, the Steelers stint proved effective. Despite the ongoing suit, Flores interviewed for the Cardinals’ HC job and received steady DC interest ahead of his Vikings hire. Teryl Austin is in his second season as Pittsburgh’s DC but has been with the team since 2019.
- Head Browns physician James Voos performed Nick Chubb‘s second ACL surgery, the Browns announced this week. The team revealed the operation was successful, and the procedure will put Chubb on track to return in 2024. While two knee surgeries at this juncture of his career will introduce some hurdles for Chubb, a 2024 return was previously floated out as realistic. Chubb’s three-year, $36.6MM contract runs through 2024.