It looks like Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther won't have WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion, knee) again for Sunday's season finale (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium, which means more of rookie linebacker Nick Vigil.
Burfict missed Saturday night's game in Houston, where Vincent Rey took Burfict's snaps in the nickel package and Vigil moved into Rey's spots and took a career-high 20 spots. It was a good look for Vigil, since the Texans went 4-for-14 on third down whole amassing 250 yards, the fewest allowed by the Bengals this season.
"I thought he did really well. He continued to get more and more snaps each week," Guenther said after Thursday's practice. "I thought overall save for about four plays that whole ballgame we played top- notch defense. It was good for him to get in there and get involved with it."
Vigil, a third-round pick, is playing outside now, but Guenther says he can also play the middle. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is averaging 24 snaps per game this season since the Bengals are playing a bevy of passing offenses, down 15 snaps from last year. Vigil has impressed in coverage since he arrived in May.
"He's a versatile guy. He can do everything," Guenther said. "What I try to do I try to do is put our guys with their abilities in position for us and our scheme to best utilize their abilities. Right now he's playing the outside and that's where he's been working, but he certainly can play the middle at any time.
The Bengals have only three defensive starters headed to free agency and they figure to try and re-sign nose tackle Domata Peko and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick with SAM linebacker Karlos Dansby not likely to get another run at age 35. If they can't get Kirkpatrick done, the next man up would appear to be 2014 first-round pick Darqueze Dennard. They started Dennard for Kirkpatrick Saturday night on the outside, but for just the first series and he again went back in the slot, where he has played half of his career-high 299 snaps this season.
Although Dennard has played behind some top-flight corners and lost a half of his three seasons to injury, Guenther says they've got a good idea what Dennard can do on the outside and he indicated he might get a few shots out there Sunday.
Guenther acknowledged they don't want Sunday to turn into the Steve Smith Sr., Show since the Ravens great has indicated this could be his last game in a brilliant 16-year career and all hands are on deck. Slot cornerback Josh Shaw (knee) turned up on Thursday's injury report and didn't practice. Smith has had some days against the Bengals in purple, most recently a 186-yarder in Baltimore last season.
Peko plays his 171st game Sunday, eighth most in Bengals' annals, and Guenther knows what that means.
"He's been unbelievable," Guenther said. "He comes to work every day. He studies his butt off. He's a leader in the locker room and on the field; just a consummate pro each and every day on and off the field. He's been a pillar for us for a number of years."
The Patriots (104) and the Bengals (116) have allowed the fewest points since Oct. 31, basically the second half of the season. The Pats play the Dolphins, ranked 16th in scoring and the Bengals play Baltimore, ranked 19th in scoring.
"I always tell them that's the most important stat to me – it's not yards, it's not third down percentage, because all those things will fall in line for you if you're holding the number down of the points," Guenther said. "It gives us a chance to win every week. I think those guys know what we've been doing and hopefully we can continue that trend this Sunday.
INJURY UPDATE: Running back Jeremy Hill (knee) didn't go again Thursday so it will be interesting to see if they promote rookie running back Tra Carson from the practice squad since it looks doubtful Hill can go.