On one hand, when he starts getting flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, part of you wants to tell him to dial it back and play smarter. On the other hand, you're scared if he pulls back too much he will lose his identity as an intimidating tackler and feared defender.
There is no easy way to address Burfict's penchant for collecting penalties, but the Bengals hope he is able to limit them this season while continuing to play the way he did during his Pro Bowl 2013 campaign:
Wednesday's factoid: 13.
If you haven't picked up on it by now, 13 represents the number of penalties Burfict was levied last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That number led the league.
Eight of Burfict's penalties were of the "unnecessary roughness" variety. He also was flagged 15 yards for a facemask against Buffalo, though it appeared on replays that Burfict's facemask also was pulled by the offensive lineman he was engaged with as he started to reach out to make a tackle.
Burfict was also fined three times for a total of $61,000.
He was fined $21,000 for spearing against the Jets in Week 8, $21,000 for a hit on a defenseless player against Green Bay and another $10,000 for a foul against Green Bay that referees didn't catch on the field. Following an extra-point attempt, Burfict was seen tapping with his right hand the groin of Green Bay's Ryan Taylor, who buckled backward before launching into Burfict with a hard retaliatory shove. Taylor was flagged for the push, but Burfict was not penalized on the field for his role.
Burfict's 150 penalty yards ranked second in the league last season behind Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson's 174.
Last season's penalty issue was new for Burfict. The 2013 league tackles leader had two penalties as a rookie in 2012, when he led the team in tackles with 127.
So what should the Bengals do about Burfict's penalty problem? Tell him to pull back the intensity? Try to limit his play to between-the-whistles action only? Or just ignore it altogether and hope he plays smarter this season?
The latter route probably is the best to take in this situation. As dirty as some might perceive Burfict's play, every team selfishly wants a player who isn't afraid to push an opposing player's buttons a little bit. Every team wants a leader who knows how to not only play well and with full 60-minute intensity, but also how to get inside the heads of players on the other team. Those are some of the intangibles Burfict brings to Cincinnati's defense, even if his play places him under the officials' microscope each week.
While the Bengals want him to limit his penalties in 2014 and to ultimately be a smarter player, they would be lying to themselves if they said they didn't like his edge. For that reason, don't be surprised if Burfict has double-digit penalties this season, while remaining near the top of the tackles list.