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AFC North Round Up: Week Five: Steelers Bye Week Edition

(Bumped. Good stuff as always. Considering how busy I am making a movie for a project I was involved with all summer, I'm pleased to promote a round-up type piece from Sunday's action, a day that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers inactive and resting up during their lone Bye week this season. Thanks to all of you for the great content each week, and if you've got something good in the next day or so, it's a particularly great time to share. I'll be hard at work finishing up some other business so that I'll have sufficient time this week to preview the Steelers' return to action next Sunday. -- Michael B.)

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It was upsets galore around the NFL this Sunday afternoon, and even the AFC North was hit by what would be considered an "upset" but was by no means a surprise, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers edged the Cincinnati Bengals today. The Ravens as expected demolished the Broncos at home, and the Browns, although competitive once again, fell short against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Steelers had the bye week this week, Ben Roethlisberger being given a little extra time to get back in sync with the likes of Mendy, Ward and Miller, and hopefully working on a few deep balls with Mike Wallace.

As it stands, the Ravens sit atop the AFC North standings with a 4-1 record, 1.5 games ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers at 3-1, the Bengals slumped to 2-3 and the Browns find themselves still in the basement at 1-4 on the season.

Recaps after the jump:

GAMEDAY WRAP UP:

 

Denver Broncos 17 @ Baltimore Ravens 31

The Ravens came into this game after a solid last minute victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week Four, and were looking to avoid a hangover or letdown game against a team that has struggled with its team identity in recent weeks, in the Denver Broncos. After having to struggle their way through the previous four games, particularly struggling to run the ball, the Ravens running backs put the team on their shoulders and never looked back, finally having the breakout running performance we expected earlier in the season, on route to an easy victory over the Broncos.

The Good:

The Ravens running game came into this one having struggled for the most part. Ray Rice had recorded a couple 80 yard performances, but was not terrorizing defensive front sevens like he had last season. This didnt look that likely to change, as Denver entered the game having not allowed a 100 yard rusher through the first four games, plus they were only surrendering 101.0 total rushing yards per game, including holding CJ2YPC to a mere 52 yards the week previous. The Ravens Offensive Line bullied the Broncos, and Ray Rice piled up a whopping 133 yards rushing along with two short yardage touchdowns, not looking slowed by his niggling injuries, and Willis McGahee complimented him really well, picking up 67 yards and a 30 yard touchdown himself.

The Bad:

The Ravens did not do badly in any major area of the game. Allowing Brandon Lloyd to come down with a touchdown late in the second quarter to make it 17 - 7 at the break was a stand out though. Single coverage in a situation where there should have been safety help over the top wasnt a particularly smart set up by the defense. Those sort of plays can kickstart a team who is behind heading into the second half. As it was it didnt affect them too much, but that play shouldnt have been made. 

The Head Scratcher:

Only 5 minutes into the first quarter with the score at 0 - 0, John Harbaugh found the need to go for it on 4th and Goal from the 2 yard line. Perhaps trying to stamp some authority on this game early, the Broncos accepted the challenger and sacked Flacco all the way back at the 14 yard line. The play wasnt a great call, as the Broncos identified it as a pass almost immediately. It didnt hurt them in the end, plus if it had worked, I would probably be talking about it in "The Good" section, this is just the reality of different outcomes in risky play calling.

Surprise of the Game:

The Broncos passing attack may be a lot more impressive than I first gave them credit for. I expected Orton to crumble against the vaunted Ravens D but he held up really well between the 20 yard lines, but as with their whole season, piling up yardage doesnt mean much when you cant punch in those points in the Red Zone. The Ravens defense didnt do anything terribly bad (other than the Lloyd touchdown) but they also didnt dominate the line of scrimmage. 

Key Stat:

The Broncos failed to make use of those gaudy statistics, stalling drives before getting to the Red Zone. The Broncos were 0-1 in the Redzone, whilst the Ravens were 3-5 in the Red Zone, all of them touchdowns. Also note the Ravens outgained the Broncos on the ground 233-39. The more balanced offense won the game.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 @ Cincinnati Bengals 21

The Bengals are who we thought they were? The Roller Coaster type season continues for Cincinnati, after posting an impressive Week Two win over Baltimore, and a solid if unspectacular win against Carolina, they have been humiliated in games against New England and Cleveland, and you can now add Tampa Bay to that list. The fact is that the Bengals have not put together anything near a complete performance against an opponent this season, and if not for some amazing defense against the Ravens, this team is bad enough to be 1-4 at this point.

The Good:

It took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28th ranked Rush Defense to come to town in order for the Bengals to finally run the ball effectively this season. Cedric Benson had some nice cuts and nice runs in this one, picking up 144 yards on the ground on just 23 carries. Shame it was all for nothing in a losing effort.

Terrell Owens also backed up his huge game against the Browns by posting 7 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown in another solid losing effort. The Bucs, much like the Browns, chose to take away Chad Ochocinco, and T.O took full advantage. Its a shame about the throws the quarterback makes the rest of the time.

The Bad:

Carson Palmer sunk this ship with his horrendous play. There were a couple instances where he wasnt helped by dropped passes, including a wide open Andre Caldwell drop which wouldve set up a 1st and Goal, but Carson Palmer just doesnt look like he has it anymore to be a viable starter. He missed Jermaine Gresham on a wide open throw because he lacked the moxie to step up into the pocket with a defender lining him up. The throw sailed high and the Bengals drive stalled. He also threw a pick six on a terrible, across the body throw inside his own 10 yard line. The Bengals have no other Quarterback on the roster so his job is safe this season, however the Bengals now have to sink or swim with Palmer's lack luster efforts. He ended up with 3 interceptions in the game.

The Head Scratcher:

The Bengals protected very well. Carson took some hits, but he had the time to throw. Up until now, I was thinking that maybe the lack of a running game and lack of time to throw was contributing to his poor efforts. Palmer wasnt sacked in this game, yet he still forced the ball into coverage and wound up with three interceptions. The running game was working incredibly well, yet Marvin Lewis kept passing and turning the ball over. This is why we call them the "Bungles" I guess.

Surprise of the Game:

Could Josh Freeman be the Ben Roethlisberger of the 2009 draft? Like Roethlisberger, Freeman was viewed as the "wildcard" first round rookie quarterback behind two other "more polished products" in Stafford and Sanchez. Freeman plays like Big Ben, he is big and mobile, and he fought off blockers and made plays, as well as orchestrating a 4th quarter comeback with some big time throws and scored 10 consecutive points to silence the Bengals. The Surprise? The Buccaneers are now 3-1, and Freeman is leading an incredibly young offense to a great start.

Key Stat:

Carson Palmers three interceptions take the cake here. Other than that, the Bucs (45%) had a better third down completion percentage than the Bengals (30%). Freeman and the Bucs offense made the key plays that Palmer and the Bengals couldnt.

 

Atlanta Falcons 20 @ Cleveland Browns 10

The Browns had a great victory at home against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week Four, and with confidence high were looking to win back to back games when the Falcons came to town. Unfortunately, since losing to the Steelers in Week One, the Falcons had won three straight against quality opponents. In the end, the Falcons had just a little too much firepower for the Browns, and were able to stifle Peyton Hillis's running on route to a solid if unspectacular road victory.

The Good:

The Browns could have had a better go of this game had it not been for a couple key injuries. Peyton Hillis's niggling thigh injury slowed him in the running game, however he managed to still be a force in this game, grabbing 78 total yards, including 49 yards and a touchdown receiving. 

Seneca Wallace meanwhile was playing really well in the first half. He had completed 11 of 15 for 139 yards and had the Browns ahead at the half 7-6 thanks to his 19 yard touchdown throw to Peyton Hillis. He was sacked late in the second quarter by John Abraham which injured his ankle, and the Browns began to think "What if?" as they sunk with Delhomme in the second half.

The Browns defense also deserves credit for holding the explosive Falcons offense to just 13 points and recording two sacks. They did their part to keep the game close, unfortunately Delhommes play in the second crippled their chances.

The Bad:

Speaking of Delhomme, here he is. Delhomme entered the game in the Second Half due to the injury to Seneca Wallace and began to implode like he seems to always do these days. Jake Delhomme finished with a terrible 13 of 23 for just 97 yards and two terrible interceptions, one of which was tipped and then returned for a 31 yard touchdown by Kroy Biermann to kill the Browns chances of pulling out a late game win. The Browns should just hope that Wallace will be able to play next week, I havent heard the update on his injury. Delhomme meanwhile needs to be relegated to 3rd on the depth chart in favor of Colt McCoy.

Surprise of the Game:

The Browns defense stifled the Atlanta Falcons in the Red Zone, who ended up 0 for 3 in RedZone attempts. Give the Browns some credit, they really took it to a Falcons team that was expected to walk all over them. The 20-10 scoreline really doesnt do justice to how well the Browns defense matched up to the Falcons offense at key times. They did get run all over and failed to make splash plays, but they came to play.

Key Stat:

The Browns were outgained by the Falcons on the ground by 165-48. A healthy running game could have been the difference in to not allowing Delhomme to attempt winning the game through the air. The Browns also lost the turnover battle 3-1.

 

LOOK AHEAD TO WEEK FIVE:

 

Cincinnati goes into the Bye Week this week, with a 2-3 record, good for third in the divisional standings.

 

Baltimore Ravens (4-1) @ New England Patriots (3-1)

The Patriots come off the bye, to get a true test against the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens defense hasnt quite been as flashy as recent years, yet they are still among the leagues best against the run and pass. They proved just this week that high octane passing attacks will still struggle against them at key times, and the Patriots defense has been highly ineffective at times this season. They will be tested by Ray Rice and Flacco should have the time to throw the ball.

Ravens: 26  Patriots: 23

 

Cleveland Browns (1-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)

Big Ben returning is the obvious storyline for this game. Many of us will look pass this one in terms of Winning, however it should be noted that the Browns havent been all that bad defensively this season. They are however, inconsistent against the pass and run. Two weeks ago they shut down Benson but got torched by Palmer, this week they held Ryan in check but let Turner run all over them. Either way the Steelers Offense should have too many weapons in what will be a high emotion game. Oh, and our defense is playing pretty good right now.

Steelers: 34  Browns: 13


 

 

QUICK HITS:

- Green Bay are quickly losing credibility with me. After singing praises for their offense, Aaron Rodgers and his receivers are sputtering. They havent been helped by injuries, but last year it seemed anyone and everyone would step up. This year, not so much. They lost an upset to the inconsistent Washington Redskins 16-13 OT, and its those kind of soft defeats that will cost you down the track.

- Kansas City proved today that they could be in it for the long run, despite losing, they held out Peyton Manning from throwing a touchdown (he had 11 in his first 4 games) and intercepting him for what was only his 2nd of the season. They blew a few chances to score points, namely a Dwayne Bowe drop in the endzone, but they never relinquished, give them their props.

- Good on you Stefan Logan. His 105 yard kick return for Detroit with the score tied 3 - 3 sparked a lead which the Lions ran away with, winning 44 - 6 in a blowout of the St Louis Rams. Bradford had to play catch up, but the Lions weren't going to let that happen. I was never a big fan of Logan's and was happy to see the Steelers cut him, but to his credit he is making it work in Detroit.

- The 4p.m. Sunday games were ones to remember, all three of them ending up in upsets, two of them huge. Who wouldve thought an Undrafted Rookie Quarterback would win his first start against the defending Superbowl Champions. The Cardinals defense rose to the challenge and smacked an inconsistent Saints offense in the mouth on route to a 30 - 20 victory.

The Titans withstood everything that Dallas could throw at them, and although Tony Romo threw for over 400 yards, he threw 3 key interceptions that ultimately killed their chances of a win. Something interesting you might want to note, is that Miles Austin has recorded three games of more than 140 yards this season, including 10 for 146 and 1 td, 10 for 142 and now 9 for 166 with 1 td and the have LOST all three of those games. In the Cowboys 1 victory, Miles is 2 for 20 yards. 

- The Oakland Raiders scored a memorable victory at home against the San Diego Chargers, their first victory over their AFC West Rivals in SEVEN years. Jason Campbell redeemed himself in relief of Bruce Gradkowski, leading the offense to victory, but it was Special Teams that helped win this one. A complete game by the Raiders, and Norv Turners constant reliance on the passing game is starting to kill the Chargers. Two blocked punts put the Chargers in an early hole. Despite a career day for Rivers (431 yds, 2 tds) and Malcolm Floyd (8 for 213, 1 td) the Raiders held tough to put away the game.

- I'm an abysmal 4/12 on BTSC Pick Em. The Eagles are currently beating the 49ers which would bump me to 5 points, however I have Minnesota to upset the Jets, so this could easily be my worst week yet.

- Players of the Week:

Offensively: Matt Forte chose a great time to come out of hiding this season. After being terrible running the football this season, he picked up 166 yards and two touchdowns in the game against Carolina, in which he put the Bears on his back and carried them to victory. He helped balance the game after Todd Collins threw 4 interceptions.

Defensively: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie helped headline a dominant defensive effort by the Cardinals, shutting down receivers and putting his stamp on the game with his 28 yard interception return late to end the Saints chances. 

Quick shout for Clay Matthews, who added 1.5 sacks to his league leading 8.5 sacks, as well as the Tennessee Titans defensive line, who at one point had 5 sacks in just over 1.5 quarters against the Cowboys.

Till next week, see you around.

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