AFC North Round-Up Week Four: Stupidly Late Edition

Forgive the lateness. Its almost exam times at University and I had quite a bit of work earlier this week.

Week Four treated AFC North fans to a Divisional Double Header. Its no surprise the race is on early for the Divisional title and it will continue to be a heated one throughout the season. The Ravens managed to oust the Steelers in a slugfest for the AFC North lead for the time being with a 3-1 record. Meanwhile Cincinnati fell to Cleveland to go 2-2, the Browns, although relevant in games, are still proving irrelevant in the Standings, sitting at 1-3.

Our Steelers dropped their first game of the season, rounding out the pre-Big Ben season with a solid 3-1 record, and were only 30 seconds away from being 4-0 without their prize quarterback. We now have 2 weeks for Ben to get up to speed before we return to play the Cleveland Browns in Week 6.

Recaps after the jump.



Cincinnati Bengals 20 @ Cleveland Browns 23

Quickly want to note that I called this one last week : ). The Browns came out and ran the ball down the Bengals throats. Once again taking a 4th quarter lead. At times they did their best to blow it, but when crunch time came, the Defense managed to make a stand and play it out like they have been all season. Cincinnati continued its frustrating up and down roller - coaster of a season, whilst the Browns pulled out what could be a rare win for them this season. 

The Good:

I have been saying it all season and i will continue to say it until he starts to decline, and that is the bruising runner of Peyton Hillis. Hillis has given the Browns an offensive identity at long last, a bruising, trucking load of a running back who is not shy of contact. Hillis has taken advantage of every opportunity this season to make the starting job his, and has backed up it through the first four weeks of the season, as he ranks among the leagues best after four weeks with 322 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Terrell Owens. Hate him or love him, but T.O came to play and became the first player to record 200 yards in a single game with three different teams (San Francisco, Dallas and now Cincy). Carson Palmer finally had a good outing, but all for nothing. The Browns pass defense crumbled at times, and T.O took full advantage. He ended with a near career day, grabbing 10 balls for 222 yards and a 78 yard touchdown catch.

The Bad:

Cincinnati's Pass Protection was lacking all game, Carson Palmer was running for his life at times, and despite his good stats, he threw many incompletions under pressure and the Browns could easily have ended up with more sacks in this game than the four they registered.

The Browns meanwhile may have finally avoided a 4th quarter collapse before stifling the Bengals late, but once again they allowed the Bengals to have a near comeback win. Leading 23-13 in the 4th they allowed the Bengals to score and were silenced on offense due to some conservative offensive play calling. They need to learn to close out these games better offensively, they very nearly gave this one away too.


The Head Scratcher:

The Bengals set the tone in 2009 with a physical running attack. This has been completely absent this season, and Cedric Benson is failing to show the form he terrorized the AFC North with last season. Managing a measly 60 yards (not to mention a team total of 67 yards) against the Browns rush defense which was surrendering 122 yards per game. Carson came up decent in this game, but most of his struggles have come with no rushing attack. The Bengals wont be contenders until they have a decent running game behind them.


The Surprise:

Cleveland's pass rush came up big when it mattered. After giving away Kamerion Wimbley to the Raiders in the offseason, the Browns lacked true pass rushers. Although their aggressiveness in blitzing cost them big in the secondary at times, the heat was on and Carson's 370 yards weren't an indicator of him dominating as much as it may seem. Cleveland finished with 4 sacks and a lot of pressures on Palmer, and Matt Roth, dumped by the Miami Dolphins came up big with two sacks, including the clincher.

Key Stat:

The Browns won most of the key stats. They had more sacks, more time with the ball and less turnovers. Whilst Cincinnati won most of the "glory ball" stats, Cleveland had the ones that mattered, and walked away with the Win.



Baltimore Ravens 17 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 14

The best rivalry in the NFL in recent history played out its first episode in Week Four and purist football fans would not have been disappointed. The Ravens and Steelers once again traded punches early in the game, just to throw haymakers late in the game for what was a true heavyweight bout between teams that should both be in playoff contention deep into December and January. However, in Ravens-Steelers 1.0, the Ravens one upped the Steelers to even the Standings at 3-1 after a comeback drive orchestrated by Joe Flacco.

The Good:

Give Joe Flacco his due. He shook off the early inconsistencies and held tough after turning the ball over on downs late in the game to lead the Baltimore Ravens offense to the win, making the most of their second chance to take the game from the Steelers, notching his first win at Heinz Field. He led the offense on scoring drives of 8, 14 plays earlier in the game to have the Ravens in the lead at the half. He isnt an elite quarterback yet, but his late game heroics late in the game against a team who many considered to have the best defense in the league, will only provide a confidence boost for him down the track.

For the defensive side, Haloti Ngata had a great game, and gave Maurkice Pouncey a right work out in the middle. He registered one sack along with 8 solos and 3 assists, clogging the middle. Hes certainly having a pro bowl year so far.

I have to give Ike Taylor props here. He caught an interception, his first since 2008. I had to change my pants after that one. Also give Will Gay some major props for coming up huge on back to back plays in the endzone to shut out the Ravens who were at the time, driving for the win. He had excellent coverage and looks back to his best in terms of playing in the nickel.

Rashard Mendenhall had a solid game on the ground for the Steelers, his tough running kept the Ravens defense honest and he picked up 2 touchdowns, one straight up the gut, and a second round the outside to give the Steelers a lead midway through the 4th. Hes been our workhorse through four games and his job should be made easier by the return of Big Ben.

The Head Scratcher:

Why did the prevent make a return in 2010? I thought we learnt last year that we should (ala Herm Edwards) play to win the game! Not play to try not to lose the game. Look at the highlights on the Ravens game winning drive to see how far off McFadden and others were playing the Ravens receivers. A bit of intensity and aggressiveness would have been much more appreciated. 

Again, the other frustration I had in this game was the play calling on the Steelers second to last drive, after shutting out the Ravens on 4th down. We chose to milk the clock a little and play conservative, although once again in the words of Herm Edwards, you "play to win the game". I know, at the time I wasnt overly concerned due to our defenses performance for much of the game, but it would have been nice to see a play action pass or something to try catch the Ravens off guard and pick up that key first down and keep our own defense off the field. 

Surprise of the Game:

The Steelers only managed to register one sack against a team that was in transition at Right Tackle not to mention Oher making the move to Left Tackle. There were a couple minor holds that couldve been called, but the Steelers outside rush for the most part didnt make those clutch sacks that we all know and love. Give the Ravens their props I suppose.

Key Stat: 

Penalties killed the Steelers late in the game and they ended with 11 penalties for 88 yards, including two on a key drive late in the game when trying to deny the Ravens a chance to comeback. Unacceptable in my opinion. A championship caliber team cannot afford to shoot themselves in the foot in key games.



Our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers have a bye week, which is a blessing in disguise for Big Ben and the offense who will have two weeks to get back in sync with each other, before a playing host to the Cleveland Browns in Week 6.

Denver Broncos (2-2) @ Baltimore Ravens (3-1)

The Ravens will look to get an early one game up on the Steelers by defeating the Broncos at home here. Confidence will be high, and coach John Harbaugh will have to intensify the trainings during the week to make sure the Ravens dont get to complacent. On the flipside, its hard to figure out who the Denver Broncos are right now. They are generating a lot of yards offensively, but the defense is lacking at times. Their offense will get a true test at Baltimore come Sunday, and I hate to say it but I think the Ravens will just be too physical for the Broncs

Ravens: 20 Broncos: 12


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) @ Cincinnati Bengals (2-2)

Tampa Bay comes off the bye and into Ohio after a tough loss to the Steelers where they realized they weren't as good as their early 2-0 record suggested. They have had two weeks to prepare for this matchup, and after the Bengals lackluster showing last week losing to the Browns, Tampa Will like their chances. Meanwhile, this serves as a good game for the Bengals offense to try get back into balance, as Tampa have been below average defending the run, and their defense will look to confuse an inexperienced Quarterback.

Bengals: 23 Bucs: 17


Atlanta Falcons (3-1) @ Cleveland Browns (1-3)

Like the other AFC North teams, the Browns will find themselves at home this week, still riding the cloud of success after putting away the Bengals last week. The Browns have surprisingly been in front in every game this season going into the fourth quarter, last week they let Cincy in with a sniff but ultimately pulled out the win over their tough division rival. Meanwhile, ever since a sputtering performance against the Steelers in week one, the Falcons have won three straight, despite nearly letting in a let down against the 49ers last week. The Falcons will look to torch the Brownies through the air much like the Bengals did, plus they have a better running back in Michael Turner

Falcons: 30 Browns: 23



When many of us in the offseason gathered to talk about our "realistic" expectations for the four games without Ben, anyone who considered 4-0 was often considered a "homer". However it now seems that the egg is on some of our faces, mine included. I was expecting and hoping for 2-2, much like many others, yet after winning the first two games in convincing fashion, many of us got greedy and were calling for 4-0. Well, we nearly got there, just 30 seconds shy after a gutsy showing in a loss against Baltimore. 

Defense is ruling us this season, and although we saw the Prevent Defense let us down once again whilst holding a lead, this team is built for the long haul. The Defense is the defense, they are the goods and could easily donate four or five players to the All Star game at seasons end. The Offensive Line has been a nice surprise in both pass protection and run blocking, and the Steelers have a top 10 rushing attack that should only improve once Big Ben returns.

Offensively, our standouts have been few, but Rashard Mendenhall has been a true workhorse for us, and has been finishing off drives with punishing runs for touchdowns, hes averaging over 100 yards per game and 1 touchdown per game, really stepping it up in his first season as the undisputed day one starter.

Much of his inside running improvements have come with the addition of Maurkice Pouncey on offense. Pouncey made the Center position his own since day one and has immensely improved the entire Offensive Lines performance, anchoring the line with his superb play. If not for being in such a "vanilla" offensive position, he would be garnering much more interest around the league for Rookie of the Year status.

Defensively, we look like 2008. A number of players are stepping up big, such as Bryant McFadden in his return, as well as Will Gay back to his more comfortable position of playing the Nickel corner. Woodley and Harrison still terrorize Tackles on the edges, and Polamalu cause all sorts of frustrations for opposing offense co-ordinators.

Yet my Defensive MVP through the first quarter is Lawrence Timmons. He has kicked it up twenty notches this season with his relentless motor and sure tackling. His 48 tackles through the first quarter put him on pace for a whopping 192 tackles on the season. He makes sure he is in everything and finishes plays. He is still only 24.

The Steelers defense ranks a very impressive 5th in the league, not bad when you consider they are on the field more so than they would be with Big Ben, as well as being numero uno against the Run. We are 19th against the pass however, but this is mostly caused by our complete dominance against the run.



- The last undefeated team in the league is Kansas City. Go figure. They will likely fall to the Colts this week, leaving no undefeated teams left. I think this is the first time since 2001 that we will not see a team go 4-0? Parity is at its highest this year in the NFL, and I am loving it.

- A slate of good games this week to look forward to, and in the Steelers bye week, I guess we have to find teams to cheer for a week, other than the usual "Whoever is playing Ravens/Bengals/Browns" solutions. Look to Jacksonville @ Buffalo for an interesting storyline, if Garrard struggles, does Jack Del Rio chuck in Trent Edwards to get a bit of his dignity back against a Bills team who let him go?

- 9/16 on the week for BTSC Pick Em. Its not easy this year. I do rank 12th in our league though.

- How about that Monday Night Game? Patriots came up huge on Special Teams three times to silence the Dolphins. I may hate the Patriots almost as much as the Ravens but man, that was an entertaining game.

- Players of the Week:

Offensively, I tip my hat to Sam Bradford, for leading the Rams to consecutive wins for the first time in god knows how long in throwing for 289 yards and 2 touchdowns. He is being asked to throw the ball 40 times a game, and he is responding incredibly well for the most part. Bradford just has to avoid a second half meltdown (no easy feat) to lose the Rookie of the Year honors. He looks seriously good, and with the weakness of the NFC West, who says the Rams cannot upset the lot and take the crown?

Defensively, I'll give props here to Rob Ninkovich of the New England Patriots who made his presence felt all night long, gathering 4 tackles (3 solo), 1 sack and 2 key interceptions of Chad Henne in a brilliant performance Monday Night in front of the entire nation and beyond. Another good find on a young Patriots defense, and yet another player who was overlooked elsewhere who finds a home in Bill Belichecks defense.

- One more note on the Patriots, whats with trading Randy Moss? I am a little bias here because I love Randy Moss, but without him, wheres the deep threats on offense? Sure they didnt need one against Miami when Moss was held without a catch, yet I cannot help thinking they will need him down the track. Good luck to him in Minnesota and I for one cant wait to see him in action on Monday Night with the Vikings.


Ooooh! A poll to finish things off:

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