Eventful first quarter of the season so far. Lets have a quick recap on each of our 4 AFC North teams on how they have done 4 games into the season:
Baltimore Ravens: (3-1)
Where they Stand: 1st in AFCN (1-0 vs AFCN), 3rd in AFC (2-1 vs AFC)
Offensive Ranks: 358.5ypg(14th), 234.8 passing ypg(18th), 123.8 rush ypg(8th), 29.8 ppg(6th)
Defensive Ranks: 284.5ypg(3rd), 212.0 passing ypg(7th), 72.5 rush ypg(3rd), 14.2ppg(2nd)
Baltimore heads into their bye week 3-1 in the North and in sole position of first place. The big reasoning behind their success has been a defensive resurgence, led by Ray Lewis who as much as I hate to say, looks as youthful and energetic as ever. Likewise since being paid, Haloti Ngata has been an impenetrable force in the middle of the Ravens line, freeing up the likes of Terrell Suggs who has 4 sacks and 2 FFs so far. The Raven defense has forced the most turnovers in the league, with 6 interceptions and a ridiculous 8 fumble recoveries, as well as 3 defensive touchdowns. That elite performance of the defense will carry them well through the season.
Offensive inconsistency is the name here. Flacco has alternated between outstanding and depressing performances, and so far through four games is completing less than 50% of his passes. Lee Evans has been injured, and was held catch-less in week one. Their leading receiver in both receptions and yardage has been Ray Rice. No knock on Rice, but your tailback should not be your #1 receiving target. More balance is required.
A great start. They get a few key starters back after the bye week which helps as well. The two questions remain, will Baltimore keep this defensive production up for the rest of the season, and can the offense find some balance and rhythm?
Cincinnati Bengals: (2-2)
Where they Stand: 2nd in AFCN (1-0 vs AFCN), 7th in AFC (2-1 vs AFC)
Offensive Ranks: 340.5 ypg(19th), 225.2 pass ypg(22nd), 115.2 rush ypg(11th)
Defensive Ranks: 275.5 ypg(1st), 188.8 pass ypg(3rd), 86.8 rush ypg(8th), 18.5ppg(6th)
Team MVP's: Offense: A.J Green (19 rec, 312 yards, 2 touchdowns) Defense: Leon Hall (16 tackles, 2 pass defenses)
The Cincinnati Bengal defense has quietly placed themselves at the top of the charts after 4 games of the season. Leon Hall has stood up and taken charge of the opposing teams #1 receiving target and has performed pretty damn well, likewise additions Reggie Nelson and Thomas Howard have both been big contributors in run support. Rey Maualuga made the move back to MLB this season and looks a lot more comfortable.
On offense, AJ Green is getting more than a third of the total passing yardage given out by Andy Dalton, and looks like a real baller. Speaking of Dalton, the rookie has had his ups and downs, and time will tell if he is a long term answer.
The defense is playing at a better than expected level thus far into the season. The Bengals problems with mounting a playoff push lie squarely on the offensive side of the ball. They are in the lower half-third of most major categories, and it has showed in their performance on the field. They played down to Denver and San Francisco in 2 losses, but managed to get up this past Sunday and knock off the undefeated Buffalo Bills in a 2nd half comeback win. Consistency will be their downfall this season.
A decent start but it is far to early to be thinking playoffs or even winning season for the Bengals. They hurt themselves in the two losses, but played pretty well in the two wins. Consistency will be key.
Cleveland Browns: (2-2)
Where they Stand: 3rd in AFCN (0-1 vs AFCN), 9th in AFC (2-2 vs AFC)
Offensive Ranks: 321.0 ypg(21st), 235.2 pass ypg(17th), 85.8 rush ypg(28th), 18.5 ppg(25th)
Defensive Ranks: 320.0 ypg(9th), 195.5 pass ypg(4th), 124.5 rush ypg(25th), 23.2 ppg (14th)
Team MVP's: Offense: Colt McCoy (984 yards, 6 TDs, 3 INTs), Defense: D'Qwell Jackson (40 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF)
D'Qwell Jackson's return after 1 and a half seasons on the sidelines has been immense and he looks back to 100% healthy, making plays all over the field and getting to the quarterback. Colt McCoy has been putting up big numbers passing the ball, almost on track for a 4000 yard season if he kept this pace, and the passing offense has been nicely balanced, with 5 receivers averaging at least 3 receptions per game so far. The Browns have also been getting after the quarterback, with 11 sacks in the 4 games, tied with Baltimore for most in the AFC North.
Rushing offense and rushing defense. The Madden curse looks like it could be ready to set itself upon Peyton Hillis, as for whatever reason the running game has struggled and is among the leagues worst, Hillis himself only having 197 yards through four games at a less than desired 3.6 yards per carry.
On the other side, the Cleveland Defensive line has improved against the pass, but run stuffing is still a major problem, and has given up at least 90 yards to the opposing teams leading tailback in 3 of the 4 games so far.
Again, a decent start for the Brownies, however they had one of the easier starts to the season schedule wise, against the Bengals in which they were favored to win, then the LongingForMannings, a weak Miami team and finally a solid Titans team. They have tough division matches down the line, and I still cannot see them as a winning team, let alone playoff contender.
Pittsburgh Steelers: (2-2)
Where they Stand: 4th in AFCN (0-1 vs AFCN), 11th in AFC (1-2 vs AFC)
Offensive Ranks: 359.2 ypg(13th), 265.5 pass ypg(10th), 93.8 rush ypg(20th)
Defensive Ranks: 277.0 ypg(2nd), 157.5 pass ypg(1st), 119.5 rush ypg(23rd), 18.0ppg (5th)
Somehow Big Ben has not been killed yet. His numbers above do not exactly shout "Team MVP" but with all that he has had to put up with from probably the worst performing offensive line I have seen in a long time, he has kept us in games when we for all means should have been blown out. Likewise, you have to credit the secondary, they have been big improvers since being torn up by Joe Flacco in Week 1. Ike Taylor has been brilliant, Keenan Lewis has shown growth, and even Will Gay is playing better than last year. Lastly, Mike Wallace has been outstanding, as has his partner in crime Antonio Brown.
My god did it pain me to type that the Steelers are 23rd overall against the run. That is not a Steelers defense right there. Most of which came from the combo of Ray Rice and Arian Foster in our two losses. Aaron Smith has been stuggling, as has Lamarr Woodley. Not only that, but the Farrior is looking a bit lost at times, but then again so has his backup, Larry Foote. Keisel's injury hasnt helped either.
From one line to the other, our offensive line has been the worst I have seen in a Steeler uniform in some time. No more bashing required, something has to be changed up. I would rather put Gilbert on the Left Tackle slot, he has been our best Tackle this season, have Foster and Kemo as guards, Pouncey at Center and shift Essex to the Right. That way at least Ben can see the exact moment he misses his block.
Pretty ugly start, but we ground out 2 wins and are only a Baltimore loss away from being tied for the lead again. Perhaps the coaching staff should look to get more snaps out of Ziggy and Heyward, because right now that defensive line is struggling.
Final Thoughts about the AFC North:
The Steelers and Ravens roads to the playoffs get easier after they have their week nine matchup, whereas the Browns and Bengals roads get considerably harder and I dont think those two teams have the consistency to get there.
The problem for the teams this year, is that I do not think that 10 wins gets a playoff berth in the AFC North this season. I think 11 or even 12 wins will be required. So for the Steelers, that means that they cannot afford to drop a loss against an inferior opponent. Yes, of course "Any Given Sunday" applies, but the Steelers have big games against Tennessee this week, and then New England and Baltimore in consecutive weeks. The road is much easier after the Ravens game, however drop all three of those games and you can kiss playoffs goodbye.
Fix what needs fixing. That offensive line needs a change around first and foremost. No Free Agent we bring in at this period will help terribly much, so you have to make the best of what you have. Marcus Gilbert has struggled a bit, but he has been our best pass blocker, and if he is the LT of the future, then he belongs on the Left Side of the line.
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