A new series here on BTSC as we continue to trudge through the long season in anticipation of a shot at defending in 2009. The premise? A look at the significant positions on each team in the AFC North. Let's start with arguably the most important one of them all - the QBs.
Depth Chart - Ben Roethlisberger, Dennis Dixon.
Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch could be added soon enough.
Analysis - No need to rehash what the Steelers have in their franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger. Nobody would point to him as the prototypical example of how to play the position efficiently and consistently, but there's one thing he sure does with regularity - win, and in particular, in the clutch. Big Ben has I believe 26 come from behind victories at the tender age of 25 years old, the most in the league since he was drafted in 2004. Ben has two Super Bowls already and has a great shot at going down as one of the all-time legends of the game at his position if he can win a few more while minimizing some of his mistakes. The interesting thing to keep an eye on with Ben over the coming years is whether or not he'll be able to sustain the same level of big-moment magic as he potentially adjusts towards a style of play that minimizes his exposure to the battering he presently takes holding on to the ball while trying to make things happen for his offense.
Career Record: 51-20
2008 Stats:281-469 (59.9%), 3301 yards, 17 TDs, 15 INTs, 80.1 QB Rating
Career Stats: 1189-1905 (62.2%), 14,974 yards, 101 TDs, 69 INTs, 89.4 QB Rating
Depth Chart: Carson Palmer, J.T. O'Sullivan, Jordan Palmer
Analysis: Carson Palmer claims to be fully healed from the ligament damange he had in his throwing elbow, an injury that kept him out of 12 of his team's 16 games last year. If the Bengals are going to build upon some decent defensive improvements and vault back to relative relevance, they'll have to do so with Palmer at the controls. Behind him there's not much there. Out is Harvard product Ryan Fitzpatrick, but in his place rests J.T. O'Sullivan, a dude who couldn't keep a job over Shaun Hill in San Francisco.
Career Record: 32-33
2008 Stats: 75-129 (58.1%), 731 yards, 3 TDs, 4 INTs, 69.0 QB Rating
Career Stats: 1380-2165 (63.7%), 15,630 yards, 107 TDs, 67 INTs, 88.9 QB Rating
Depth Chart: Joe Flacco, Troy Smith
Analysis: First, let me start by saying that I love that the Ravens just keep two QBs on the 53-man depth chart. It's one of the many reasons that they're a fairly complete football team most years on defense, special teams and offense, 2008 included. Moving on, another hat tip to rookie Joe Flacco for his fine rookie performance. Leading one's team to the AFC title game is nothing to sneeze at. It should be said that as is often the case with traditional media, the 'narrative' surrounding Flacco didn't quite align perfectly with his actualy performance. He was good, no doubt. But if you listened to AFC commentators on CBS each week, one might get the impression that they were watching the second coming of Joe Montana right before their eyes. Hold the phone. Flacco was very good for a rookie, particularly one that played his college ball at a no-name football program like Deleware. However, Flacco hardly carried his Ravens team during year one. Not that there's anything wrong with that of course. But it should be noted that like Big Ben, Flacco struggled when he was asked to sling it frequently. In games in which he had 30+ attempts, the Ravens were 0-3 and Flacco had just 2 TDs to 5 INTs. It's fairly obvious that he's going to have somewhere between a just fine and fantastic NFL career - far better and more fleshed out than say a J.P Lohsman and perhaps even a Derek Anderson. But it's far too early to annoint him the steady and game-influencing type quarterback that's going to consistently deliver in big moments for the Ravens in future years. I'm extremely excited to see what the former Blue Hen has in store for an encore after a most impressive rookie campaign.
Career Record: 11-5
2008 Stats: 257-428 (60.0%), 2971 yards, 14 TDs, 12 INTs, 80.3 QB Rating
Career Stats: Same. Rookie in 2008.
Depth Chart: Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, Richard Bartel
Analysis: Who does new coach Eric Mangini go with when the 2009 kicks off? Will it be the much scrutinized Brady Quinn, who showed a few flashes when he finally got his chance in 2008 before getting injured? Or will it be Derek Anderson, who followed up his break-out year in 2007 with a major clunker in 2008? Anderson and Quinn are both expected to be fully healthy and ready for training camp this summer. Anderson's dealing with a knee injury that shut down his season, while Quinn is recovering from a broken pinky. It's of course nice to have options at a position as vital as the QB spot, but neither candidate can really be thought of as a sure bet to perform consistently after winning the job this summer. When I wrote about the Browns last offseason, I thought it was a distinct possibility that former head coach Romeo Crennel's decision making for the long-term would be compromised by the thin ice his job was on. Turns out injuries forced his hand by mid-season but anyway, being that it's Mangini's first year, he should have a little leeway to make a decision and stick with it through some potential adjustment mishaps, be it with Anderson or with Quiinn at the helm. Then again, it is Eric Mangini, who I've seen bungle multiple games with absolutely mind blowing game management and decision making. And it's of course the National Football League, the ultimate what have you done for me lately league where there's really no such thing as building for the future. Another very interesting story line to keep an eye on in 2009 in the AFC North that could end up any number of ways.