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Scouting the Steelers’ AFC North rivals: Week 1 preseason takeaways

Spoiler: Yes, the Ravens are still holding onto their absurd preseason win streak.

Head coach John Harbaugh celebrates with quarterback Josh Johnson #17 of the Baltimore Ravens after Reynolds threw a first half touchdown pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during a preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium on August 12, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Week 1 of the 2023 NFL preseason is officially a wrap! AFC North teams went 2-2, including wins for both the Steelers and the Ravens. What can the Steelers expect from their rivals through the rest of the season?

Here are two things to know about each of the Steelers’ AFC North rivals based on their Week 1 preseason.

Cleveland Browns (0-1)

Week 1: Lost 15-17 to Washington Commanders

Deshaun Watson did what he was asked to do.

Starting quarterback Deshaun Watson played a single drive, completing each of his three pass attempts for just 12 yards. With Watson under center, the offense ran pretty smoothly, but it’s worth noting that Watson wasn’t asked to do all that much. His best moments came as a runner, including two scrambles for 17 yards, which were reminiscent of the types of plays he made with his legs with the Texans.

His Week 1 preseason snaps weren’t enough to say if he’s taken a step forward since his 2022 debut with the Browns, however. His drive ended in a turnover on downs at Washington’s one-yard line, without Watson attempting a single pass on any of their four plays inside the 10. The team was notably without starting running back Nick Chubb, WR Amari Cooper, and several starters on the offensive line.

Browns defense shows depth

The Browns were without most of their starters on defense, including DE Myles Garrett, CBs Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome (recovering with a groin injury), LBs Anthony Walker Jr. and Sione Takitaki (recovering from a torn ACL in 2022), and starting SS Grant Delpit. Still, they looked solid against Washington’s starting offense, forcing a punt, followed by a safety for a total of five yards allowed across the Commanders’ first two drives. For what it’s worth, I’ll reiterate that this performance came against the Commanders — not exactly a world-beater on offense. However, the flashes spoke a bit to the depth Cleveland’s built around some high-upside starting defenders.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)

Week 1: Lost 19-36 to Green Bay Packers

Joey B ‘warming up’ toward a return?

Starting QB Joe Burrow didn’t play in this game, managing a calf injury suffered early in training camp. However, he was spotted in pregame warmups, getting in some reps with the training staff, notably without the calf sleeve that he’s been spotted in since the injury. Though his status for the start of the season remains a question mark, his pre-game workout is a sign that his rehab is moving in the right direction.

If it’s not Joey B, who’s it gonna be?

Neither of the team’s backups looked particularly competent between QBs Trevor Siemian and Jake Browning, who’s made a push for the backup role through training camp. PFF credited the duo with four turnover-worthy plays on just 47 pass attempts, each of them having thrown an interception in their time under center. Though I noted above that Burrow is trending in the right direction, any missed time could give the Steelers an edge among their AFC North competitors if the Bengals can’t figure out a suitable answer for the backup quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens (1-0)

Week 1: Won 20-19 over Philadelphia Eagles

Even with Todd Monken the run game was strong

This game was a difficult evaluation for the Ravens in general, who sat most of their starters on offense and defense. However, with Todd Monken now in for his first season as the team’s offensive coordinator, it was unclear what we might expect from the run game that’s become such a core part of this team’s identity with Lamar Jackson under center. In Week 1 of the preseason, the offense executed a 52.5% pass rate, slightly above their 49.8% pass rate in 2022. Despite an uptick in passing percentage, the run game remained efficient despite playing with a backup offensive line. As a team, the Ravens averaged 4.75 yards per attempt — seventh-best in the league this week.

It’s unclear if we’ll see the starting offense at all this preseason, but once we do, it will be telling to see how the run-pass balance shakes out, and whether Baltimore can maintain that efficiency on the ground.

Justin Tucker is still Tucker-ing.

The 33-year-old, 5x All-Pro has a leg that looks as strong as ever, nailing a 60-yard field goal to close out the second quarter, in addition to a 43-yarder in the fourth quarter.