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AFC North Recap: Steelers and Ravens prove worthy of victory in Week 1

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Week 1 is in the books for AFC North teams, and a slate of divisional games finds the Ravens and Steelers atop the early standings.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL was all about divisional games in Week 1 of the 2017 regular season, and the AFC North was no exception. With the Steelers defeating the Browns, and the Ravens shutting out the Bengals, it leaves Pittsburgh and Baltimore atop the way-too-early standings.

Check out the current AFC North Standings:

Pittsburgh — 1-0
Baltimore — 1-0
Cleveland — 0-1
Cincinnati — 0-1

Since the Steelers and Browns played at the same time as the Ravens and Bengals, it is only fitting we head over to the other SB Nation websites to get a feel as to what went down in the AFC North on Sunday.

Time for the recap...

Ravens vs. Bengals

The Ravens defense was excellent throughout the preseason, leading the NFL in total defense. It was a unit that garnered so much hype around Baltimore, but hadn’t garnered as much national attention as many felt it deserved. After a 20-0 win against the Bengals, a statement has surely been made.

It was a spectacular performance by the Ravens defense, just looking at the scoreline could tell you that. The Ravens shut out the Bengals in Week 1. It was the first shutout win for the Ravens since 2009. The Ravens held the Bengals, an offense with A.J. Green, to 221 total yards.

Let’s not forget that this game was played on the road, in a stadium where the Ravens have really struggled to win. Winning on the road is hard, shutting out a team that has had your number over the years on the road is even harder.

Looking at the stats from this game further show how great this defense was today. Andy Dalton was held to under 200 yards passing. But more notably, the Ravens’ defense forced four interceptions. C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and Brandon Carr each had one pick. That wasn’t all of the turnovers, as the Bengals also lot a fumble in the third quarter.

The Ravens did not allow the Bengals running game to get going at all, holding the Bengals to just 77 yards rushing as a team.

Losers

Cincinnati Bengals

Not a single player on the Ravens were ‘losers’. It was a full team effort, and they produced as such. There were mistakes though, and I’ll address them.

Ryan Jensen played a good game as the Ravens starting center. Matched up against Geno Atkins is a hard first matchup, but he handled it well enough. The penalties should lower as he won’t be facing star defensive tackles like Atkins every week.

Both Danny Woodhead and Za’Darius Smith produced great games. Unfortunately, they both suffered injuries which brought out the cart. Hopefully they’re back soon.

WINNER

Jordan Willis

If there is a winner out of the mess that was the opening game of the 2017 season, it may have been Jordan Willis. Early in the fourth quarter, as Baltimore tried to put the game away, Willis made his presence felt in a big way. He almost single handedly shut down the Baltimore running game and helped get the ball back for the Bengals for one last gasp with 12:23 left.

The Bengals’ defensive front four gave a pretty good accounting of itself, with Atkins recording a sack and Dunlap making his presence felt, both in the backfield and in coverage. But it was not nearly enough. Michael Johnson sustained a concussion early on, which means he’s unlikely to play in Week 2.

Sunday’s disaster has to go down as one of the worst showings for a Bengals team on opening day, or any other day for that matter. And, with a quick turnaround coming as the Bengals’ face Houston on Thursday night, things will have to change in a hurry if Cincinnati hopes to salvage a season that got off to as bad of a start as one could imagine.

The Cincinnati Bengals hosted their divisional foe Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon and rust was obvious from both teams. Regardless, Cincinnati couldn’t get out of their own way, committing five turnovers to an aggressive Ravens defense. Cincinnati never recovered from early mistakes as the team lost in their first season-opening game at home since 2009, with Baltimore coming out on top, 20-0...

...To say that Dalton and the offense were ineffective on Sunday afternoon would be kind. Zampese’s unit was just 4-of-13 (31 percent) on third down and the unit had trouble pushing the ball down field all afternoon. Even before Dalton’s fourth interception of the day (of five total turnovers), the team’s drives were ugly...

Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland

New-look defense: Strangely enough, the Browns’ defense looked like the Steelers’ defense in the first half. Gregg Williams’ new defense played like a steel curtain and held Pittsburgh at bay.

Williams and the Browns showcased an impressive aggressiveness and ferocity. The Browns swarmed to the ball and gangtackled, particularly on short running plays. While the Steelers did have several third and short opportunities, the visitors did not have much success in picking up first downs.

In fact, according to CBS Sports, the Steelers failed to gain a first down in the opening quarter for the first time since December 30, 2012. The Steelers didn’t score an offensive touchdown until the final minute of the first half.

Aggressiveness is the easy answer to the Browns’ success on offense. But what’s the true reason? Effective rotation.

Williams and the Browns cycled in plenty of players in both the front seven and the secondary. For example, Jamie Meder began the game as the starter at defensive tackle. However, Larry Ogunjobi saw plenty of snaps at nose, using impressive moves inside to get around Steelers’ linemen.

Carl Nassib also used his big frame to bring down Ben Roethlisbeger on the second play of the second half.

An unfortunate pass interference penalty (in this writer’s opinion, unwarranted) spoiled a solid Browns’ effort in the third quarter. The penalty granted the Steelers 40 free yards and wonderful field position, which Big Ben turned into a short touchdown strike to Jesse James.

Derrick Kindred enjoyed a nice day, thwarting a promising Steelers’ drive with a fourth quarter interception and solid play on several other plays.

As a whole, the Browns played well on defense.