Here are seven notes and observations from Week 4 in the AFC North:
Baltimore Ravens (3-1) receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh needed a big catch almost as much as Joe Flacco needed a touchdown pass to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1). After the game, Houshmandzadeh said it hasn't been easy arriving to Baltimore days before the regular season, trying to fit in quickly and playing as a reserve after starting most of his career. This is foreign territory for "Housh." But in several ways his 18-yard touchdown with 32 seconds remaining was a relief, and an example of his perseverance. Houshmanzadeh had three catches for 49 yards and hopes Sunday's big play is a springboard to being more ingrained in Baltimore's offense.
Casual fans often do not recognize the play of defensive linemen. But Ravens Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata had one of the most dominant performances I've seen from a defensive tackle this season. The Steelers could not keep Ngata out of their backfield. He recorded 11 tackles, one sack, two tackles for losses and two hits on Pittsburgh quarterback Charlie Batch. Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey and guards Chris Kemoeatu and Doug Legursky had no answer for Ngata. Pittsburgh averaged just 3.1 yards per carry on Sunday.
With Steelers franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returning Monday, the player I think will benefit most is Hines Ward. The veteran receiver has been mostly forgotten in Pittsburgh's passing game with backups Batch and Dennis Dixon at quarterback. Ward is the type of receiver who makes tough catches over the middle and in traffic. But the offense has been so conservative that Ward rarely got opportunities to make the tough plays. He caught only 12 passes in four games, including two against Baltimore. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger trusts his arm and will take more chances with Ward in the middle of the field.
I have mixed feelings about Cleveland Browns (1-3) safety T.J. Ward's big hit on Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) rookie receiver Jordan Shipley. On one hand, the hit was late and Ward deserves to be fined by the NFL this week for giving Shipley a concussion. Conversely, Ward is trying to establish himself as an enforcer, and the Browns need those type of defenders who strike fear in opponents. Ward potentially could be that player in Cleveland's secondary, and it's better to have football players who are too aggressive than too passive.
Cleveland got great performances from linebackers Matt Roth and Scott Fujita. Roth was tough to block, recording six tackles, two sacks and three tackles for losses. Fujita, who was signed this offseason from the New Orleans Saints, had his best game as a Brown with six tackles and a sack. Despite Cincinnati's success through the air, Cleveland's front seven won the battle in the trenches.
Pro Bowl receiver Chad Ochocinco tweeted this morning that the Bengals lack offensive chemistry. After four games, Ochocinco is on point with his assessment. There doesn't appear to be much trust and cohesion among the 11 offensive players. At times, quarterback Carson Palmer hasn't looked comfortable with his protection or that the receivers will always be in the right place. I think the Bengals don't trust their running game. Cincinnati must develop an identity and figure how it wants to attack defenses. The Bengals have enough talent to be a running or passing team, but seem confused between the two game to game, half to half, and sometimes even quarter to quarter.
The inconsistent Bengals will find out if they are contenders or pretenders in the next several weeks. Cincinnati's next five opponents have a combined record of 12-6. On Sunday, Cincinnati plays the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1), who are coming off a bye. The Bengals will then take a week off before playing the Atlanta Falcons (3-1), Miami Dolphins (2-1), Steelers (3-1) and Indianapolis Colts (2-2).