AFC North Stock Watch

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
1:00
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FALLING

1. Bengals' third-down offense: Cincinnati has failed to convert on 19 of its past 21 third-down opportunities. These are the types of growing pains that come with starting a rookie at quarterback and wide receiver. The Bengals have to figure out a way to be more productive running the ball on the early downs so quarterback Andy Dalton is dealing with more third-and-short situations this Sunday.

2. Steelers' pass protection: To be honest, this area has been falling for a while. Pittsburgh has given up nine sacks this year, putting the Steelers on pace for their sixth straight season of allowing at least 43 sacks. The problem lately is the pressure has been leading to turnovers (two fumbles by Ben Roethlisberger at Indianapolis). It won't get any better if Pittsburgh's offensive tackles continue to struggle.

3. Bengals running back Cedric Benson: After opening the season with a 100-yard performance, he has slipped to 59 and 64 yards rushing the past two games. His longest run over the last two weeks has been 14 yards. Benson could be suspended for the next three games because of a violation of the personal conduct policy, but he is appealing the ruling today. Despite Benson's struggles, there is a significant drop-off when the Bengals have to turn to their backup running backs.

[+] EnlargeJoe Haden
Andrew Weber/US PresswireJoe Haden has made life difficult for opposing receivers this season.
RISING

1. Browns cornerback Joe Haden: The seventh overall pick of the 2010 draft has quickly become the elite cornerback of the division. After quieting Cincinnati's A.J. Green and Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne in the first two weeks, he basically shut down Miami's Brandon Marshall (four catches for 43 yards). Haden is the face of the new-and-improved defense in Cleveland.

2. Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace: He's been rising for a while, and there is no other NFL wide receiver on a hotter streak than him. Wallace is the first wide receiver to reach 100 yards receiving in his first three games of a season since Randy Moss in 2007, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Wallace has accounted for 40 percent of the Steelers' passing yards this season.

3. Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs: He's taken a lot of heat for failing to put together back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons. That motivation has spurred him to get off to a fast start, one that could eventually lead to a Defensive Player of the Year award. In three games, Suggs has four sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and two passes defensed.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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