- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
The last time the Bengals failed to get an interception from a defensive back in their first five games was 1981, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.
How long ago was that? Well, Marvin Lewis was in his second season of coaching, instructing linebackers at Idaho State.
When asked about the "paucity of picks" -- as the Enquirer refers to it -- cornerback Leon Hall told the paper, "I don’t know, I can’t explain it. You have to keep doing what you’re doing and try to get that first one obviously. The way it usually works is when somebody gets one, it kind of opens up the gates for everybody else.”
The Bengals are aware they can't force the issue. "We’ve had really good coverages but not getting the picks," said safety Chris Crocker, who had a pass go through his hands this past Sunday. "It’s one of those things, when they’ll come, they’ll come. We don’t want to get too aggressive or try too hard because we’ll give up the big play.”
Hensley's slant: Getting turnovers is critical for any team, but especially one that needs to set up easy scoring opportunities for a young offense like the Bengals. Still, it's hard to complain about Cincinnati's pass defense. The Bengals rank third in the NFL against the pass, allowing 191 yards through the air per game. One indication that the interceptions will come is Cincinnati has been getting pressure up front without blitzing often. Causing quarterbacks to hurry throws is the best way to force turnovers.
BROWNS: Pro Bowl center Alex Mack said he will be a game-time decision Sunday after having laparoscopic surgery to remove his appendix last week. Some of the incisions from the operation aren't fully healed. "I generally want to play," Mack told reporters, via The Cleveland Plain Dealer. "It's what you're here for and I don't want to let my team down, so there's a strong part of that that gets you motivated to heal quicker." Hensley's slant: No one can complain if Mack sidelined Sunday (don't even bring up "Sick-gate"), but the Browns would certainly miss him at Oakland. Steve Vallos, a 2007 seventh-round draft pick by Seattle who is expected to fill in for Mack, could have a tough day against the Raiders' big and fast interior line of Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly.
RAVENS: Joe Flacco isn't concerned about his 49.3 completion rate through his first four games. He is just one of four quarterbacks with at least two starts who has completed fewer than half of his passes. "We’re a team that attacks downfield and takes some shots,” Flacco told reporters, via The Baltimore Sun. “Sometimes when that’s not working and going your way, then you end up with some incompletions. We can probably take some more quick game and things like that to help us out.” Hensley's slant: I'm all for the Ravens being aggressive and using Flacco's strong arm to create big plays. But Baltimore can't forget about the higher-percentage intermediate routes and receiver Anquan Boldin, who is on pace for his fewest receptions for a full season and his second straight year with fewer than a 900 yards receiving.
STEELERS: Wide receiver Hines Ward, who had two touchdown catches Sunday, is signed through 2013, when he'll turn 37. He told The Associated Press that he can envision himself playing beyond that but won't stick around as long as Jerry Rice, who was still playing at the age of 42. "I won't play that long, trust me," Ward told The Associated Press. "I take it one year at a time. When I look up and I'm going against a guy that I'm supposed to be getting open against all the time and I'm not, I'll walk away from the game." Hensley's slant: Ward might see himself playing beyond his current contract, but it'll be interesting to see how the Steelers handle this situation with one of the most beloved (or hated, depending on your perspective) players on the team. Antonio Brown could be ready to take the No. 2 receiver spot by next season, and Emmanuel Sanders could press for more playing time on offense.