AFC North Stock Watch

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
1:00
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FALLING

1. Browns' special teams: The unsoundness of these units is concerning. Cleveland's kickoff coverage team was the best in the NFL last season, but it didn't look that way when the Raiders Jacoby Ford returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. The bigger embarrassment was when the Browns allowed a 35-yard touchdown pass from punter Shane Lechler to Kevin Boss on a fake field goal. Two Browns players ran past Boss in an attempt to block the kick, allowing the tight end to run wide open in the process.

2. Bengals running back Cedric Benson: The good news is Benson has reportedly had his suspension reduced to one game. The bad news is Benson hasn't been a factor much lately anyway. Over the past two weeks, Benson has averaged 2.7 yards per carry and has failed to break a run longer than 9 yards. Backup Bernard Scott is now replacing Benson for full series during games.

3. Browns quarterback Colt McCoy: The problem is either McCoy isn't ready to be an NFL starter yet or the Browns aren't calling plays tailored for his strengths. In his first full season as a starting quarterback, McCoy has completed less than half of his passes in three of five games this season. Even though he threw for two touchdowns at Oakland, he failed to come through when it mattered the most. Needing a touchdown to tie the game, he threw three incompletions in the final minute to end the Browns' comeback chances.

RISING

[+] EnlargeBaltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice
AP Photo/Nick WassBaltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice accounted for 161 yards against the Texans last Sunday.
1. Ravens running back Ray Rice: He continues to show that he is one of the best all-around backs in the NFL and proved it on the same field with the reigning NFL rushing champion, Arian Foster. Against Houston, Rice produced 101 yards rushing and 60 yards receiving. In the Ravens' four wins, he is averaging 151 total yards from scrimmage.

2. Steelers pass rush: Pittsburgh was expected to struggle to get to the quarterback after James Harrison went down with an eye injury. But the Steelers have actually increased their pressure in his absence. Pittsburgh has recorded eight sacks over the past two weeks after having seven in its first four games. The Steelers recorded a total of 13 quarterback hits on the Titans' Matt Hasselbeck and the Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert.

3. Bengals thievery: Cincinnati might not be racking up the interceptions, but the Bengals can still take the ball away from you. Against Indianapolis, the Bengals set up their first score when Nate Clements stripped the ball away from Colts tight end Dallas Clark and clinched the victory when defensive end Carlos Dunlap returned a fumble for a touchdown. Cincinnati has caused nine fumbles, which is tied for third in the NFL, recovering seven of them.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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