Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
Injuries on the Browns' offense has led to increased hits on quarterback Colt McCoy, according to the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram.
McCoy was sacked four times and hit eight more in the loss at Houston, where the Browns were forced to play reserve running backs Chris Ogbonnaya and Thomas Clayton as well as backup right tackle Artis Hicks, who played the second half in place of Tony Pashos (leg). According to the Chronicle-Telegram, Ogbonnaya twice went to the middle of the line when the blitzer came off the edge, Clayton once released on a route to the side opposite the free rusher and Hicks missed a block that led to a sack.
“We need to block ’em better than we did [Sunday]. No question. No question," Browns head coach Pat Shurmur said at his Monday news conference. “It falls on everybody in the game being responsible to do their jobs. And the ultimate success or failure of an offense falls on the head coach and the quarterback making sure that it gets done.”
Dan Fouts, Hall of Fame quarterback-turned-CBS analyst, pointed out during the broadcast that the Browns didn’t have a hot receiver for McCoy to quickly dump the ball off to against the blitz. “That’s not true,” Shurmur said. “There are hot receivers and there’s a place to go with the ball.”
Hensley's slant: Shurmur still seems reluctant to put McCoy in the shotgun because the West Coast offense is run most effectively when the quarterback takes the snap under center. But the Browns need to put him in the shotgun not only to give him a better chance to prove he's a franchise quarterback but for his survival. Only four teams have given up more quarterback hits than the Browns this season (who have allowed 52), and all four have used two quarterbacks. That means McCoy is taking the most hits of any quarterback this year. How long before McCoy joins his offensive teammates on the injury report?
BENGALS: Four of Mike Nugent's five kickoffs at Tennessee resulted in touchbacks, which increased his season total to 23. He's on pace for 46, which has easily surpassed his seven touchbacks in nine games last season. His touchbacks have soared because of the NFL's new kickoff rule (moving the ball up five yards) and the fact that Nugent has returned stronger after tearing ligaments in his right knee last season. “There were times in the offseason when I was worried if my leg was going to be strong enough because I was behind where the other kickers in the NFL were in March and April,” Nugent told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I did a lot of work in the offseason to make sure I was stronger.” Hensley's slant: The more impressive part of Nugent's game this year is his accuracy. He has made 16 of 17 field-goal attempts (94.1 percent), which is the seventh-best success rate in the NFL and a career high for the seven-year journeyman. He was 15 of 19 on field goals last season (78.9 percent), his first year with the Bengals.
RAVENS: Head coach John Harbaugh declined to voice his opinion on two hits from Sunday night's game against the Steelers: the helmet-to-helmet hit by inside linebacker Ray Lewis on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward that didn’t get flagged and Pittsburgh free safety Ryan Clark’s helmet-to-helmet shot on tight end Ed Dickson that did get called. “I’m probably not going to get into that conversation right now,” Harbaugh said, via The Baltimore Sun. “I mean, it’s tough. There’s not doubt about it, it’s tough. It’s fast and it’s physical and all that, but the rules are in place for a reason, and that’s the way it works.” Hensley's slant: While only one hit resulted in a flag, both Lewis and Clark (the players, not the explorers) are expected to be fined, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. Maybe that's why Harbaugh was so tight-lipped about it -- he doesn't want a reduced paycheck either. Clark was fined $15,000 just last week for a hit he delivered to New England tight end Rob Gronkowski. It will likely be a similar hit to the wallet this time around for both players.
STEELERS: By getting swept by the Ravens, Pittsburgh will need help in order to win its fourth AFC North title in five years under coach Mike Tomlin. According to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Steelers' seven remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of .536. The Ravens' eight remaining opponents have a .477 winning percentage. "Forget stats. It's about wins," wide receiver Antonio Brown said. "We're 0-2 in this division, and that's not where we want to be." Hensley's slant: The Steelers also can't forget the fact that they are behind the Bengals, too. That's why the Steelers need a win at Cincinnati on Sunday so badly. They can't afford to fall to 0-3 to the division leaders with six games remaining. It's still a little early to call it a must-win. But it's getting close.