Seven-step drop

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

 
 Greg Fiume/Getty Images
 Le'Ron McClain plows his way into the end zone for a touchdown Sunday against Cleveland.
  • Baltimore is making fourth quarters look unusually easy for the NFL. For the second game in a row, the Ravens ate up clock running the ball when 71,000-plus fans and the Cleveland Browns knew what was coming. Behind the hard running of Le'Ron McClain and fresh legs of rookie Ray Rice, Baltimore used more than nine minutes of the final period on one drive by running 13 of 14 plays. We doubt Baltimore can dominate every game that way, but it's still impressive.

"It's great when we can do that, keep the defense off the field and finish the game," McClain said. "We're just sending shout-outs to the league that we have a strong team and we're going to finish strong."

  • We also are convinced that there is a new special teams leader in the clubhouse in the AFC North. For the past two or three years, that mantel was undoubtedly held by the Cleveland Browns. But the Baltimore Ravens' special teams out-dueled Cleveland on Sunday and has been more consistent this year. The Ravens also have depth. Top returner Yamon Figurs was injured Sunday and Jim Leonhard filled in admirably with 99 total return yards, which didn't include another long return that was called back.

"It's amazing on this team, and [GM] Ozzie [Newsome] has done a great job," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "But we've got a lot of guys who could return, kick returns and punt returns."

  • Although Cleveland's entire offensive line is not playing up to par, right tackle Kevin Shaffer is having the hardest time of the bunch. For three straight games Shaffer has been pushed around and opposing teams are smelling the weakness. Left tackle Joe Thomas has been the only consistent lineman, so opponents are testing Shaffer instead. Sunday it was the Ravens' defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had a field day with two sacks and a forced fumble.
  • Everyone saw the worst of Browns starting quarterback Derek Anderson Sunday. He is a "rhythm passer" in every sense of the phrase, and when Anderson is rattled things tend to quickly snowball. Anderson was sacked five times and hit several more. So by the second half, his reads were extremely poor. All three interceptions were on throws he shouldn't have made while trying to fit balls into very tight spots.

"I expect more out of myself," Anderson said. "I expect more out of everybody else on this team. It all starts with me. If I start playing better, and if we start offensively making plays, everything is going to start rolling a little bit more."

  • Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ocho Cinco is going to have a tough time putting up numbers if the first three weeks are any indication. Opponents simply refuse to let Ocho Cinco (three catches, 29 yards) beat them. He gets most of the coverage and attention in the passing game, which allows others opportunities to make plays. T.J. Houshmandzadeh nearly beat the New York Giants with 12 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn't enough.
  • The Bengals really missed top cornerback Johnathan Joseph in the lineup against New York. Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed 26 passes to eight different receivers, and he needed every one in a 26-23 overtime win. New York often picked on replacement David Jones, who had nine tackles but only one pass defense. The Bengals are probably wondering how many of those close plays a healthy Joseph could have made.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers were an abysmal 2-of-13 on third down against the Philadelphia Eagles. That won't win many games period, let alone against a very good Philadelphia Eagles team. Obviously the pass protection (nine total sacks allowed) had a lot to do with it, but Pittsburgh's overall struggles on offense also were surprising.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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