How I See It: AFC North Stock Watch
September, 29, 2009
By James Walker | ESPN.com
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Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh is not playing Steeler football right now -- at least not for four quarters. There was a time when Pittsburgh was nearly automatic closing out games late. But the Steelers blew their second straight fourth-quarter lead to the Cincinnati Bengals to fall to 1-2 this season.
The defending champs clearly miss injured Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu. But there is no excuse for dropped touchdowns, missed field goals and blown assignments. This week’s game against the San Diego Chargers (2-1) is huge for the Steelers to get back on track.
Cleveland’s head coach was on the "falling" list last week after the team's 0-2 start. And he’s still here after the Browns' third straight blowout defeat -- this time at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, 34-3.
The Browns are in complete disarray on and off the field. There was a brief scuffle in the locker room last week but very little fight on the field against the Ravens. The things that are happening with the Browns right now are the very things Mangini was brought to Cleveland to clean up.
An opportunity presented itself when Mangini benched starting quarterback Brady Quinn at halftime against the Ravens. But backup Derek Anderson did not take advantage of it.
Anderson, last year’s starter, threw three interceptions in just two quarters as the Browns suddenly have another problem on their hands. Can Mangini go back to Quinn? Will Quinn look over his shoulder after getting the quick hook? Or can Anderson still get a vote of confidence after throwing three interceptions? This is one of many problems in Cleveland.
1. Baltimore Ravens
It would be unfair to highlight any one area of Baltimore’s most complete victory of the season. The Ravens battered and ran circles around the Browns in just about every team aspect.
Quarterback Joe Flacco (342 passing yards) and the offense continued its high-scoring ways by putting up 34 points. But perhaps the most encouraging sign was Baltimore’s talented defense reverted back to its old form. The Ravens forced four turnovers -- all interceptions—as Cleveland’s quarterbacks played like there were 12 defenders on the field. That’s the kind of pass defense Baltimore will need next week against quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Forget about overall statistics. To look the vaunted Steelers defense in the eyes and drive the Bengals down the field 71 yards for the game-winning touchdown deserves to have Palmer on this week’s Stock Watch.
Overall Palmer threw for just 183 yards and a touchdown. But he got most of his yards during the Bengals’ two touchdown drives in the final period. The last drive took 16 plays and two fourth-down conversions on the part of Palmer. The performance ended a five-game losing against the Steelers in dramatic fashion.
Before Palmer’s heroics, the first player to spark Cincinnati in the second half was starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph. He recorded a 30-yard interception return of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to score Cincinnati’s first touchdown of the game.
From there momentum followed. Joseph also recorded six tackles and a pass defense, while battling with Steelers receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes all game.