Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
Here are seven observations from Week 3 in the AFC North:
- Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco passed yet another test with flying colors in Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Cleveland Browns. It was clear Cleveland’s game plan was to test Flacco’s patience by taking away the big passing plays. So Flacco took what the defense gave him as just two of 25 completions were for more than 20 yards. Flacco picked apart Cleveland with short and intermediate passes. He took his shots deep only when the opportunity was right, and it resulted in a beautiful 72-yard touchdown pass to Ravens receiver Derrick Mason in the fourth quarter. Flacco recorded 342 yards, one touchdown and a 111.8 passer rating in the win.
- Credit the Ravens for cleaning up one of the few messy areas they had early in the season. Baltimore’s pass defense produced four interceptions and held the Browns to just 115 passing yards. The secondary, particularly cornerback Domonique Foxworth, took a lot of heat in the media. Foxworth responded with a first-quarter pick to set the tone and set up Baltimore’s first touchdown.
- The Cincinnati Bengals are in the midst of an extremely important stretch of their season. Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh Sunday to start a stretch of three straight AFC North divisional games. The Bengals will be on the road in back-to-back weeks against the Cleveland Browns Oct. 4 and Baltimore Ravens Oct. 11. A 3-0 or 2-1 run against the division would put Cincinnati in a great spot. In case you’re wondering, Cincinnati is the only AFC North team to play three division games in consecutive weeks this year.
- Someone who is quietly developing into a solid role player for Cincinnati is second-year receiver Andre Caldwell. He led the Bengals Sunday with six catches for 52 yards, including a huge four-yard touchdown catch with 14 seconds left that will surely provide a confidence boost for Caldwell moving forward. Caldwell made a lot of key plays when starters Chad Ochocinco and Laveranues Coles were covered by the Steelers. Caldwell, a former third-round pick, also recorded 104 return yards and credits better health this season for his fast start.
- It’s very clear that the Pittsburgh Steelers miss Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu. But an area that is hurting the Steelers the most has been their lack of forced turnovers. Without Polamalu starting, Pittsburgh hasn’t forced a single turnover in its past two games. That's very un-Steeler like and kept Cincinnati and the Chicago Bears in the game down to the final plays, where the home team always has a good chance to pull it out.
- In 2008, Pittsburgh’s coaching staff made nearly all the right calls at the right time to win games. This year that hasn’t been the case. Two curious play calls that stood out to me Sunday were Mike Tomlin’s decision to kick a field goal from Cincinnati’s 1-yard line in the first quarter, and the decision not to punt on fourth-and-4 from the Bengals’ 35 with a 13-0 lead before the half. The first decision potentially took four points off the board and the second decision helped the Bengals’ field position to add a field goal before intermission. That’s a seven-point swing in favor of the Bengals in a close game.
- Because Browns fans said I was too negative about their team last week when I’m merely pointing out their struggles, I’m going to end this week’s "Seven-step drop" on a good note for Cleveland. The Browns’ first three opponents this year are a combined 9-0. So there is hope that they can show progress and play better football in October as Cleveland’s next three opponents have a combined record of 4-5.
|James Lang/US PRESSWIRE|
|Joe Flacco had a career day against Cleveland, passing for 342 yards.|