Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are seven observations from last weekend's slate of games in the AFC North:
Whether you agree or disagree with Hines Ward's jaw-breaking block on Cincinnati Bengals rookie linebacker Keith Rivers, it did set a certain tone for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals were not as physical as Pittsburgh the entire game, and it started on that play on the first drive. From there, the Steelers' offensive line dominated up front and Pittsburgh's defensive front seven did the same, recording a season-high seven sacks in a 38-10 victory.
This was the best performance of the season by Pittsburgh's offensive line. Mewelde Moore (120 rushing yards) had plenty of lanes to run through and Ben Roethlisberger wasn't sacked for the first time all season. What is ironic is that the unit is improving without the services of Marvel Smith (back) and guard Kendall Simmons (Achilles), who is out for the season.
Despite the Cincinnati Bengals' poor play all season, they hadn't shown a very fragile mindset until Sunday's loss. The Bengals clearly are lacking talent, but for the most part have played hard, especially in close losses to the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants. But against Pittsburgh the Bengals allowed things to snowball. One sack became seven sacks. One bad punt became two or three bad punts. One big passing play allowed on defense became three big passing plays allowed. In those instances Cincinnati showed a lack of focus and the ability to bounce back from bad plays.
It appears tailback job is Cedric Benson has taken over the starting job for the long haul. Benson had some decent runs against Pittsburgh, gaining 52 yards on 14 carries. But what was odd was Chris Perry went from a starter to not getting any carries. Kenny Watson received the backup reps and had four carries for 17 yards. Perry did have one incomplete pass thrown in his direction in very limited playing time.
Baltimore Ravens tailback Willis McGahee had his best game of the season and that made it much easier for rookie quarterback Joe Flacco to take chances downfield. McGahee had 105 rushing yards on 19 carries (5.5 average) against Miami. That allowed a lot of passing lanes to open up for Flacco to complete 17 throws for 232 yards and a touchdown. The rookie had three completions of 23 yards or more.
The Ravens' defense got back to its formula of winning third downs. Baltimore held the Dolphins to 5-of-13 on third down and 0-of-1 on fourth down, which kept the Dolphins' offense, and the vaunted "Wildcat" formation, off the field. A 20-6 lead in the third quarter also helped nullify Miami from using the "Wildcat."
The game-to-game inconsistency of Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson has to be baffling to the coaching staff. Anderson was lights out in a win against the New York Giants, then he couldn't hit open receivers just six days later. Our guess is that home and road had a lot to do with it. But how much longer will Cleveland put up with the good Derek/bad Derek routine?