AFC North's dynamic duos

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
12:00
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Gary Horton from Scouts Inc. put together his top 10 most dynamic duos in the AFC Insider, and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens nearly took up half of the list. You'll need a subscription to view the entire piece, but here's a portion of what he had to say about the combinations in this division:

2. Steelers wide receivers: Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown

Horton's comment: Wallace might get more publicity because he is a vertical outside receiver with blazing speed who makes big plays, while Brown is less flashy, working out of the slot and catching a lot of underneath passes -- but they both give defenders fits. Between them, they accounted for 141 catches, 2,301 yards, and 10 TDs last season, but only two of those TDs were by Brown.

Hensley's comment: It's difficult to shut down both receivers. When defenses began to key on Wallace, that's when Brown asserted himself in the second half of the season. The bigger question is how long the Steelers will be able to hold this dynamic duo together. Wallace is to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason, and Brown will be a restricted free agent.

4. Ravens backfield: running back Ray Rice and fullback Vonta Leach

Horton's comment: We all know how skilled Rice is, but a lot of his success comes from the holes Leach creates in front of him. Leach is great at attacking LBs on the second level on isolation blocks, and Rice has great trust in him to follow through the hole and wait for the block to develop before he turns it loose.

Hensley's comment: Without Leach in 2010, Rice averaged 4.0 yards per carry and scored five rushing touchdowns. With Leach last season, Rice averaged 4.7 yards per carry and scored 12 rushing touchdowns. That's why Leach is so valuable to the Ravens' offense.

7. Steelers outside linebackers: James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley

Horton's comment: There is a temptation here to write off this dynamic duo because age and injuries are starting to catch up to them, as they only played a combined 21 regular season games in 2011 with only 98 combined tackles -- low numbers for these proud veterans. However, they remain the foundation of an accomplished defense that is still very tough to make plays against, and their combined 21 sacks is still a very respectable number.

Hensley's comment: Harrison and Woodley were more like a tag-team last season. They only played together in one of the final 12 regular-season games last season because of injuries and a suspension. The Steelers will once again have one of the top pass-rush tandems if Harrison and Woodley can remain healthy.

9. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed

Horton's comment: They might be close to the end of Hall of Fame careers, but they are still amazingly productive and the unquestioned leaders of this defense. They stabilize this defense, and they make everybody around them better, but this is likely the last season that we will see them both on the field.

Hensley's comment: Lewis and Reed are no longer the dominant all-around players from a few years ago. Lewis can't cover like he did in the past, and Reed is unable to tackle in run support. But they are still special playmakers who come through for the Ravens at the most critical times.

Jamison Hensley

ESPN Ravens reporter

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