- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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John Harbaugh deserves credit for keeping the best-kept secret of the preseason: a new, younger offensive line. For months, everyone anticipated the Ravens would go with Bryant McKinnie, 32, at left tackle and Bobbie Williams, 35, at left guard. When McKinnie accepted his $1 million paycut, you figured it was a lock for the Bengals to go against him and Williams. Against the Bengals, the Ravens lined up Michael Oher, 26, at left tackle, rookie Kelechi Osemele, 23, at right tackle and Ramon Harewood, 25, at left guard. Sure, the Ravens had trouble blocking the interior rushes of Bengals defensive tackle Gene Atkins, but the Ravens showed power and good movement at the line of scrimmage. It helped on Ray Rice runs and kept Joe Flacco pretty clean in the pocket.
On Sunday, I watched Matt Ryan play one of his best games of his career against the Kansas City Chiefs. On Monday night, Joe Flacco justified my last-minute decision to keep him ranked among the elite quarterbacks. Both in their fifth seasons, Flacco and Ryan were perhaps the best quarterbacks in Week 1. Like Ryan, Flacco is being given more control of the game at the line of scrimmage. The Ravens’ speed at wide receiver is impressive. I can’t tell you how many Bengals-Ravens games I’ve covered over the past couple of seasons in which Flacco would be forced to stand in the pocket and wait for slow, older receivers to get separation from cornerbacks. As I figured, receiver Torrey Smith is set to have a big season. Ditto for Flacco.
The Steelers need James Harrison back on the field as fast as possible. A knee injury sidelined Harrison for the opening loss to the Broncos and leaves him a question mark this week. With Harrison out of the lineup, the Broncos were able to double LaMarr Woodley and stifle any kind of pass rush. Although the Steelers got to Peyton Manning a couple times early in the game, they only touched him three times all game. If Harrison is going to miss substantial time, the Steelers might have to consider moving Lawrence Timmons to the outside to use his speed as a pass-rush threat. Depth at linebacker was a big concern of the Steelers going into training camp. It’s already a concern after Week 1.
The Bengals are two-thirds of the way set at wide receiver. With a five-catch, 70-yard game in the opener, A.J. Green already looks like a Pro Bowler. With his ability to snatch the ball out of the air, he reminds me of a young Chad Johnson. Tiny Andrew Hawkins looks nice as the slot receiver. He had eight catches for 86 yards in the opener against the Ravens. But more must come from the receiver on the other side of Green. Armon Binns and Brandon Tate were non-factors in the opener. They combined for five catches for 31 yards, with all receptions less than 10 yards. When your outside receiver has a lower per-catch average than your slot receiver, you have problems. Figure plenty of zone coverage with the safety going to Green’s side until a No. 2 receiving threat emerges.
It’s clear it’s going to take time for Brandon Weeden (5.1 passer rating in opener) and the Browns’ offense to grow. Receiver Josh Gordon is raw. Weeden didn’t seem to be able to judge rookie Travis Benjamin’s speed, which is why some deep throws fell short. Greg Little continues to drop balls, which doesn’t help. Despite the pending ownership change, coach Pat Shurmur isn’t going to panic and go to Colt McCoy. You knew there were going to be growing pains with this offense. Late in the second quarter, Weeden failed to spot a wide-open Ben Watson only to throw the ball to fullback Owen Marecic who promptly dropped it on a third-and-2 from the Browns 26. A first down would have at least run out the clock. Instead, the Eagles got the ball back with 49 seconds and went 74 yards on five plays to take a 10-3 lead to the locker room."That was poor execution all around," Shurmur said. "The ball was thrown to the fullback -- not a perfect throw, but catchable. So all in all that was just bad football."
Weeden twice under threw Benjamin on sideline routes leading to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie interceptions. The quarterback was obviously at fault, but Benjamin did not try to break up the passes -- something Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson did to Joe Haden as the Browns cornerback attempted to pick off an errant Michael Vick ball.