Five observations from the AFC North

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
1:36
PM ET
1. The Return of Ma'ake. One of the best stories that slipped through the cracks nationally is how Ma'ake Kemoeatu has re-emerged as a defensive force with the Ravens. Injuries made it appear as though Kemoeatu’s career could be an end. Now, he has moved past Terrence Cody as the team’s starting nose tackle. It will be difficult to run up the middle against the Ravens with Haloti Ngata and Kemoeatu clogging the middle. Kemoeatu lost 80 points to mount this comeback.

2. The Ravens will reward Joe Flacco. The Ravens may not have the salary-cap room to do a Flacco deal during the regular season, but they will no doubt get something done before free agency starts next year. If not, they will franchise him. I loved John Harbaugh’s response when asked Monday about getting a deal done with Flacco. He said, “Pay him.” There is no way the owner of this team is going to let this become an issue. The Ravens know for sure that Flacco is the right quarterback for this franchise.

3. Bengals secondary will take time to come together. With the Bengals trying to break in cornerback Terence Newman into defensive packages and safety Taylor Mays just becoming a starter, the Bengals are going to need time to jell as a secondary. Leon Hall is coming off a major injury. Mays is a hitting machine, but it looks as though he’s going to get fined for his hit on Baltimore tight end Ed Dickson. It was helmet-to-helmet. The Bengals were particularly vulnerable on first and second downs in Monday’s loss to the Ravens. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is a master of fixing coverage problems, but it will take time.

4. Smarter use of Trent Richardson. Expect the Browns to lessen the load on rookie halfback Trent Richardson, who had 39 yards on 19 carries. Browns coach Pat Shurmur admitted Richardson was on the field 10 to 12 plays more than he should have been coming off knee surgery. Using him a little less should keep him fresher.

5. Backfield decisions for Mike Tomlin. With Steelers halfback Rashard Mendenhall expected to be inactive again this week against the Jets, Tomlin has to decide whether to stay with Isaac Redman or go to Jonathan Dwyer as the starter. If he were healthy, Redman would start, but a hip injury might slow him down for a while. Dwyer averaged 4.8 yards per carry in Sunday’s loss to Denver and might get a chance to do more this week.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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