We had a ton of mail in our AFC North inbox this week. So let’s answer some questions.
Chris from Chicago, IL wants to know why the Pittsburgh Steelers don't go back to their roots and run the ball more.
James Walker: Pittsburgh has gradually morphed into a pass-first offense under coordinator Bruce Arians, Chris. The changeover began last year, when the team struggled to run and it was clear quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the Steelers' best offensive threat. I think, to some degree, tailback Rashard Mendenhall surprised the coaching staff with his breakout performance this year. The team entered the season expecting to throw the ball a lot with its strong receiving corps. But Mendenhall is running well with every opportunity, and on most weeks Pittsburgh struggles to adjust the game plan and become more balanced. I'm still baffled with the amount of times the Steelers pass on third-and-short.
Tim from Brookville, PA writes: I have a crazy yet clever idea. Why don't the Steelers put in receiver Limas Sweed at cornerback?
Walker: Sweed has never played cornerback before, Tim. So it’s not something you can just do in the middle of the season unless it’s an emergency situation. I doubt it would happen, but it’s an idea more fitting for the offseason or training camp.
Nick from Canton, Ohio wants to know if the 2010 Cleveland Browns can copy the 2009 Cincinnati Bengals.
Walker: Slow down, Nick. I know the win over Pittsburgh was big. But let's wait and see if the Browns can put together their first winning streak to end the year. The Browns have 11 draft picks, and most of them will be high in every round. So a strong April will be key to turning the franchise around.
Jack from Mooresville, NC wants to know when the Browns will hire a new head of football operations.
Walker: The team said at one time that it could happen quickly, but I don’t see that happening. The interview process takes time and if the Browns really want to be diligent, a lot of qualified candidates are currently working overtime for teams headed to the playoffs. Unless the top candidate is someone currently out of work, like Mike Holmgren, I don’t anticipate anything happening until after the season.
Cooper from Baltimore, MD wants to know if it would be best for Ravens backup receiver Kelley Washington to start over Mark Clayton.
Walker: That’s an interesting question, Cooper. Clayton has always baffled me with his inconsistency. He could have a huge game and then disappear for a month. As a starter that hurts the offense. But I’m not sure Washington is the answer. I like the role Baltimore has for him in the slot to move the chains on third down. That works for him. The Ravens wouldn’t have much speed on the outside with Washington and Derrick Mason as starters.
Red from Lexington, KY writes: Hey James, my man, why don't you share with the AFC North Nation the comments all the Bengals fans had to say during the offseason.
Walker: Because there weren't any. (OK, that was a joke. Sort of.)
Bryce from Lancaster, PA writes: Hey James, where is the Temple love? Whenever Vandy even sniffs a win in any sport, Buster Olney writes a bit about it.
Walker: I show the Owls plenty of love, Bryce. But I choose not to go overboard because this is an AFC North blog. Readers want to know what's going on with their team. I can support my school on my free time.
Stanbrerries of Cleveland wants to know how Domata Peko's absence will hurt the Bengals.
Walker: It could hurt a lot. Peko may be the most underrated player on the league’s most underrated defense. Last week against the Detroit Lions, the Bengals showed some signs of struggling against the run when Peko went down. Kevin Smith had 75 yards, one touchdown, and averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson is twice the player Smith is. So it will definitely be something to account for in this game.
Salil Garg from Cincinnati doesn’t understand how Bengals coach Marvin Lewis isn't an automatic favorite for coach of the year.
Walker: Most years, Lewis would be the favorite. But this is a rare season when two teams are undefeated this late in the season. Jim Caldwell of the Indianapolis Colts and Sean Payton have to be the favorites unless they falter. If either team finished 16-0, I think that coach deserves the award.
David from Columbus, Ohio wants to know if the Bengals-San Diego Chargers game will be "flexed" to primetime.
Walker: Nope. The league recently announced that the Minnesota Vikings-Carolina Panthers game will remain in primetime in Week 15. Perhaps the Bengals will get a night game in the postseason.