Here are seven notes and observations from Week 6 in the AFC North:
I've seen a lot of quarterback debuts up close as a former Cleveland Browns beat writer, and Colt McCoy's first NFL start was the best of the group. McCoy, Cleveland's 16th starting quarterback since 1999, threw for 281 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1). McCoy took a pounding and made rookie mistakes. But he also showed toughness, leadership and good accuracy. What does this all mean? Until Seneca Wallace (ankle) or Jake Delhomme (ankle) are 100 percent healthy, McCoy deserves at least one more start. After this Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, the Browns (1-5) can evaluate two of McCoy's games against the starts of Wallace and Delhomme and then figure their direction at quarterback.
Last year I thought cornerback Eric Wright was one of the Browns' more improved players. But Cleveland's No. 1 cornerback has regressed, allowing too many big plays. Wright gave up two more touchdown passes Sunday to Steelers receivers Mike Wallace and Hines Ward. Wright has allowed five passing touchdowns combined in division games against Pittsburgh and the Baltimore Ravens. It's hard to win when your top cover corner is this inconsistent. With No. 7 overall pick Joe Haden waiting in the wings, this could be one position Cleveland considers a lineup change after the bye.
In the Steelers' previous game against Cleveland, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times. But Roethlisberger wasn't sacked once by the Browns on Sunday. I have been critical of the offensive line in the past, but new offensive line coach Sean Kuglar has his unit playing very well this season. Drafting center Maurkice Pouncey in the first round provided stability in the middle and helped make the other four linemen better. Roethlisberger took some hits and had to throw the ball away several times. But overall he had enough time to throw downfield.
The Steelers were very defensive after the game about linebacker James Harrison's two hits on Cleveland receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi. Both of Harrison's hits were blows to the head and knocked Cribbs and Massaquoi out of the game with apparent concussions. Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin firmly believes both shots were clean, and Harrison doesn't think he should be fined. In my view, the second hit on Massaquoi will catch the league's attention more than the first hit. Neither play drew a flag.
There are two AFC North players to keep an eye on with the NFL's trade deadline approaching Tuesday. In Cleveland, defensive lineman Shaun Rogers is a player I'm hearing rumblings about. Rogers curiously didn't play much against Pittsburgh despite some injuries along Cleveland's defensive line. Also, Ravens tailback Willis McGahee is another possibility. Because of injuries, there are several teams (Green Bay Packers?) that need a starting running back. The Ravens have a surplus and might be able to sell high.
Although just an educated guess, I believe last year's playoff victory had a lot to do with Baltimore's strategy to play conservatively late in Sunday's overtime loss to the New England Patriots. Once they got the lead, the Ravens did a great job of taking the air out of the football in last year's 33-14 victory against New England. They were the more physical team by a wide margin, and those memories probably made Baltimore believe it could physically dominate and run out the clock again. Instead, the Ravens gave up key possessions and allowed New England to overcome a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons could be the biggest game of the Bengals' 2010 season. A loss would drop Cincinnati to 2-4 in a very tough division and deep AFC. Although the season is still young, that might be a deficit too big to overcome. But a quality win would put the Bengals at 3-3 and right back in the mix. Either way, Cincinnati had the bye week to correct its issues.