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Monday, August 15, 2011
AFC North Stock Watch

By James Walker

Week 1 of the preseason is in the books. So let's see who's stock is rising and falling after the first batch of preseason games.


1. The Cincinnati Bengals: I rarely make too much of the preseason. But I didn't like the way the Bengals came out to start their 2011 season. It's a new era and a fresh start in Cincinnati. But the Bengals didn't play with much energy or effort in a 34-3 loss to the Detroit Lions. It's difficult to lose a preseason game by 31 points. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has a lot of work to do. I want to see how the Bengals rebound this week against the New York Jets.



2. Baltimore Ravens' offensive tackles: Baltimore allowed six sacks in its 13-6 preseason defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles. At least three sacks came against starting offensive tackles Michael Oher and Oniel Cousins. Pass protection has been a year-long problem in Baltimore. Oher had a great rookie campaign on the right side but has been average as a left tackle. Cousins hasn't shown much on the right side. The Ravens are now considering moving Cousins to right guard. There don't seem to be any easy answers to this issue.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers' pass defense: In Pittsburgh's first game since Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a field day in Super Bowl XLV, Washington Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman (207 yards, one touchdown) also did well in limited action. Should this be a concern? Bryant McFadden was out and cornerback Ike Taylor broke his thumb. Taylor is expected to miss the rest of the preseason at an already thin position. It's way too early to panic. But Pittsburgh's corners need to start covering better this summer to erase concerns of last season's Super Bowl loss.




1. Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy: There is a lot of pressure on McCoy to show growth this year as the full-time starter. He made a great first step with a near-perfect performance against the Packers. McCoy was 9 of 10 for 135 yards and a touchdown. He led two touchdown drives -- one against Green Bay's starters and the other against the Packers' second unit. This should give McCoy and the first-team offense things to build on in the preseason.

2. Browns coach Pat Shurmur: The Browns looked solid and played with energy in Shurmur's head-coaching debut. Shurmur was solid in his dual role as head coach and offensive coordinator. The Browns looked prepared and the offense moved the ball. His play calling went a long way to giving McCoy and his younger players confidence.

3. Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger: Kruger had his best game as a Raven, albeit in the preseason. He recorded five tackles and a sack against Philadelphia. Kruger was active and looks much better now that he's lost the extra bulk. Baltimore tried converting him to a full-time defensive end in 2010, which didn't work. Now, the Ravens hope Kruger can provide more quickness and speed-rushing on the outside.