Tuesday, November 22, 2011
AFC North Stock Watch
By Jamison Hensley
1. Andy Dalton's interceptions: The Bengals' rookie quarterback stumbled at times the past two weeks when the caliber of defense improved. Dalton threw five interceptions against Pittsburgh and Baltimore after getting picked off seven times in his first eight games. Not all the turnovers can be put on the second-round pick, but fewer early mistakes would cut down on the fourth-quarter deficits.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has 10 fumbles already this season, one shy of his career high.
2. Joe Flacco's fumbling: The Ravens quarterback is having more trouble holding on to the ball than ever. Flacco lost the ball Sunday when he hit the arm of fullback Vonta Leach on what looked to be an eventual handoff to Ray Rice. This was his 10th fumble of the season, which is one shy of his career high that he set as a rookie. Flacco has fumbled six times in the past six weeks.
3. Injuries to star players: The Browns already have ruled out running back Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and aren't sure about the availability of backup Montario Hardesty (calf). The Steelers probably won't have their top pass-rusher, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring), for a third straight game. The Ravens could get back inside linebacker Ray Lewis (toe), but he likely won't be at full strength. And the Bengals could be facing another game-time decision with leading receiver A.J. Green (knee).
1. Colt McCoy's accuracy: One reason for renewed optimism in McCoy has been his increased completion rate. He has connected on 72.5 percent of his throws the past two games (37 of 51) after completing 57.4 percent of his passes in his first eight games. This is the same quarterback who didn't complete half his throws in three of his first five games. He's also had two completions of more than 50 yards the past two weeks.
2. Ravens' explosive plays: Nearly half of Baltimore's offensive output in Week 11 came on four plays. Anquan Boldin scored the Ravens' first touchdown on a 35-yard catch-and-run. Rice had a 59-yard run (his second 50-plus yard run of the season) that led to a field goal in the third quarter. And Torrey Smith scored on a 38-yard grab in the fourth quarter and set up a second-quarter touchdown with a 49-yard diving catch. These are no longer your grind-it-out Ravens.
3. Favorable scheduling: The Ravens and Steelers are getting some help from the NFL schedule-makers this week. The 49ers are having to make a cross-country trip on four days' rest to play in Baltimore on Thanksgiving night. The Ravens will have an extra day to prepare on Wednesday while the 49ers are on a six-hour flight to Baltimore. The Chiefs are going against the Steelers after traveling from New England on a short week having played on Monday night. Pittsburgh is coming off two weeks' rest because of its bye.