Saturday, September 22, 2012
Weekend mailbag: Rise of Massaquoi
By Jamison Hensley
As far as my Sunday plans go, I'm staying in Baltimore for the Sunday-night showdown between the Ravens and Patriots. If I were Lee Evans or Billy Cundiff, I wouldn't watch the game. There's probably going to be a lot of replays from the AFC championship game. On another topic, I'm getting some quality mail these days. In other words, fewer expletive-filled complaints and more thoughtful questions. Here's a sample ...
Jesse, from Erie, Pa., writes: The Steelers are yet again lacking turnovers. Do you think this will be a common theme throughout the season or will they pick up the slack?
Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: The lack of turnovers has been a surprise to me. The Steelers made this a point of emphasis in training camp after an NFL-low 15 takeaways last season. What has hurt the Steelers over the past two seasons are the injuries to their two best pass-rushers, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
Of the Steelers' 19 games the past two seasons, Harrison and Woodley have been on the field together for six. Turnovers increase when quarterbacks are forced to rush their throws. The only way to do that is to get a consistent pass rush. That won't happen until the Steelers can get Harrison healthy.
Torey, from Parma, Ohio, writes: After the first two games, it seems like Mohamed Massaquoi is on a different level than the rest of the Browns receivers. He seems to be the only one getting open and has provided reliable hands thus far. Is it possible that he has become the receiver us Browns fans have always hoped he would be?
Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: Most wrote off Massaquoi because he didn't seem to be the same receiver after taking that nasty hit from Harrison. Now, after two games, he's on pace to more than double last year's total of 31 catches. The key is he's getting open. He's separating from receivers unlike most of his first three seasons with the Browns.
Massaquoi said the difference is he's healthy. I have another theory: contract year. For some players, it takes getting into the final year of their deals to get them to reach their potential. Massaquoi will be a free agent after this season, so he knows this year will be a big factor in determining his value.
Logan, from Owings Mills, Md., writes: Why is Anquan Boldin such a non-factor for the Ravens almost every game? He may have three games all season were he is clearly the best wide receiver on our team out there. The rest he is invisible. Tell me if I'm being too harsh.
Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: Boldin certainly has not met expectations when the Ravens traded third- and fourth-round picks to Arizona for the wide receiver and a fifth-rounder. Baltimore thought he would produce at least 80 receptions, which he had done in five of seven seasons with the Cardinals. Instead, Boldin's receptions went from 64 in 2010 to 57 last season.
In 2011, he was held to less than 65 yards receiving in nine of 14 games. So he makes more of an impact than just three games but not by much. Given his production, Boldin is being overpaid at $6 million this season. The Ravens have to decide whether he's worth $6 million in 2013, which is the final year of Boldin's contract.
Brandon, from Hamilton, Ohio, writes: What are the chances the Bengals can turn around that defense and put enough wins together to make a playoff run? And is it just the fault of a lack of pass rush or were they more a flash in the pan last year?
Jamison Hensley, from AFC North headquarters, responds: I'm not going to write off the Bengals after two games. But Cincinnati hasn't inspired confidence with its play, especially on the defensive side. The Bengals' consistently strong play on defense was the main reason why Cincinnati reached the playoffs last season. The Bengals can turn it around if Carlos Dunlap can reach his potential and their cornerbacks step up their play. Dunlap, who is expected to play his first game of the season after being sidelined with a knee injury, can be a special player if he can shake the injury bug.
The Bengals did everything they could to add depth at cornerback by signing veterans Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Jason Allen before drafting Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round. Newman has looked his age (34) and Kirkpatrick has been injured throughout offseason workouts and the preseason. Cincinnati needs to get back on track defensively over the next four games, all of which come against inexperienced quarterbacks: Washington, Jacksonville, Miami and Cleveland.