Friday, October 26, 2012
Final Word: AFC North
By Jamison Hensley
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:
Robert Griffin III will face a tough test Sunday against Pittsburgh's defense.
Rough on rookies:Robert Griffin III has been the most impressive of the first-year quarterbacks this season. His biggest test comes Sunday in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers have a long history of rattling rookies. Since Dick LeBeau returned as defensive coordinator in 2004, the Steelers are 13-1 against rookie quarterbacks. The lone loss came against the Ravens' Troy Smith in the final regular-season game in 2007 in Baltimore when the Steelers rested four starters, including James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, to get ready for the postseason. Pittsburgh has held rookies to a 52.7 completion rate and an average of 167 yards passing per game with nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
Secondary success: The Browns are a different pass defense when cornerback Joe Haden is on the field. During his four-game suspension, the Browns allowed quarterbacks to complete 66.4 percent of their passes with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. With Haden on the field, Cleveland has held quarterbacks to a 58 percent completion rate with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. In three games this season, Haden has intercepted two passes and has broken up four throws. The defense has to figure out a way to derail Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is 2-0 against the Browns. Rivers has thrown for 584 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 118.8 versus Cleveland.
Going deep: If you've missed the Steelers' big-play offense, it likely will return Sunday against Washington. As the NFL's worst-ranked pass defense, the Redskins have allowed 29 completions for more than 20 yards (tied for second worst in the NFL) and seven passes for more than 40 yards (tied for worst). The Steelers haven't stretched the field as regularly under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley as they did in the past. Ben Roethlisberger has connected on two passes over 40 yards after averaging 10 such throws the previous three seasons. Perhaps this will be a redemption game for speedy receiver Mike Wallace, who has five dropped passes this season.
Air it out: Browns coach Pat Shurmur was criticized for throwing the ball too much last Sunday. He might hear criticism if he doesn't throw the ball against the Chargers. The Browns have a banged-up starting running back (Trent Richardson) and are facing the NFL's 25th-ranked pass defense. In the past two games, the Chargers have given up a total of 679 yards passing and seven touchdown passes. But San Diego was facing Peyton Manning and Drew Brees during that time. Cleveland rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has been on a tear recently, throwing for at least two touchdowns in each of his past three games. He leads all rookies this season in passing yards (1,783), passing touchdowns (nine) and completions of 20 or more yards (25).
Hot at Heinz: Sunday's game against the Redskins marks the Steelers' first home game since Oct. 7 and only their third of the season. The Steelers have won five straight home games and are 9-1 at home since the start of the 2011 season. With a win, the Steelers would have six straight home wins for the first time since winning eight home games in a row from 2008-09. After next week's game at the New York Giants, the Steelers play five of their final eight games at Heinz Field.