Friday, November 30, 2012
Final Word: AFC North
By Jamison Hensley
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 13:
The Big Ben factor: The Ravens' chances of clinching a playoff berth Sunday significantly improved when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ruled out with rib and shoulder injuries. Since 2004, including playoffs, the Steelers are 9-4 against the Ravens with Roethlisberger starting at quarterback. Pittsburgh is averaging 18.3 points and 212.6 passing yards per game in this rivalry with the franchise's all-time leading passer, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Without Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh is 0-6 against Baltimore, averaging 14.7 points and 182.2 passing yards. The Steelers will turn to Charlie Batch, who has lost four of five career starts against the Ravens.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton will look to work on his ball security and third-down passing in 2013.
Sophomore no longer slumping: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggled to repeat the success of his rookie season in the first half of 2012, when he threw an interception in each of his first eight games. But Dalton has bounced back strong and turned around the Cincinnati offense as well. The Bengals are averaging 31 points during their three-game winning streak, which is third best in the NFL over that span. Over the past three weeks, Dalton has thrown for 639 yards with nine touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 117.2. He is one of three players in NFL history with at least 20 touchdown passes in each of his first two seasons. The others are Peyton Manning and Dan Marino.
Back on the attack: Jonathan Dwyer was named the starter again after the Steelers' running back-by-committee failed. In each of his two starts this season, Dwyer has gained more than 100 yards. He's also one of only nine backs this season to average at least 2 yards per rush before and after first contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That shows Dwyer's combination of power and speed. The Ravens rank 26th in the NFL in run defense this season. Six running backs have gained at least 90 yards in a game against Baltimore, including two 100-yard rushers (Jamaal Charles and Trent Richardson).
Rookie on the road: Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden is expected to start at Oakland a week after suffering his first concussion. Weeden's QBR this season is 21.8, the lowest in the NFL. It's the fourth lowest since 2008 (only JaMarcus Russell, Jimmy Clausen and Blaine Gabbert had worse QBRs). But the Cleveland first-round pick has fared better on the road than at home. Weeden has thrown eight touchdowns and three interceptions on the road, and he's been picked off 10 times at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Raiders have been one of the league's most generous teams this season, allowing opponents to score 34 or more points in four consecutive games.
Hold on to that ball: The Steelers committed eight turnovers last Sunday, the most by any team since the Rams had eight in 2001. Pittsburgh fumbled the ball eight times and lost five of them. All four running backs (Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Dwyer and Chris Rainey) coughed up the ball. The Ravens have forced running backs to fumble nine times this season. Only the Patriots have caused more fumbles.