AFC North: Brandon Marshall

Josh Gordon hopes to not see double

December, 11, 2013
The one illogical fact that continues to follow Josh Gordon as he has huge game after huge game is this: Teams continue to cover him man-to-man.

Gordon admitted Wednesday that New England basically assigned Aqib Talib to him.

And Talib, as is his wont, did a lot of yapping during the game. The result: Gordon had the best game by a receiver against New England this season.

“He definitely talked a lot like I expected him to,” Gordon said. “We exchanged some words, but you know I think the plays spoke for themselves a lot more.”

Gordon finished with seven catches for 151 yards and an eye-popping 80-yard touchdown. But he talked about it as if he had just cleaned his glass table.

“Because I feel as though there’s a lot more to come out of it I haven’t gotten yet,” Gordon said. “I haven’t reached where I’m trying to go and I try to stay humble and that’s really just my personality through and through.”

It seemed as if Gordon meant it when he said he hadn’t thought about the four-game NFL record of 744 receiving yards. In interviews, he’s accessible, polite, cordial, not expansive but honest.

Asked if he’s playing as well as any receiver now, he said: “I hope I am.”

Gordon has caught the attention of other players, one of whom is Brandon Marshall of the Bears. Marshall has dealt with borderline personality disorder in his life, and has dedicated himself to helping others deal with mental health issues.

He said seeing that Gordon “gets it” after his problems in college (he went to three schools and failed two drug tests) is what is most impressive.

“We all know that what you do off the field affects you on,” Marshall said. “So if he can continue to grow as a man and as a teammate, the sky is the limit for this kid.”

If a guy who leads the league in receiving yards (1,400) and average yards per game (127.3) hasn’t hit his limit yet, it’s a tad scary. Yet Gordon is 22, and he probably will improve.

Talib does not have his reputation for nothing. He held Demaryius Thomas to four catches, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to none.

But Gordon was the clear winner Sunday. Besides the catches, yards and touchdown, Gordon forced Talib into three penalties (one was declined).

“It didn’t work too good for them,” Gordon said of the decision to go man.

The marvel is teams have yet to double-team Gordon, to flat out say: We are not going to let this beat us one-on-one.

When will it happen?

“Hopefully no time this season,” Gordon said.

“I don’t know man,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “They gotta ... I don’t know ... they gotta start doing something.”
Gary Horton from Scouts Inc. put together a list of 10 AFC players who will take their game to the next level this season. Only one player from the AFC North made the "breakout" blogInsider: Browns cornerback Joe Haden.

You'll need an Insider subscription to read the entire piece and see where Haden ranks on the list, but this is a portion of what Horton had to say about the Browns' 2010 first-round pick:
He is a shutdown corner already, and his coaches have so much confidence in him that a lot of the time they let him follow the best receiver all over the field. His upside is huge, but he is going to have to be more consistent and make more big plays if he is going to face the best wide receiver the opposition has to offer on a weekly basis.

Everyone knows my respect for Haden. He is the most talented cornerback in the division and has broken up 37 passes in his first two seasons. He held his own against some of the best receivers in the NFL, from Larry Fitzgerald to Brandon Marshall. His worst games came against Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green.

Haden would really boost his stock by picking off the quarterback more often. He didn't have an interception last season after having six as a rookie.
The AFC North is running a series where every position will be ranked and what could change at that position.


1. STEELERS: Pittsburgh had the top-ranked pass defense, and it wasn't all about the pass rush this time. Actually, the pass rush was extremely inconsistent this season, so that No. 1 ranking is more of a reflection of the Steelers' secondary. Cornerback Ike Taylor and free safety Ryan Clark had career years. Taylor's season, though, was marred by a late-season decline that ended with him getting stiffed-armed by the Broncos' Demaryius Thomas on the touchdown that ended the Steelers' season. Clark had the best season of any safety in the division, which is saying a lot when Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed are in the AFC North. He finished second in the division with 100 tackles. Polamalu was solid, but didn't play up to his usual spectacular level. William Gay was a pleasant surprise, taking back the starting cornerback job that he lost in 2010. What could change: Gay is an unrestricted free agent, but it shouldn't take much to retain him. Look for rookie cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown to make more of an impact in their second seasons.

2. RAVENS: This group exceeded expectations, and did so in a surprising manner. Instead of starting Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr at cornerback, the Ravens finished fourth in pass defense with Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams. Webb was the division's top cornerback, recording five interceptions and breaking up 20 passes (and that doesn't include three interceptions in the playoffs). Williams was a physical presence at corner. The biggest disappointment was Reed, who intercepted three passes -- his fewest in a season where he played more than 12 games. The Ravens' other safety, hard-hitting Bernard Pollard, provided more of an impact than Reed. First-round pick Jimmy Smith endured an up-and-down rookie season. What could change: Smith should take over for Williams as a starting cornerback this season. Foxworth is expected to get cut, and the same could happen to Carr. Both backup safeties, Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, are free agents, but I suspect Nakamura will get re-signed.

3. BROWNS: Joe Haden showed signs of being a shutdown corner, even though he failed to make an interception. He held his own against some of the best receivers in the NFL, from Larry Fitzgerald to Brandon Marshall. His worst games came against Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. While Haden is among the division's best cornerbacks, Sheldon Brown was the worst starting corner in the AFC North. Brown's biggest asset is the experience he provides to a young secondary. The defensive backfield was hurt by the loss of strong safety T.J. Ward, who missed the final 10 games with a foot injury. Teams took advantage of Ward's replacement, Usama Young. Free safety Mike Adams beat out Young for a starting job in training camp. Dimitri Patterson was a reliable nickelback, breaking up a dozen passes. What could change: The Browns might replace Adams, who is a free agent, and they could give rookie seventh-round pick Eric Hagg a shot at doing so. Cleveland is very interested in bringing Patterson back. It wouldn't be a surprise if Patterson starts in place of Brown.
4. BENGALS: Leon Hall is perhaps the most valuable cornerback in the division. In the first nine games with Hall, the Bengals gave up eight touchdown passes. In the last seven regular-season games without him (he had a season-ending Achilles injury), they allowed 12 touchdown passes. The Bengals replaced Hall with Adam Jones, who was extremely erratic in coverage. The Bengals value the veteran leadership of Nate Clements, but the cornerback is looking past his prime. Only nickelback Kelly Jennings struggled on a more consistent basis. Safety Reggie Nelson allowed some big plays early, but he was stingy in pass defense late in the season. The other safety, Chris Crocker, had trouble covering the more athletic tight ends in the league. What could change: The Bengals need to draft a cornerback in the first round to press Clements for a starting role and become his eventual replacement. Nelson is a free agent, but he is considered a priority to get re-signed. The Bengals are expected to part ways with Jones, who is a free agent.

Feb. 20: Special teams

Feb. 21: Defensive line

Feb. 23: Linebackers

For Monday: Offensive line

Here are the latest happenings Monday evening in the AFC North:
  • Is the link between the Cleveland Browns and Georgia receiver A.J. Green getting stronger the week of the NFL draft?
  • The Baltimore Ravens made the right call going after Anquan Boldin last offseason instead of embattled receiver Brandon Marshall, who eventually was traded to the Miami Dolphins.
  • Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis hinted Monday that taking a quarterback with their first pick might be a reach.
  • Former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Ted Petersen suffered a damaging house fire. He's the second current or former AFC North player to recently go through this, joining Bengals defensive end Antwan Odom.

Morning take: Woodley, Adams updates

October, 29, 2010
Here are the most interesting stories in the AFC North: Morning take: The Steelers need their best players against the reigning champion New Orleans Saints, so this is a good sign. Woodley's potential return also means fellow linebacker Lawrence Timmons can move back inside.
Morning take: This is one of the toughest things to do in the NFL. Baltimore is 3-2 in games decided by seven points or less, and continued improvement in this area would serve the Ravens well.
Morning take: Will Miami's passing game have a big day? Atlanta's Roddy White recently ran circles around Cincinnati's banged-up secondary.
Morning take: The Browns still have a long way to go. But it looks like Heckert's first draft led by cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J. Ward and quarterback Colt McCoy could be a solid one.

Morning take: Ravens eye D-line

April, 15, 2010
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North: Morning take: With the exception of Haloti Ngata, Baltimore's D-line is an aging unit. Luckily for the Ravens, that's arguably the deepest position in this year's draft.
Morning take: I would be surprised at this point if Roethlisberger isn’t suspended. It will be interesting next week to see Pittsburgh's opponent(s) to start the 2010 season.
Morning take: The Browns and Steelers are two teams likely to make a move next week. Cleveland has to find its quarterback of the future, and it likely will come after the first round.

  • Should the Cincinnati Bengals draft receiver Dez Bryant at No. 21?
Morning take: If Bryant falls, that would be a good value pick. However, the Denver Broncos' trade of Brandon Marshall now makes them the favorite to select Bryant at No. 11.

Roethlisberger and Steelers links

April, 12, 2010
You've heard from me all day about the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now it's time to get some other views on everything that's going on with Steeler Nation.

Walker's weekend mailbag

April, 11, 2010
Let's see what's in our division inbox this weekend.

Brian from Newton Falls, Ohio, wants to know if free-agent quarterback Marc Bulger is a possibility for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

James Walker: Bulger is from Pittsburgh so there is a natural connection, Brian. However, I haven't personally heard of any interest from the Steelers in Bulger. That probably won't change now that starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will not be charged after an allegation of sexual assault. The team now has more clarity with Roethlisberger and can move forward with him and backups Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch.

Matt from Cary, NC, writes: In the ESPN Mock Draft 4.0, Todd McShay has Joe Haden going 20th to Houston. Do you really think the Steelers would pass him up at No. 18 if he was sitting there?

Walker: I doubt it, Matt. But it depends on who's higher on Pittsburgh's draft board. I can't imagine many players being higher on the team's board than Haden at that point in the draft.

Nick from Baltimore wants to know if the Dallas Cowboys will make a play on Ravens left tackle Jared Gaither.

Walker: Nick, this may be a question more suited for my NFC East counterpart Matt Mosley. But it sounds like Dallas is fairly comfortable with starting Doug Free at left tackle. Trade talks could heat up for Gaither this week, but I'm not sure anything will happen. Teams are not trading first-round picks for anyone this year -- see Donovan McNabb, Anquan Boldin and Brandon Marshall. So that's probably out of the question for Gaither, who has a first-round tender. Of course, the Ravens can always lower their asking price to a second- or third-round pick. But at that price it's probably best to keep your starting left tackle.

Drew from Baltimore wants to know what kicker is the best option for the Ravens.

Walker: I like Steve Hauschka, Drew. Just kidding. It will probably come down to money for Baltimore. The Ravens have a certain comfort level with Billy Cundiff but would rather explore if there's an upgrade out there in draft or free agency. Former Cincinnati Bengals kicker Shayne Graham is certainly a possibility.

Brandon from Euclid, Ohio, wants to know if the Cleveland Browns would be willing to make a move for Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

Walker: Brandon, I don't like to say things are impossible but chances are very, very slim of this happening. Haynesworth is upset that he has to play in a 3-4 defense in Washington. He would be even more upset to go to a rebuilding Cleveland team which also plays a 3-4 scheme.

Henley from Richmond, Va., writes: Do you think that because the Redskins and Seattle Seahawks have both taken strides to sure up their quarterback position, Jimmy Clausen could fall to No. 7 at Cleveland?

Walker: Yes, there is a very good chance Clausen will be there when the Browns select at No. 7, Henley. But unless something changed after Clausen's solid pro day Friday, Cleveland has more interest in other players like Tennessee safety Eric Berry.

Dan from Phoenix, Ariz., wants to know if receiver Dez Bryant and safety Earl Thomas will fall to the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL draft.

Walker: Hi, Dan, and thanks for being a loyal reader. Of the two, Bryant would be more likely to fall to No. 21. But even that's not a guarantee. It's doubtful Thomas will be there. He is being linked with a lot of teams right now, including the Browns at No. 7. A lot of it will depend on how high Berry goes, because that would raise Thomas' value to other teams looking for a similar playmaking safety.

Dave from Cincinnati writes: What do you think of Sergio Kindle for the Bengals at No. 21?

Walker: Dave, I don't like this pick for Cincinnati. Nothing against Kindle. It's just the Bengals have more than enough linebackers and could fill needs in the first round in other areas.
Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North: Morning take: This would bring up an interesting dilemma for Baltimore. Would the team take the additional first-round pick? It’s worth considering.
Morning take: Smith obviously is interested in Cleveland, but is the feeling mutual? For now the Browns are looking at other quarterback options.
Morning take: I agree.
Morning take: Miami just released safety Gibril Wilson. So there is certainly a need there for a hard-hitting veteran like Clark.

Bengals sending mixed messages

March, 7, 2010
Will the Cincinnati Bengals shock the NFL and pull off a blockbuster trade to acquire receiver Brandon Marshall from the Denver Broncos?

The short answer: Probably not.

There have been mixed reports about Cincinnati's plans to acquire a receiver. Names such as Terrell Owens, Kevin Walter and Marshall have all been talked about, and so far nothing has come to fruition.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Bengals are contemplating a play for Marshall, who visited this weekend with the Seattle Seahawks. But thinking about a player and actually making a trade are two vastly different things.

Considering Cincinnati's history, giving up its first-round pick and signing Marshall to a contract extension that, at the very least, would start in the range of $30-40 million would be completely out of character for the Bengals.

Cincinnati has expressed some level of interest in free-agent receiver Owens, who can sign at a much cheaper rate and the team would still retain its first-round pick to address other needs.

Although that move isn't a slam dunk, either, it's still more likely T.O. or some other free-agent receiver wears Bengals stripes next year than Marshall.


Prices set for receivers

March, 5, 2010
The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns are all in need of upgrades at wide receiver in the AFC North. But with the free-agent tenders, it could be tough sledding.

Teams around the NFL have set the market, and getting a high-profile receiver could be costly.

Here are the prices and stats for several top receivers around the league:

Considering the price, which receiver do you want on your favorite AFC North team?
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North: Morning take: Bodden went to nearby Duquesne University and spent time in the AFC North with the Cleveland Browns. But a bidding war with other teams could rule Pittsburgh out.
Morning take: Getting one would be good. But getting both would be great for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Morning take: I've been saying this all along.
Morning take: Williams needs to play in a 4-3 defense to be at his best. He was never a good fit in Cleveland's system. So this is a good move for both parties.

AFC North mailbag

March, 4, 2010
With free agency set to start Friday, now is a good time to answer one last batch of questions.

Danny and Scott F. want to know why it's not a "no-brainer" for the Cincinnati Bengals to sign restricted free agent Brandon Marshall.

James Walker: Because you're both forgetting the other end, which is a large contract extension. The Denver Broncos were smart to put only a first-round tender on Marshall. Teams around the league, particularly those late in the first round, could view this as a fair price. But not only will the Bengals or any other team have to give up a first-round pick, but also a sizable multi-year deal. I don't think the Bengals are willing to spend top dollar for Marshall.

Wolfey from Cincinnati, Ohio, writes: Why have the Cleveland Browns not released Derek Anderson yet?

Walker: Anderson's $2 million bonus isn't due until March 19. So Cleveland has approximately two weeks to decide. But everything I'm hearing is there's very little chance the Browns pay Anderson the bonus and his $7.45 million salary next season. I also wrote Wednesday on the AFC North blog Twitter that Cleveland hasn't approached Anderson to restructure. So chances are the Browns will release the quarterback soon.

Wilson from Baltimore writes: There is no doubt in my mind that the Ravens need to draft a receiving threat in the first round. My favorite for the moment is Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech, but Arrelious Benn and Golden Tate could also be there.

Walker: Thomas is a good prospect, but he recently broke his foot before the combine. So his injury will hurt his draft stock. Benn and Tate are both possibilities. But I have a feeling Baltimore will make a strong push for a receiver in free agency as well.

AJ Cazaurang from Daytona Beach, Fla., writes: I was wondering who you think the Steelers will take with they're first-round pick? I really want to see them draft Idaho guard Mike Iupati.

Walker: I agree that Iupati would be a solid pick. Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson, who is a frequent guest on this blog, also agrees. This year's draft is very deep and I think the Steelers will land a good player at No. 18. Although things can change after free agency, Pittsburgh's likely targets are offensive line, nose tackle and cornerback in no particular order. I don't think the Steelers could go wrong getting help at any of these positions.

Draft Watch: AFC North

March, 3, 2010
NFC Schemes/Themes: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: schemes and themes.

Baltimore Ravens

Theme: Getting vertical. The Ravens are dedicated to helping third-year quarterback Joe Flacco as much as possible. This will not be limited to the NFL draft. Baltimore also will explore free agency and the trade market in an effort to find receivers and tight ends who can stretch the field. Flacco has a very strong arm, but the Ravens were not able to throw deep enough last year. There is speculation that Baltimore could be in the market for veteran receivers such as Brandon Marshall (trade), Anquan Boldin (trade) and Terrell Owens (free agency). Baltimore holds the No. 25 overall pick. So options in the draft include speedy Notre Dame receiver Golden Tate, Arrelious Benn of Illinois and Oklahoma tight end Jermaine Gresham.

Cincinnati Bengals

Theme: Getting vertical. Cincinnati, like Baltimore, wants to improve the deep passing game. Was the problem in 2009 quarterback Carson Palmer or his supporting cast? For the first time in his career, Palmer struggled with deep accuracy. The struggle was highlighted down the stretch when Cincinnati lost four of its last five games. But other than receiver Chad Ochocinco, no one else was able to get behind the defense consistently. Look for the Bengals with the No. 21 pick to have similar targets with Baltimore, such as Gresham, Benn and Tate. Cincinnati also is rumored to be interested in Owens. Usually, the Bengals are not major players in free agency.

Cleveland Browns

Scheme: Adding West Coast principles. For Cleveland, it's all about scheme and philosophy this offseason. Although the Browns are being vague about the topic, there are a lot of internal discussions going on about the offensive side of the ball. Cleveland president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert both believe in the West Coast offense. Head coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll do not. At some point their schemes and principles will have to mesh to come up with Cleveland's new offense for 2010. But what does this mean for the quarterback? Do Brady Quinn's strengths match the West Coast system or the old offense under Mangini? Should the Browns find another quarterback? Will they draft West Coast-type receivers and tight ends? There are a lot of questions that need to be settled before Cleveland takes the field in September.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Theme: Plugging holes. For a team that missed the playoffs last season, the Steelers do not have a lot of glaring weaknesses. Pittsburgh is still a veteran-laden team that is in position to compete for a title if everyone stays healthy. Last year's absence of safety Troy Polamalu helped keep the Steelers out of the playoffs. This year's draft is about adding depth and plugging holes. Pittsburgh could use help at cornerback and depth on the offensive line, either at guard or tackle. The Steelers struggled in the red zone, so getting a physical presence on the offensive line could cure those ills. Idaho guard Mike Iupati would be a good fit. There are not a lot of top-flight cornerbacks available at No. 18, but Boise State's Kyle Wilson has impressed a lot of scouts and might be an option. Also, despite Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton's three-year extension, do not rule out Pittsburgh finding his heir apparent in this year's draft, which is rich with defensive linemen.