AFC North: complaint department

Walker's weekend mailbag

October, 23, 2010
Let's see what's in the weekend mailbag.

Ben from Alexandria, Va., writes: With this new rule about suspensions for "devastating hits," can we can say goodbye to Ray Lewis and James Harrison and basically everything we love about the AFC North?

James Walker: As ESPN's AFC North blogger, I don't like this softening of the NFL one bit, Ben. I was really disgruntled this week. I briefly took time off Wednesday to contemplate retirement so I could cover the UFC or NHL, where physical play is still acceptable. But I returned to the AFC North blog, because nothing is going to stop me from covering the sport I enjoy most. OK, enough joking around. I'm not against fines, but I am against ridiculous fines just to make a point. Football is a physical sport and the AFC North plays the most physical brand. With the direction things are going, I think it will eventually hurt this division more than most.

Shawn Davis from Manassas, Va., writes: With the NFL's reaction to helmet-to-helmet hits, I wanted to get your thoughts to how this will impact the Steelers' defense. Do you think this will change its aggressive still of play?

Walker: In the short term, I don't see it having any type of impact. The NFL's aggressive culture is not something that can be changed overnight. The Steelers have one of the more aggressive defenses in the league, and I agree with ESPN's Adam Schefter that this can be a rallying point to get behind Harrison and put on a great performance Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

Leigh Anne from Lexington, Ky., writes: Is it just me, or is it hypocritical of the NFL to preach about player safety while looking to expand the season to 18 games?

Walker: Yes, Leigh Anne. I agree that the NFL wants it both ways. Players such as Lewis and Tom Brady have complained about the toll 18 games would have on their bodies, and the NFL seems to look the other way. Yet the league is all over players right now with excessive fines, because the game is getting too hazardous. I think this week's actions by the NFL actually hurts its stance on wanting 18 games. But that won't stop the owners for pushing for it anyway.

Patrick Charles from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Rashard Mendenhall is on pace to get 390 touches. Will he wear out?

Walker: Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin recently said this is a point of concern and something the coaching staff will work on in the next several weeks. Mendenhall is playing well and carried the offense in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's absence. Now that Roethlisberger is back, you're going to see more passing, which will preserve Mendenhall for the long haul.

Kenny from Ankeny, Ia., writes: I was reading your Bengals crossroads article. I know it's a little early to speculate, but don't you think Marvin Lewis would be a great choice to replace Wade Phillips in Dallas?

Walker: It's way too early for that, Kenny. I'm not hearing anything new on the Lewis front, but I wouldn't rule out a return to Cincinnati. If he does become a coaching free agent, Lewis will be a viable candidate in 2011. He's earned a lot of respect around the league for making Cincinnati respectable.

John from Ireland writes: I picked Chad Ochocinco in the middle rounds of my fantasy draft and T.O. with the last pick. Who do I start this week?

Walker: Thanks for checking in from Ireland, Josh. The AFC North blog has a surprising number of international readers. Terrell Owens has the hot hand and Ochocinco is seeing a lot of double teams. Although I have a sneaky feeling Ochocinco is going to have a big game soon, I would stick with T.O., who is getting more passes thrown his way.

John from Enid, Okla., writes: Judging by your early evaluation of this year's rookies, it looks like the Browns had the best draft, with three rookies making your top five. With that in mind, would you consider the Browns the most-improved team in the AFC North this year regardless of record?

Walker: John, it's hard to say the Browns are the most-improved team in the division when they're 1-5. Cleveland has made strides over last year, but certainly not enough to where it's showing in its record. The point of the rookie rankings was to rate where first-year players stand right now. I will revisit them at some point in the next several weeks and the order of the list could change.

Levi H. from Ellicott City, Md., writes: What are the chances that Shawne Merriman actually joins the Ravens? Is there any reason to believe it could happen?

Walker: Levi, I checked on this earlier in the week and was told it's a possibility. To what degree I don't know, because it's hard to gauge while Merriman is still under contract with the San Diego Chargers. It's worth keeping an eye on in the next few weeks.

Comment and complaint department

Here is another batch of comments and complaints from our AFC North community.

Coreen from Davis, Calif., writes: The only think that I can imagine that would make me sadder then loosing an amazing player like James Harrison, is watching a someone like Harrison play half speed. This new rule is a travesty. I am proud of Harrison for trying to make his point.

Duane Gray from Des Moines, Ia., writes: I played football from little league up until I graduated high school and one thing that was checked was if your helmet was on properly and enough air or padding was in it to keep you safe. Over the years new helmets have been created and redesigned for better projection. If this is the case why are so many helmets being knocked off and more concussions occurring? Something is not adding up.

Walker: Coreen, Harrison would have a really hard time changing the way he plays. He worked for everything he has -- from being an undrafted player to multiple Pro Bowls and the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year -- by playing all out and aggressive. That is why Harrison was so distraught this week, because he doesn't know any other way to play the game. Duane, this is a very good point, because concussions are up and so are helmets getting knocked off. I can't say football equipment is something I've followed closely this season. But I may have to pay more attention.

Shawn Davis from Manassas, Va., writes: Obviously the Steelers' D is playing great this year. However, I still have concerns with their pass defense. Their pass D is ranked No. 11, giving up 233 yards per game. I attribute some of that to teams not being able to run so they have to pass and some of that to late game stuff. But it still feels like there is room for improvement here and that they will need to get better.

RJ from Altoona, Pa., writes: The only thing that worries me about Pittsburgh right now is the pass defense. It looks a little bit too much like last year.

Walker: I'm not too worried about Pittsburgh's pass defense for several reasons, Shawn and RJ. First, the Steelers are winning games. Second, they are so hard to run against that teams eventually stop beating its head into the wall and become pass-heavy. So Pittsburgh has to give up some numbers. Third, when the Steelers needed a big stop or a turnover this year, they got it, and that's a big difference from last season.

Aaron from Walkerville, AFCN, writes: Psst... Hey Walker... Yeah, you...Where did all those Bengals fans go? Don't be too loud now. We don't want to stir them up from their hiding places.

Scott Bailey from Memphis, Tenn., writes: James, you have to consider that jumping on and off the bandwagon is considered to be a form of exercise in Cincinnati. I should know having lived there for twelve years.

Walker: Aaron and Scott, I wrote recently that Bengals fans disappear and reappear in the blog more than any other fan base in the division. They were out in droves last year and the offseason after they swept the division. But now you can hear a pin drop after a slow start. That may change if Cincinnati beats the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, but that is still poor fandom. The AFC North blog is a place to find out what's right and what's wrong with your favorite team. But Bengals fans can never seem to handle the latter. Even Browns fans, who have significantly less to cheer about, have stuck with their team throughout the three seasons I've ran this blog.

AFC North Homer of the Week

Because we didn't do a complaint department last week, we missed this gem.

Herman from Baltimore writes: Wow! You are so wrong picking the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Ravens. But that's ok, because after Sunday's game with the New England Patriots, even you will begin to see the light. The Ravens are the most dominant team to come along since... never! They won't be losing another game this season.

Walker: Homer of the Week predictions never go well, do they?

If you have any other questions, comments or complaints, please send them to our AFC North inbox.

AFC North Complaint Department

October, 2, 2010
We are going to skip the weekend mailbag and go straight into the many comments and complaints in our division inbox.

Luke from Cincinnati writes: The Bengals' offense has looked terrible, and I think most of it is Carson Palmer. To be honest, right now I think he's the only thing holding us back. Carson needs to pull it together for this team to be a contender.

Jake Berten from Cincinnati writes: I'm a big Bengals fan and love everything about what we have this season, except the QB. I know we can win against teams like Carolina and most division games are using a hard-core running game and defense. But, when we get to those high-scoring games with Indy, N.O., Miami, etc., we are going to have major problems unless something is fixed.

James Walker: I don't think Palmer is the only issue in Cincinnati. Palmer is getting most of the blame, but I think it's more of a combination of Palmer and poor play by the offensive line. Either way, Palmer needs to play better. The team doesn't have a viable backup, so the Bengals offense will sink or swim with Palmer's play this year. The team has put off developing a quarterback for the future for quite some time. But I anticipate after this season the Bengals will at least consider developing someone long-term.

Josh from Akron writes: When will we finally be rid of Eric Mangini and his offensive expert Mr. Brian Daboll??? Cleveland has suffered enough. Why do we have to deal with this? For the third week in a row we blew a second-half lead and lost because our coaches couldn't adjust after the half.

Walker: Josh, I've been saying all along that Browns president Mike Holmgren wouldn't -- and shouldn't -- have a quick hook. He agreed to let Mangini coach this season, so I think Holmgren should give Mangini a chance to turn it around. The Browns have been competitive in every game this season. It's just lack of talent and poor coaching decisions in the second half that have made the difference. There's nothing the Browns can do about the former this year, but the coaching staff can improve on the latter. But Cleveland needs to start winning soon -- and it starts Sunday against Cincinnati. I don't think Holmgren would make swift decisions. But if Cleveland remains winless going into the bye week in early November, all bets are off.

Tyler from Canton, Ohio, writes: Recently, I've been wondering where the Browns' alternate orange jerseys went. I always did like them and they seemed to just disappear several years ago! I think Mike Holmgren or whoever makes those decisions should bring them back and change it up from their usual brown or white (not that I don't like them). Oh, and was I the only one to actually like their brown pants last year?

Walker: This has been one of the great mysteries recently in Cleveland. I never understood the infatuation with what colors the Browns wore in games. There are only a few combinations and to some it's like a superstition the past few years that the team will play better if it wore certain uniforms. It's not the jerseys, Browns fans, it's the players in them.

Justin from Jacksonville writes: JW, based on your picks this week I think you let your perfect 3-0 record go to your head. Let me know what it feels like on Monday when you are 0-2 this weekend. GO STEELERS!

Dan from Lynchburg, Va., writes: Why did you have to pick the Ravens (my team) over the Steelers? The two games you picked against them (Steelers) when there was a chance they could lose they won.

Walker: So Ravens fans are upset I picked Baltimore? Are my picks that bad? I'm 7-3 so far this year. Yet our community is treating me like I'm 3-7.

Chip Colins from Minneapolis writes: Your rankings are illogical. They are RANKINGS, not Super Bowl winner predictions. To put three one-loss teams ahead of an undefeated defensive juggernaut is just plain dumb -- stubborn at best.

Walker: Chip, according to your line of reasoning the Kansas City Chiefs (3-0), Chicago Bears (3-0) and Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0) should be No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3? Why even have Power Rankings if you just want to line up teams only by its records? That’s called NFL standings.

AFC North Homer of the Week

CHC90FSU95 via Twitter writes: Ravens 76, Steelers 3, and it won't be THAT close.

AFC North complaint department

September, 22, 2010
Usually we wait until the weekend for this, but our AFC North inbox is filled this week with people wanting to vent about their favorite teams.

Here is a sample from our community:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Andrew from Pittsburgh writes: How could you possibly rank Baltimore ahead of Pittsburgh? The Steelers' defense is hands down the best unit in the league so far. And Baltimore's new-look offense, supposedly their edge in the division this year, was just outscored by a fourth-string quarterback playing behind an offensive line that was missing four starters at one point. Even missing Ben Roethlisberger, there's no way you can tell me that the Ravens look better at this point in the season.

Ben from Pensacola, FL, writes: The Steelers might be in trouble in Tampa if they don't move the ball more offensively. The defense was absolutely gassed at the end of the game in hot, humid conditions in those black jerseys, and there's little doubt they'll have to wear the same jerseys again this week. They can't count on seven turnovers to give the defense a break every week. The offense HAS to sustain drives to give the defense some breathers and avoid them wearing down.

Baltimore Ravens

Ravenman from Baltimore writes: What a pitiful offensive performance...AGAIN! Joe Flacco is definitely struggling, but so is Cam Cameron and Jim Zorn. Cam seems to constantly put Joe in situations that are tenuous at best. Minimal protection or poor protection schemes and execution. Also, how many times in the past two weeks have the receivers been virtually on top of each other in the passing routes. What's up with that?

Ryan Campbell from Cincinnati writes: I am getting a little sick of Baltimore's crying about the official's calls and the national media playing along with it. The Bengals won that game because they dominated on defense and caused Joe Flacco to throw four picks. I mean there were plenty of calls that should have gone Cincy’s way that didn't. How about the blatant pass interference on Terrell Owens in the end zone that wasn't called? How about the intentional grounding called when Carson Palmer had a running back 5 yards away? Point is, there are always going to be calls that are questionable. How about you win the game anyway? The Bengals once again proved they own the Ravens and are a better team. WHO DEY!

Cincinnati Bengals

Jon Hunley from Florence, KY, writes: I think it is crazy that you can honestly vote Baltimore higher than Cincinnati in your Power Rankings. Cincinnati just beat them a few days ago and still can't get respect. They absolutely shut down the supposed "high-powered" offense that Baltimore was bringing in. Keep hating. That's what everyone did to us last year, and we swept the division.

D. Miller from Cincinnati writes: I've seen several remarks about Joe Flacco's dismal performance this Sunday against the Bengals. Perhaps it was more about the relentless pressure he was under from the Bengals' defense then his shortcomings. What we seen Sunday was the defense from last year's No. 4-rated defense. It's back with an attitude after a dismal outing vs. the Patriots. Also read coach Marvin Lewis' post-game remarks referencing penalties, deserved or undeserved, and how our team and every team has gone thru those periods. Please tell Mr. Ray Lewis to quit crying and play football, which he's very good at. Leave the whining at home. Thanks for this opportunity to make a comment.

Cleveland Browns

Andy from Canada writes: James, every time you use the talent excuse on the Browns I get mad, but you are right. They gave that game to the Kansas City Chiefs and had no talent available to take it back. Those guys are going in the right direction and we are not. We can't pin this on Seneca Wallace. The Browns just aren't as good as the rest of the NFL.

Super J from Ohio writes: I have been a Browns fan my whole life and I watch them no matter how the season is going, but I have to say that watching them so far this season is just gut-wrenching. I would really like to know where Eric Mangini and Mangini Daboll get off trying to pass the ball when we do not have a proven receiver and we have one of the game's most electrifying players in Josh Cribbs. I think that if they continue with the poor game management and stupid mistakes they might be lucky to be 1-15 or 2-14 at the end of the season. I'm still going to keep my fingers crossed but not too tight.

AFC North Homer of the Week

G-man from Stewartsville, NJ, writes: The Browns will win next week against Baltimore. Any true BROWNS fan should agree. If not, you're not a true fan of the brown and orange. Let us not forget the history with the Ravens and how this game adds fuel to our internal fires. Cleveland is hungry for victory. If we beat anyone, beating Baltimore will leave a flavory, juicy taste in our dry mouths.

Thanks for everyone who chimed in. We will have more from our complaint department in Saturday's weekend mailbag.



Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22