AFC North: Donte' Stallworth

Vacation is over for the year, and I will be with the AFC North blog until a new Super Bowl champion is crowned. Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the division: Morning take: Reading the tea leaves from the front office, the Browns believe their receivers are better than advertised. Cleveland will attack several areas -- such as defensive end and safety -- but receiver doesn't appear at the top of the list.
  • Safety and pending free agent Roy Williams isn't interested in talking about the lockout or his status with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Morning take: Once the lockout ends, Williams is not expected to return to Cincinnati. The Bengals are going younger, and Williams is 32 and has been injured in recent seasons.
Morning take: With Baltimore drafting two rookie receivers, Stallworth likely will move on this coming season. Baltimore's passing game struggled in 2010 and didn't get the chance to use Stallworth's speed.
Morning take: Miller remains underrated due to his lack of big numbers. But his blocking, dependable hands and downfield running makes him one of the best at his position.

AFC North links: 'Housh' chasing fresh start

July, 1, 2011
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Baltimore Ravens

Ravens wide receiver Donte' Stallworth: "There’s already been irreparable damage for the season. Look at a guy like Cam Newton. How is he supposed to compete with defenses like Baltimore when they haven’t had the opportunity to prepare? He’s going to get a few weeks and be expected to suit up and play like the No. 1 pick. That’s going to be tough."

T.J. Houshmandzadeh is hoping for a fresh start in 2011 after a bitter end to last season.

Cincinnati Bengals

Dhani Jones says "Jordan Palmer's not the answer" in Cincinnati.

Houshmandzadeh also weighed in on a few of his former teammates in an interview with the National Football Post.

Cleveland Browns

The team on Thursday announced plans for a one-hour radio show that will air weekdays from 6-7 p.m. on ESPN 850 WKNR.

Defensive lineman Travis Ivey has resorted to wearing cloth shoes as part of his rehabilitation process.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Willie Colon's agent isn't optimistic about the offensive tackle returning to Pittsburgh. "They haven't called about Willie in three years," said agent Joe Linta. "I'm not expecting them to call because they haven't yet. That's the way they do business, and that's fine. But if they do call we'll pick up the phone."

AFC North links: Inside Mike Tomlin

February, 3, 2011
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Here are the latest happenings Thursday evening in the AFC North:
  • Here is a great look inside Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
  • Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger explained his recent night out with teammates to the Super Bowl media.
  • Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome met with agent Drew Rosenhaus to discuss the contracts of offensive tackle Jared Gaither, receiver Donte' Stallworth and tailback Willis McGahee.
  • Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden was beat out by Detroit Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh for NFL Rookie of the Year.
  • Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis discussed the Jay Gruden hire as offensive coordinator.

What's next for the Ravens?

January, 17, 2011
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The Baltimore Ravens finished another solid season at 13-5. But last week's 31-24 playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers left an empty feeling for a Ravens team with Super Bowl aspirations.

Now it's time to look ahead to the offseason and where the Ravens can improve in 2011. Here is an early offseason preview for Baltimore from the AFC North blog:

What are the needs?

The Ravens have one of the best rosters in the NFL. But there are several areas that were exposed this season.

Look for Baltimore to be in the market for an offensive tackle. The Ravens' pass protection was very inconsistent, and quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked five times in Saturday's defeat to the Steelers.

With the season-ending back injury to Jared Gaither, Baltimore rotated players such as Tony Moll, Oniel Cousins and Marshal Yanda at right tackle. None of them was very stout. Former first-round pick Michael Oher also struggled at times playing his first season at left tackle. He excelled as a rookie right tackle. So if Baltimore can find a blue-chip left tackle, it may want to consider putting Oher back to the right side and upgrade both positions.

Another big need is help rushing the passer. The Ravens need someone to complement Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs. Rookie Sergio Kindle was drafted to be that player. But his playing status is up in the air after fracturing his skull last summer and it's unknown if he can be counted on.

Baltimore's pass defense was improved this year, but the team could still use a legit shutdown corner via the draft or free agency. Injured cornerback Domonique Foxworth will return from a knee injury next season, which will help. A speedy deep threat at receiver could also help the development of Flacco, who throws a beautiful deep ball but didn't get many opportunities to show it.

Who are the pending free agents?

[+] EnlargeHaloti Ngata
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliPending free agent Haloti Ngata was a Pro Bowler in 2009 and 2010.
Baltimore was built to win this year. So there are a lot of pending free agents on this team.

The biggest name by far is Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, who is a franchise building block. Ngata, who was drafted in 2006, finished his five-year rookie contract this season and is scheduled to become one of the highest-paid players at his position. The Ravens have made it clear keeping Ngata, who will turn 27 this week, is the utmost priority.

Other interesting names on this list includes fullback Le'Ron McClain, safety Dawan Landry, Gaither, Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff, punter Sam Koch and receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth. Out of these players, I think McClain is the one to keep an eye on. He has been frustrated with his lack of carries the past two years and likely will explore opportunities where he run the ball more in a different system. Gaither also is not expected to return.

Cundiff and Koch were vital on special teams and will be important for Baltimore to retain.

What about the coaching staff?

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh will likely get a contract extension. He deserves one after leading Baltimore to three straight playoff appearances and one trip to the AFC title game.

There has been a lot of talk surrounding offensive coordinator Cam Cameron after the Ravens were No. 22 in total offense this year. But Cameron is well-respected by the Ravens and around the NFL and will stay on board in 2011.

Quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn may also be a name to consider for coordinator interviews in the coming weeks and months. Zorn has a lot of experience as an assistant coach and head coach.

Ravens-Steelers III: Injury reports

January, 12, 2011
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Here is the latest news on who practiced and who didn't for the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers:

Steelers (12-4)

Coming off the bye week, the Steelers are as healthy as they've been in months. They only have one player who sat out of practice entirely Wednesday and that's Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles). Recently Pittsburgh has been resting Polamalu during the week before bringing him back before the final practice. Polamalu said Wednesday that he will practice Thursday. Starting cornerback Bryant McFadden (hamstring) and defensive end Aaron Smith (triceps) had limited practices. Smith, who has been out for two months, said Tuesday he doesn't expect a final decision on his playing status until late in the week.

Ravens (13-4)

Baltimore was fortunate to come out of last week's wild-card win over the Kansas City Chiefs healthy. The Ravens have five players listed on their injury report, with receiver Donte' Stallworth (illness) and starting center Matt Birk (knee) being the only two who didn't practice Wednesday. Cornerback Chris Carr (thigh) was limited but he's expected to play. Linebacker Tavares Gooden (shoulder) and safety Tom Zbikowski (back) are both improving and fully participated in practice. All things considered, the Ravens are a healthy group coming into the divisional playoff game.
Joe FlaccoAP Photo/Nick WassRavens quarterback Joe Flacco has never thrown for more than 189 yards in five playoff games.
Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron didn't have to look too far back for playoff inspiration.

Cameron, despite an inconsistent offense, believes Baltimore is capable of putting together a playoff run comparable to the one put together by the 2007 New York Giants, who were the last wild-card team to win a Super Bowl.

"I went back and looked at the Giants' offensive stats when they won on the road, went all the way and won the thing," Cameron told the AFC North blog. "They were really struggling on offense." New York finished 16th overall in offense that season, and its passing game ranked 21st.

The Ravens -- and Cameron in particular -- have little interest in reflecting on the regular season. Baltimore was just one of four teams to win 12 games, but it wasn't always pretty. On Sunday, the Ravens will take a four-game winning streak into Arrowhead Stadium to face the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs (10-6) in the wild-card round.

Baltimore's offense has been quite an experiment. With so many new additions, Cameron experienced plenty of trial and error. Sometimes there were successes, and sometimes things blew up in Cameron's face.

With new receivers Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth, Baltimore entered the season with perhaps the highest expectations offensively in franchise history. Yet the Ravens finished ranked 22nd in total offense. Things sometimes became heated on the sideline when players were unhappy with the offense.

But all of that can be erased if Baltimore's offense proves to be playoff-ready. The defense, as usual, has held up its end. But great play on both sides of the ball is the Ravens' best chance of making a Super Bowl run.

"We have to find more ways to score points," Cameron said. "We may have 17 points here and 13 points there, and we win those games. But you make it a little more difficult. With our defense, if we can get 24 points plus on the board, we're going to be tough to beat."

The success of Baltimore's offense will largely hinge on quarterback Joe Flacco, who set career marks for passing yards (3,622), touchdowns (25) and fewest interceptions (10) this season. Flacco has a solid 3-2 playoff record but has never thrown for more than 189 yards in five games. He has 660 yards passing, one touchdown and six interceptions in the postseason.

In my conversation with Cameron, I asked if the playoff criticism of Flacco is fair.

"Well, it depends on how you measure things," Cameron said. "If you measure winning and losing, it's pretty good. ... So it's always easy to pick at a guy. But the bottom line is he's a winner."

Kansas City seems to be a good matchup for Baltimore's offense. The Chiefs are average defensively and not particularly special at anything. Kansas City is ranked No. 17 against the pass and No. 14 against the run. The Chiefs' high-powered rushing attack has helped keep their defense off the field.

Baltimore must decide how it wants to attack Kansas City, whether it's on the ground or through the air. Despite solid personnel, that's been a question for the Ravens all season.

"I don't think they have a persona or a true identity," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said of Baltimore's offense. "Do they run first or do they throw first? I think they're at their best when [tailback] Ray Rice is the focal point of the offense, and they tend to get away from it. But Kansas City's run defense is starting to wear down and they're questionable up front."

The Ravens knew entering the season that it would be a challenge keeping everyone happy. Former Pro Bowl players such as Derrick Mason, Boldin and Houshmandzadeh have sacrificed personal statistics in favor of more victories and a chance to win the Super Bowl.

There have been times when Baltimore's best players have disappeared in the offense. But Cameron doesn't expect that to happen in the postseason.

"This time of year, you can't afford to come out of a playoff game without your top five or six players touching the ball -- period," Cameron said. "It just can't happen. So we're going to do everything we can to make sure our playmakers touch the ball going into the playoffs."

Quick Take: Ravens at Chiefs

January, 2, 2011
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Three things to know about next Sunday's Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs wild-card game:

1. Ravens catch a break: Baltimore (12-4) caught a huge break by avoiding the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round. A loss by the Chiefs (10-6) and a win by the Colts in Week 17 sent Baltimore to Kansas City. Although no playoff draw is easy, the Ravens are just 2-8 against Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, including last year's playoff loss in the divisional round. Now, Manning and the Colts are the New York Jets' problem. Kansas City is a team without a lot of playoff experience, and that could work in Baltimore's favor.

2. Baltimore's offense must step up: Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome spent the past offseason beefing up the offense to perform in big games. But at times, the offense this season has been a disappointment. Baltimore traded for receiver Anquan Boldin, signed free-agent receivers T. J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth and drafted two rookie tight ends. The goal was to put as many weapons around third-year quarterback Joe Flacco as possible and take pressure off the defense. On paper, the Ravens are one of the most well-rounded playoff teams with the ability to win in different ways. But Baltimore's offense must prove it can be productive and consistent in the playoffs.

3. Let the seeding debate begin: Should teams be awarded for having the better season or winning the division? Baltimore won two more games than Kansas City, but the Chiefs have home-field advantage. The Ravens have been mum on the subject recently, but that's probably a sign they're not ecstatic about the seeding system after having a tremendous season. Baltimore finished second in the AFC North via a tiebreaker to the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4), who have a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game. The Ravens are one of just four teams to finish with 12 wins in the NFL, but they probably will play their entire postseason on the road as the fifth seed.

Five things to watch: Baltimore Ravens

December, 11, 2010
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Derrick MasonAP Photo/Nick WassFor an offense that should have been one of the best in the league, the Ravens are averaging just 21.7 points per game. Receiver Derrick Mason said the offense looked like "The Bad News Bears."
Coming off a heartbreaking loss to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens (8-4) will play their second consecutive prime-time game when they take on the Houston Texans (5-7) on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" (8:30 ET).

Here are five things to watch for Baltimore:

1. Can the Ravens bounce back? Since 2006, Baltimore is just 4-4 in regular-season games after playing Pittsburgh. There is a reason the Ravens play just .500 football after facing the Steelers. Every year these are the most emotional and physically demanding games in Baltimore's season -- and last week was no different. Pittsburgh struggled most of the game but scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to come from behind and hand the Ravens their first home loss of the season. There was plenty of frustration in Baltimore's locker room afterward. The Ravens may have blown their chance to win the AFC North and host at least one home playoff game. But they have to regroup and bounce back against Houston after a tough defeat.

2. Can the offense keep up? Baltimore's offense entered the season with high expectations. After the Ravens acquired receivers Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth to go with a strong stable of running backs, Baltimore had one of the NFL's deepest collection of skill players. But entering Week 14, Baltimore's offense is still searching for consistency. The Ravens are No. 14 in total offense and No. 17 in scoring at 21.7 points per game. Baltimore is averaging just 13.5 points the past two weeks, prompting receiver Derrick Mason to call the offense "The Bad News Bears." It's not quite that bad for the Ravens. But the offense needs to step up and counter Houston's No. 7-rated offense.

3. Stopping Foster: Baltimore is solid against the run -- rated No. 6 in the NFL -- but this may be its stiffest test this year, facing NFL rushing leader Arian Foster. He already has 1,230 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Houston has the reputation of being a wide-open passing team. But the Texans have drastically improved their running game behind Foster this season, which makes their offense very dangerous. The Ravens have to corral Foster and keep him under 100 yards rushing.

4. More sizzle: Ravens defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs, whose nickname is "T. Sizzle," has been on fire recently. He has 5.5 sacks the past five games and earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for November. Suggs had his best game of the season last week against Pittsburgh, recording five tackles, 1.5 sacks and five additional hits on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Baltimore needs similar pressure on Houston quarterback Matt Schaub, and Suggs will play a major role.

5. Replacing Heap: Ravens starting tight end Todd Heap injured his hamstring last week and isn't expected to play against Houston. That means rookie tight end Ed Dickson is the next player up for Baltimore. The third-round pick probably will make his first career start on the NFL's biggest stage. Dickson has eight receptions for 112 yards this season. His game is not as refined as Heap's, but Dickson is a good athlete with the ability to go vertical and stretch the field.

Seven-step drop: Avoiding the Patriots

November, 15, 2010
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Here are seven notes and observations from Week 10 in the AFC North:

  • After watching quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots dominate the Pittsburgh Steelers again, I'm convinced this is the one team Pittsburgh doesn't want to face in the postseason. Brady, who improved 6-1 against the Steelers, has their number. Pittsburgh struggles against the short and intermediate passing game, which happens to be Brady's strength. He's one of the few quarterbacks who also has a beat on Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's zone-blitz scheme, as the Steelers allowed a season-worst 39 points Sunday night. The New York Jets (7-2) and Baltimore Ravens (6-3) match up better against New England. It's clear the Steelers want to avoid the Patriots if Pittsburgh makes the playoffs.
  • [+] EnlargeHines Ward
    Jason Bridge/US PresswireHines Ward suffered a concussion in Sunday night's loss to the New England Patriots.

  • Steelers receiver Hines Ward, knocked out of the game with a concussion, saw his streak of 186 straight games with a reception end. Ward nearly kept the streak alive when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger zipped the ball into coverage and Ward was hit on the side of the helmet by Patriots safety James Sanders and lost possession. Ward was woozy walking off the field. He felt he could've returned to the game, but Pittsburgh's doctors wouldn't allow it. "I remember everything," Ward said. "Me, as prideful as I am, I want to get up fast. I probably should've just laid there for about a minute and just walked it off."
  • Cincinnati Bengals receiver Terrell Owens is having a great season. But there are occasional moments, like the two that took place in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, that make you scratch your head. It didn't appear Owens went as hard as he could for the football on quarterback Carson Palmer's third interception. Owens cut off his route and avoided contact instead of trying to knock down the football. Also, on the final drive, there wasn't much urgency by Owens to get back to the line of scrimmage after Palmer was sacked and the clock was running. There was no reason to waste time there with a lack of hustle.
  • I liked what I saw from Bengals first-round pick Jermaine Gresham. The tight end's nine catches for 85 yards and a touchdown against Indianapolis could generate some momentum for the second half of the season. Gresham had a big fumble in the fourth quarter that put an end to Cincinnati's rally. But it was a rookie mistake made at full speed while trying to fight for extra yards. This is the time when first-year players often take the next step. I also felt second-round defensive end Carlos Dunlap (two tackles, one sack) showed flashes. With little to play for this season, Cincinnati must see progress from its younger players while the team figures out what direction to take in 2011.
  • The Cleveland Browns played well but at times, but they blundered in an overtime loss to the Jets. The Browns could have easily played for the tie near the end of overtime by running the ball three times. Instead, the Browns tried to throw from their on 3-yard line when it was unlikely a rookie quarterback (Colt McCoy) would drive the length of the field with little time. Instead of the tie, Cleveland suffered a tough loss when great field position led to Santonio Holmes' winning touchdown for New York. The Browns also tried to get too tricky in the first quarter with a failed onside kick that gave New York more solid field position and its first points (a field goal) of the game.
  • The Baltimore Ravens hope linebacker/defensive end hybrid Terrell Suggs has turned the corner. Suggs had a vintage performance against the Atlanta Falcons, recording four tackles, two sacks and four additional hits on the quarterback. It was his first multi-sack game of the season. Suggs was a terror and much-needed boost to Baltimore's pass rush, which has been inconsistent this season. A better pass rush also helps Baltimore's shaky secondary.
  • Recent additions at wide receiver are helping the Ravens. Veteran Donte' Stallworth and rookie David Reed made an impact against Atlanta on offense and special teams, respectively. Stallworth, who recently came off the physically unable to perform list with a foot injury, showed his speed with two nice reverses for 34 yards. Reed had 64 yards in kickoff returns, continuing to show growth in the role.

Midseason Stock Watch: Ravens

November, 10, 2010
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Power Rankings: Preseason: No. 6. This week: No. 1.

2010 schedule/results

[+] EnlargeNgata
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyHaloti Ngata has been a force for the Baltimore defense during the first half of the season.
Where they stand: The Ravens are tied for the NFL's best record at 6-2 and looked strong coming off the bye in Sunday's 26-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins. A major factor this year is Baltimore has remained relatively healthy. Star safety Ed Reed (hip) and veteran receiver Donte' Stallworth (foot) recently came off the physically unable to perform list to put the Ravens at full strength. Many picked Baltimore to win the Super Bowl this year, and this team didn't disappoint in the first half.

Falling: Cornerback Fabian Washington, who had major knee surgery last year, has been inconsistent. He has allowed too many big plays, including three touchdowns in a Week 7 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills. Josh Wilson, acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, has played more at cornerback recently. Baltimore's pass rush (14 sacks) also could improve.

Rising: For years, defensive lineman Haloti Ngata was one of the NFL's best-kept secrets. No longer. Ngata, coming off his first Pro Bowl, is having a dominant year, recording 43 tackles and a team-high five sacks. Quarterback Joe Flacco also is having a solid third season, throwing for 1,917 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has a passer rating of 88.9. Reed has three interceptions in two games back from major hip surgery, continuing his knack for creating turnovers and making big plays.

Midseason MVP: Ngata has been impossible to block some weeks. It's not his primary job to rush the passer, but Ngata has been so difficult to contain that he's also getting to the quarterback more than any Ravens defender. Flacco is a close second.

Outlook: The second half looks bright for Baltimore. With big offseason acquisitions such as receiver Anquan Boldin (40 catches, 546 yards, five touchdowns), it's clear Baltimore is aiming for nothing less than a championship. The Ravens have as good a chance as anyone if they remain healthy. They are one of the NFL's most balanced teams offensively and defensively and have a roster full of Pro Bowl-caliber players. Baltimore will make the playoffs, but can the Ravens hold off the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the AFC North and play at home in the postseason? Home-field advantage will be key for Baltimore's title hopes.

Final Word: AFC North

November, 5, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Bye-week success: Two AFC North teams are coming off byes, and statistically that bodes well for the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh is 2-0 in his career following the bye week, and Browns coach Eric Mangini is 3-1. Both clubs will have tough home games Sunday: the Ravens play the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland faces the New England Patriots.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
Chuck Cook/US PresswireColt McCoy could be the starter for the rest of the season with a strong performance against New England.
Real McCoy? Against the Patriots, the Browns will start rookie quarterback Colt McCoy for the third straight game. This is McCoy's opportunity to solidify the starting job for the remainder of the season. McCoy's three opponents (New England, Pittsburgh, New Orleans Saints) have a combined record of 16-6. He has done a solid job splitting his first two starts but wouldn't leave any questions with an upset win over the Patriots (6-1), who have the NFL's best record. Veteran backup Seneca Wallace (ankle) could dress Sunday but isn't expected to play, according to Browns coach Eric Mangini.

Healthy Ravens: Baltimore is as healthy as it has been all season and in prime position to make a run in the second half of the season. Safety Tom Zbikowski (foot) is the only major injury coming off the bye. Star safety Ed Reed (hip) will play his second game since coming off the physically unable to perform list, and receiver Donte' Stallworth (foot) will make his regular-season debut against Miami. Staying healthy is an important component of remaining a Super Bowl contender. Perhaps luck is on Baltimore's side with injuries this year.

Prime-time Steelers: The NFL and national television networks can't get enough of the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Just a few games removed from his four-game suspension, Roethlisberger will lead Pittsburgh into the second of three consecutive prime-time games Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers played the Saints last Sunday in prime time and will play host to the Patriots next week in another night game. With the Patriots looming, the road contest against the 2-5 Bengals could be a trap game for Pittsburgh.

Few sacks in Cincy: There are two primary reasons the Bengals haven't matched last year's consistency on defense, when the team was ranked No. 4 in the NFL. Cincinnati is suffering through injuries in the secondary, and the Bengals can't establish a pass rush. Cincinnati is last in the league with only six sacks in seven games. There are 10 players with higher sack totals than Cincinnati. With opposing quarterbacks having so much time to throw, recent injuries in the secondary to cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Adam Jones and safeties Chinedum Ndukwe and Roy Williams aren't helping matters.

Scouts Inc. on Donte' Stallworth

November, 4, 2010
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The Baltimore Ravens expect to get another addition to their receiving corps this week. Speedy veteran Donte' Stallworth hopes to make his regular-season debut Sunday against the Miami Dolphins after suffering a preseason foot injury.

How will Stallworth impact the Ravens? We check in with our resident scout -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. -- to get some answers.

Matt, what does Stallworth bring to Baltimore's offense?

[+] EnlargeDonte Stallworth
G Fiume/Getty ImagesDonte' Stallworth is the deep threat the Ravens' receiving corps has been missing.
Williamson: I think Stallworth is a nice addition, because he's a first-round talent and more importantly he's a deep threat. The Ravens don't have a receiver that is fast. Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason are in the same mold as one another, whereas Stallworth has speed. He's going to open things up for everybody else. Because of Boldin and Mason, he's going to be hard to double, too. The other thing is Joe Flacco is a very big-armed passer, and it's been kind of a waste to not have that guy to at least throw a couple of deep passes to every game. Even if they don't covert, they could get a pass-interference call or open things up for the other guys.

Baltimore already has plenty of receivers and tight ends who want the ball. Are there enough passes to go around to add Stallworth to the mix?

Williamson: The point is valid. The Ravens are not a predominantly passing team, and I think they're better when they're run-first. But as long as egos aren't a problem, it doesn't matter. I still think the Ravens will spread it around and there's a role for Stallworth. I don't know if he's going to blow up on the stat sheet. There's only so many passes to go around. They're not going to be throwing a ton, and Baltimore won't be playing from behind that often.

It's been nearly two years since Stallworth played in the regular season. Will rust be an issue?

Williamson: There's going to be some. One attribute of playing wideout and defensive back in this league that people forget about is it's a lot of running. I can see there being a fatigue issue with him. But Stallworth is not a starter. He's going to come in on third down and sub packages. He could play 15 snaps or something like that to start the game, and then gradually it increases. They have a lot of other bodies. But a lot of the routes he runs early are probably going to be nine routes and posts, and I'm not sure timing is as important.
Here are some notes and observations from Week 8 in the AFC North:
[+] EnlargeTroy Polamalu
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyWhile they had bright moments, Troy Polamalu and the Pittsburgh defense struggled against Drew Brees and the Saints on Sunday.

  • Even Troy Polamalu occasionally has bad games. The Pittsburgh Steelers' do-it-all safety had his worst game in years during Sunday's 20-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Polamalu and Saints Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees were involved in a chess match, and Brees won most of those matchups by catching Polamalu out of position several times for big gains. Polamalu struggled to get a read on Brees and was a step or two late on big plays. Polamalu also missed tackles he usually makes in what was a rare, subpar performance by his standards.
  • The Superdome was the loudest stadium I've heard all season. The raucous atmosphere definitely bothered Pittsburgh (5-2), which had won its first three road games this season. The communication on offense was shaky because of the crowd noise, and the defense eventually succumbed to the pressure of trying to carry the team for four quarters.
"We better get used to these kind of environments; it comes with the territory when you're trying to be world champs," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've got to play good people in their place and play better than that moving forward."

  • I'm baffled as to why the Steelers failed to successfully attack New Orleans' blitzes. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is one of the NFL's best quarterbacks at beating pressure packages. The play calling was one step behind. The Steelers didn't run many screens, couldn't execute hot routes and didn't take many shots deep against single coverage. That would have made New Orleans think twice about bringing extra defenders. But Pittsburgh's offense never figured it out. So credit the Saints for continuing to bring the heat.
  • Expect the spotlight to be on the future of coach Marvin Lewis with the Cincinnati Bengals playing their first national game on "Monday Night Football." This topic has been somewhat quiet in Cincinnati since the start of the regular season. But with the Bengals' postseason hopes in dire straits, the chatter will certainly pick up. How will this impact the locker room? Will the Bengals play hard, knowing Lewis could be coaching out his final nine games under contract? Or will they pack it in? We will find out how Cincinnati responds, starting on Monday against Pittsburgh.
  • That brings us to our next point: what team is more capable of playing spoiler, Cincinnati (2-5) or the Cleveland Browns (2-5)? Both teams are heading in opposite directions. The Bengals have the talent to be dangerous, but their execution has been awful during their four-game losing streak. Cleveland plays more efficiently with less talent and also could be a tough out. Keep an eye on both division teams.
  • Here is an odd stat: Punter Reggie Hodges (one carry, 68 yards) is Cleveland's second-leading rusher behind tailback Peyton Hillis. Hodges' fake punt last week against the Saints was Cleveland's longest running play this season. But it's also another indicator of the Browns' lack of depth at running back. Last month, Cleveland traded Jerome Harrison and released James Davis. Cleveland hopes it gets help from new acquisition Mike Bell, who didn't show much in his Browns debut but hopes to improve after the bye.
  • Receiver Donte' Stallworth (foot) is expected to return this week. He should add needed speed to the Baltimore Ravens' offense. When healthy, Stallworth is one of the fastest players in the division. Outside of receiver Anquan Boldin, Baltimore hasn't had enough long passing plays this season. Boldin has seven receptions of 20 yards or more, which is solid. But receivers Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh have combined for just six 20-plus-yard receptions in seven games.
Here are the latest happenings Thursday evening in the AFC North:

  • Baltimore Ravens (5-2) receiver Donte' Stallworth (foot) could return for their next game against the Miami Dolphins on Nov. 7.
  • Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer (hip) missed practice Thursday but he's expected to play against Miami.
  • Is veteran Jake Delhomme, who signed for $7 million, out of the quarterback race for the Cleveland Browns (2-5)?
  • Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1) rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders is making strides.

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