AFC North: Frank Walker
This week, we had this photo of Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh and New York Jets counterpart Rex Ryan, who will face off on "Monday Night Football."
Here are several responses from our AFC North inbox:
- "Beautiful sunrise on Revis Island."
- "Still want Gaither for Revis?"
- "That's Ray Lewis' new dance."
- "Mark Sanchez completes a pass."
- "Uh oh, Big Ben's back!"
- "We're overrated. No, we're overrated."
- "Your brother's defense really stinks."
- "How about those Browns?"
- "HAHA! Edwards drops another pass."
- "You miss us, don't you?"
- "Frank Walker is horrible!"
- "See you in AFC Championship."
- With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suspended four games, it's tailback Rashard Mendenhall's time to carry the offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- Cleveland Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme is very familiar with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- Baltimore Ravens rookie linebacker Sergio Kindle is optimistic about his chances to return this season.
- Former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan found a job quickly, signing with the San Diego Chargers.
Here are the most interesting stories Sunday in the AFC North:
- Cincinnati Bengals first-round pick Jermaine Gresham remains unsigned.
Morning take: It's doubtful this will turn into an Andre Smith situation. But Gresham is projected to start at tight end and would benefit from getting to camp soon.
- Pro Bowl linebacker LaMarr Woodley says he wants to stay with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the long term.
Morning take: Woodley will have to play the final year of his contract at a bargain rate. But look for the Steelers to make a push once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.
- Here is a list of unsigned cornerbacks available for the Baltimore Ravens.
Morning take: Dare I say it, Ravens fans: Frank ... Walker?
- With rookie Montario Hardesty out with a knee injury, the starting tailback job likely goes to Jerome Harrison.
Morning take: This was expected to be one of the better competitions this summer. But Hardesty's injury will keep him out for most (or all) of training camp.
We have several interesting things planned in the meantime. So be sure to check them out.
Everyone kept things civil throughout Memorial Day weekend. Therefore, I only wrote several Ben Roethlisberger posts this week instead of 40.
But if anyone acts up this time, I'm writing 40 blogs next week on your second favorite player: Frank Walker.
- Pat McManamon of AOL Fanhouse catches up with former coaches of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
- ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton writes Roethlisberger's personal life is impacting his professional career.
- ESPN's Chris Mortensen follows up on Monday's AFC North blog report that the Cleveland Browns are interested in University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.
- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh isn't ruling out the return of cornerback Frank Walker.
- Chick Ludwig of the Cincinnati Enquirer likes the dance moves of Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DL Justin Bannan, DL Dwan Edwards, CB Corey Ivy, WR Derrick Mason, TE L.J. Smith, WR David Tyree, CB Frank Walker, WR Kelley Washington
Potential restricted free agents: OT Jared Gaither, K Billy Cundiff, S Dawan Landry, CB Fabian Washington, P Sam Koch, OG Chris Chester, QB John Beck, QB Troy Smith, OT Tony Moll, FB Le'Ron McClain, LB Prescott Burgess, WR Mark Clayton, WR Demetrius Williams
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: The Ravens have a ton of quality free agents. It will be interesting because Baltimore is the only division team which has to abide by the "Final Eight Plan" for making the divisional playoffs. This will restrict Baltimore from making a lot of moves. Therefore, expect the team to keep most of its key restricted free agents while trying to explore the trade market. On the unrestricted side, the Ravens are negotiating with receiver Derrick Mason and are expected to keep him. But two players who could get some interest in the open market are defensive linemen Dwan Edwards and Justin Bannan. Baltimore likes both players but could lose at least one.
Potential unrestricted free agents: K Shayne Graham, FB Jeremi Johnson, RB Larry Johnson, DT Tank Johnson, TE Reggie Kelly, OG Bobbie Williams, S Roy Williams, TE J.P. Foschi
Potential restricted free agents: LB Brandon Johnson, LB Rashad Jeanty, OL Evan Mathis, C Kyle Cook, DE Frostee Rucker, CB David Jones, LB Abdul Hodge, QB Jordan Palmer, TE Daniel Coats, DT Shaun Smith
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: The Bengals have yet to announce their tenders, so this list could change by Thursday evening. But traditionally they are not big spenders in free agency and will stay true to that even with an uncapped year. Cincinnati could make one or two decent outside signings that may help the team. Finding a receiver would be the most likely target. The most interesting in-house name is offensive guard Bobbie Williams, who likely will test the market. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer also would like to keep veteran Roy Williams and Tank Johnson. But the team hasn't made a major push for either player before they're let loose Friday.
Potential unrestricted free agents: WR Mike Furrey, TE Michael Gaines, OG Rex Hadnot, CB Hank Poteat, OL Ryan Tucker, OG Billy Yates
Potential restricted free agents: RB Jerome Harrison, LB D'Qwell Jackson, FB Lawrence Vickers, S Brodney Pool, S Abram Elam, DE Matt Roth
Franchise tag: None
What to expect: Cleveland has the money to spend and the biggest talent deficit. So look for the Browns to attempt to make up ground in free agency. Major names like defensive end Julius Peppers and tailback Thomas Jones have been mentioned as possibilities for Cleveland, but that remains to be seen. Internally, the Browns should be interested in keeping Harrison and Vickers in their backfield. Jackson also has value. None of their unrestricted players are priorities for the team and will be allowed to hit free agency.
Potential unrestricted free agents: QB Charlie Batch, LB Rocky Boiman, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Clark, DE Nick Eason, WR Joey Galloway, DE Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, CB Deshea Townsend , FB Carey Davis, OG Darnell Stapleton
Potential restricted free agents: OT Willie Colon, CB William Gay, P Daniel Sepulveda, TE Matt Spaeth
Franchise tag: K Jeff Reed
What to expect: The Steelers are pretty predictable. Pittsburgh intends to keep all of its restricted free agents, get a long-term deal complete with Reed, who has the franchise tag, and let nearly all of their unrestricted free agents test the market. The exception is Clark, who the Steelers targeted as a priority but has yet to reach a long-term extension before Friday's deadline. Negotiations have been ongoing and should go to the final hour to decide whether both sides can come to an agreement or allow Clark to test the market.
An early look at the free-agent situation in the AFC North.
Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.
Key figures: Derrick Mason is contemplating retirement. But if he wants to play, the Ravens have every intention of keeping their leading receiver. Look for Baltimore also to make a push for another significant addition at receiver to assist the development of budding quarterback Joe Flacco. Sleeper players on this list include the two defensive linemen: Justin Bannan and Dwan Edwards. The Ravens like both players and will probably make a push to keep at least one on the roster. Baltimore also lacks cornerback depth and might elect to bring back Frank Walker, despite his penchant for giving up big plays and committing penalties.
Unrestricted free agents: K Shayne Graham, FB Jeremi Johnson, RB Larry Johnson, DT Tank Johnson, TE Reggie Kelly, DT Shaun Smith, OG Bobbie Williams, S Roy Williams
Key figures: Bobbie Williams is an interesting name. He’s one of Cincinnati’s most consistent offensive linemen over the last several years, but he turns 34 in September. Kicker Shayne Graham, who was franchised last season, had a solid career in Cincinnati. But he missed kicks in big spots, potentially ending his run with the Bengals. Running back Larry Johnson was third string in Cincinnati and should get more playing time elsewhere in 2010.
Unrestricted free agents: WR Mike Furrey, TE Michael Gaines, OG Rex Hadnot, CB Hank Poteat, OL Ryan Tucker, OG Billy Yates
Key figures: This is not an impressive list as most of Cleveland's key free agents -- such as Jerome Harrison, Lawrence Vickers and D'Qwell Jackson -- are restricted. Mike Furrey is a high-character player that coach Eric Mangini likes on his football team, and he might be retained. The remaining players on this list likely will hit the open market. The Browns have an interesting decision to make with Harrison, who led the team in rushing after a tremendous second half of the 2009 season. Harrison could garner some interest as a restricted free agent if the Browns do not offer a high enough tender.
Unrestricted free agents: QB Charlie Batch, LB Rocky Boiman, S Tyrone Carter, S Ryan Clark, DE Nick Eason, WR Joey Galloway, NT Casey Hampton, DE Travis Kirschke, RB Willie Parker, K Jeff Reed, CB Deshea Townsend
Key figures: The Steelers are aiming to keep most of their key veterans, while infusing some youth through the draft. All indications are the team will offer extensions to safety Ryan Clark and kicker Jeff Reed. Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton is the biggest name on this list. But he's a strong candidate for the franchise tag, because there is no full-time replacement on the roster. This offseason probably will mark the end of tailback Willie Parker's tenure in Pittsburgh. Parker, 29, helped lead the Steelers to two Super Bowl wins during his career. But various ailments since initially breaking his leg in 2007 hampered his production.
1. Manning a detriment: Only a handful of quarterbacks have given Baltimore's tough defense trouble over the years, and Peyton Manning is definitely one of them. The Indianapolis Colts quarterback is 7-2 all time against the Ravens, which includes a 17-15 victory over the Ravens on Nov. 22. In nine games against Baltimore, Manning has thrown for 17 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.
2. Stay hot: Baltimore is a very tough out in the postseason, and that breeds a lot of confidence. The Ravens are 3-1 in their past four postseason games dating to last season. They defeated the AFC East champion New England Patriots on Sunday and division champs Miami Dolphins and Tennessee in 2008. All three victories were on the road. Baltimore second-year head coach John Harbaugh seems to have the right playoff formula to get the Ravens motivated and peaking at the right time.
3. Secondary is key: The Ravens don’t have a lot of holes, but one glaring weakness throughout the season has been the play of their secondary. But Baltimore’s most maligned unit responded well against New England, forcing three interceptions and holding Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady to just 154 passing yards. Players such as Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, Domonique Foxworth and Frank Walker all made big plays Sunday. Manning will throw a lot as well. So it will be important for Baltimore's secondary to build off that momentum and continue to play well.
Penalties have been an issue for Baltimore throughout the 2009 season. Let's get to the root of the issue and examine the types of penalties the Ravens committed against the Steelers.
By our count eight of Baltimore's 11 penalties were physical errors, which most coaches would prefer because it shows effort on the part of the players.
The Ravens play a tough, hard-nosed brand of football that will lead to some penalties. But if Baltimore can find a delicate balance down the stretch of physical play without being flagged, the Ravens would be much better off in these crucial games.
1. Ravens' discipline: The Baltimore Ravens had 11 penalties for 113 yards during a 23-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Better discipline could have made a difference for Baltimore in a close game.
Penalties have been an issue all year for the Ravens (8-7), who are among the league's most penalized teams. Some are effort penalties, such as pass interference against cornerback Chris Carr. Others were not smart plays, like the personal foul by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
Baltimore has to play smarter and more efficiently if it wants to beat the Oakland Raiders (5-10) on the road this week to get into the postseason.
2. Frank Walker, Ravens cornerback: Walker was picked on often by Pittsburgh. He had seven tackles and no pass defenses in last weekend's loss.
Walker was the culprit in arguably two of Pittsburgh's biggest passing plays. The first was a 45-yard completion to Steelers rookie Mike Wallace over Walker before halftime that led to a touchdown four plays later. The second was Walker's illegal contact penalty in the fourth quarter that negated an interception by Ravens safety Tom Zbikowski.
To be fair, I thought Walker's penalty was a questionable call. But it counted nonetheless.
3. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers tailback: Mendenhall went over 1,000 yards rushing for the first time Sunday. But he didn't have his best game against the Ravens. Mendenhall rushed for 36 yards on 17 carries (2.1 yard average).
Against a disciplined Baltimore defense, Mendenhall tried to juke and run sideways too often. He scored a touchdown but also had a fumble, which has been an issue for Mendenhall during his first two years in the NFL.
1. Eric Mangini, Browns head coach: Mangini has the Browns tied for the second-longest winning streak in the AFC after winning their third straight, a 23-9 victory over Oakland. The Browns (4-11) are finishing the season strong after an abysmal start.
Mangini deserves credit for putting his best foot forward in an effort to impress new team president Mike Holmgren, who has noticed the team's effort. Mangini has a chance to put a final stamp on the 2009 season Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-8).
2. LaMarr Woodley, Steelers linebacker: Woodley is known for coming on strong at the end of the season. Last year he registered a sack in every playoff game, including two in Super Bowl XLIII. This season he has 5.5 sacks in his past four games.
Woodley has matched his career-high with 11.5 sacks. He has a chance to reach a personal best Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (7-8).
3. Domonique Foxworth, Ravens cornerback: After a slow start, Foxworth is playing great football. He recorded his third interception in two weeks Sunday against Pittsburgh.
Foxworth scored on the pick but it was called back because of a penalty. He has stepped up as the team's best cornerback after Fabian Washington went down with a season-ending knee injury. Foxworth is tied with safety Dawan Landry for the team lead with four interceptions.
Power Rankings: Preseason: 10. This week: 14.
|James Lang/US Presswire|
|Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has improved in his second season.|
Disappointments: Baltimore’s pass defense has been consistently poor all season. It’s the only problem the coaching staff has been unable to figure out. Their major free-agent signing, cornerback Domonique Foxworth, has been a disappointment. Fellow cornerback Fabian Washington and backups Chris Carr and Frank Walker also have played inconsistently. On top of that, the Ravens have been unable to generate a consistent pass rush. The front seven isn’t winning as many one-on-one matchups as it did last year, which isn’t helping. If the Ravens' struggles in those areas continue, it’s going to be a long second half.
Surprises: Ray Rice showed flashes as a rookie. But this year he took a major step forward to developing into the full-time feature back. The Ravens saw this early in the offseason as Rice put on some extra muscle to help him run between the tackles. As a result, the team has gone away from their three-headed monster approach to get the ball in Rice’s hands as much as possible. He is the most dynamic weapon the Ravens have on offense and will increasingly become a headache for opposing defensive coordinators for years to come.
Outlook: Right now things are not looking good for the Ravens, but I wouldn’t rule them out. This team can get hot at any moment, and if Baltimore ever figures out how to defend the pass better it will become a very dangerous team down the stretch. The Ravens are a team built to thrive in November and December. So don’t be surprised if they get hot in the second half. But with a .500 record, the pressure is on to win now or stay home for the postseason.
BALTIMORE—The Ravens lead the Denver Broncos, 6-0, at intermission.
Here are some halftime notes and observations:
- The Ravens are using a variation of the no-huddle offense in an attempt to set the pace against Denver’s tough defense. For the most part, it was unsuccessful as Denver's speed was prepared for the quick snaps and play calling. The Ravens have 103 total yards of offense in the first half.
- For the most part, Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton looks rattled and uncomfortable in the pocket. Baltimore’s pass rush, which has struggled this season, is getting pressure on Orton, and the hits are impacting his performance. Orton looks rushed in his progressions and isn’t making the same quality of throws he’s made all season. He’s thrown for just 35 yards in the first half.
- Baltimore receiver Derrick Mason was a victim of a bad no-call that could have led to a first down in the first quarter. Broncos rookie cornerback Alphonso Smith grabbed Mason’s jersey, which wasn’t caught by the refs. But Mason compounded the issue by losing his temper and costing the Ravens 15 yards.
- After reviewing the tape for two weeks, the Ravens decided to make cornerback Frank Walker inactive. As expected, rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb played several snaps in the first half in sub packages. But it was interesting to see which cornerback got the boot, and it turned out to be Walker.
- The Broncos have been a great second-half team and it’s one reason they are undefeated. It will be interesting to see how Denver responds after intermission in front of a raucous crowd at M&T Bank Stadium. In other Broncos notes, starting right tackle Ryan Harris suffered a toe injury in the first half and his return is doubtful.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
It’s hard to pin a loss on a kicker when there were more than 100 offensive and defensive plays leading up to the final play. But the inexperienced Hauschka needs to make the clutch field goals if he wants to have a long career in the NFL.
Baltimore’s offense put Hauschka in a great position to be the hero but he sailed a 44-yard attempt wide left. Now the Ravens (3-3) are in the midst of a three-game losing streak while entering the bye. A 4-2 record would have been a much better feeling for Baltimore.
A week after Lewis gained 117 yards on 31 carries in a win over the Buffalo Bills, the veteran tailback gained just 21 yards on 11 carries in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was somewhat surprising the Browns ignored Lewis in the running game, because the contest with Pittsburgh was competitive for about three quarters.
Lewis has been battling a hamstring injury but just appeared to be gaining momentum against Buffalo. It will be interesting to see how the Browns use Lewis going forward.
For a non-starter, Walker gives up a high percentage of penalties and big plays in the passing game.
Opponents seem to identify Walker, who plays in sub packages, and immediately go after him. He was the victim two big plays that led to 10 fourth-quarter points in the loss to Minnesota.
Walker was flagged for pass interference in the final period that led to a touchdown three plays later, in addition to allowing a 58-yard catch by Sidney Rice to set up the Vikings’ game-winning field goal. Walker also was called for pass interference on the play against Rice, who still made the catch.
Is it too early to strongly consider Roethlisberger for the MVP race? No, it isn’t.
Pittsburgh’s quarterback is the primary reason the defending champions stayed afloat during numerous injuries and struggles on defense this season. Now the team is getting healthy again, Roethlisberger has taken his game to another level.
Roethlisberger had his second career 400-yard game in a win over Cleveland. He threw for 417 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also hit six different receivers in the victory.
One of those six receivers was Ward, who caught eight passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. The veteran continues to put up solid numbers in his 12th year in the NFL.
Perhaps the biggest surprise with Ward is that he’s contributing a lot of big plays to the offense, in addition to the routine. A possession receiver, Ward’s yards per catch average is an impressive 14.6, nearly two yards higher than last season (12.9).
Against Cleveland, Ward had a 52-yard touchdown reception, which was his longest play of the season. He averaged 19.9 yards per catch Sunday against the Browns.
Rice continues to make the most of every opportunity this season. He recorded 194 total yards in a 33-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Rice rushed for 77 yards on 10 carries (7.7 yard average) but the Ravens couldn’t stick with the running game after falling behind. So Rice dominated the passing game with 10 receptions for 117 yards and nearly led Baltimore to a fourth-quarter comeback on the road.
Despite limited carries and sharing a backfield with Willis McGahee and La’Ron McClain, Rice is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
It is no secret that the Baltimore Ravens have struggled mightily against the pass this season.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Samari Rolle could help the Ravens if he's healthy enough when he comes off the PUP list.|
But there’s a player on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) who might be able to help the secondary in Samari Rolle.
The veteran cornerback has been solid for the Ravens when healthy, and was a key cog during Baltimore’s run to the AFC title game last season. But Rolle has been dealing with a serious neck injury that required surgery, and it’s unknown whether he will be able to return once he becomes eligible to come off the PUP list following Baltimore’s bye week.
"I saw him in the building [Monday], and that will be a report from the doctors we’re looking forward to [getting]," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Rolle. "We’ll see how he’s doing."
The Ravens are ranked No. 26 against the pass as cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington have struggled. Teams also are having success against Baltimore’s sub packages on third down against backups such as Frank Walker and Chris Carr.
It's a big question mark at this point. But if Rolle is healthy, he could be productive at least in nickel and dime situations. Every little bit would help the Ravens.
In other Ravens news, the team signed veteran receiver David Tyree Tuesday. Tyree was most recently a Super Bowl hero for his big catch with the New York Giants.