AFC North: Josh Freeman

Freeman for Dalton? A QB comparison

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
7:30
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CINCINNATI -- The news on Josh Freeman's release from Tampa Bay, broken by ESPN's Adam Schefter, had barely been out five minutes before the Freeman-to-Cincinnati charge began on social media.

Dalton
Dalton
Freeman
Countless tweets from news sites and sports reporters referencing the announcement were either hashtagged #Bengals, or directed toward the team's @Bengals Twitter account by those eager to see a move that would bring the new free agent quarterback to Paul Brown Stadium. The hope those Twitter-savvy football observers shared was that Freeman would be brought in to either light a fire under current starting quarterback Andy Dalton ... or replace him.

Dalton has been in the spotlight the past five days as calls for his ouster have picked up steam since the Bengals' 17-6 loss at Cleveland. During the game, he passed for just 203 yards and had a season-low 29.7 QBR. He certainly has played worse games before, but when it came to this fan base, one that is eager to finally see its team live up to the lofty preseason expectations that preceded it, the last straw had been reached. It's either time for Dalton to sit, or time for him to leave, the most vocal Bengals fans have said since last Sunday.

Their anxiety has grown throughout the week, in part, because the Bengals are scheduled to face Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots this Sunday. Even though Cincinnati has beaten the past four Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks it has faced -- Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning -- the greater concern is that Brady and his revamped offense will prove to be too much for Dalton and company.

As I wrote just after the Bengals' loss Sunday, my belief is that Cincinnati can't give up on Dalton just yet. Yes, he's had some bad, but when he's been good, he's been really good. The problem is that he has yet to play at a consistent level. Many thought this would be the season he finally began to put it all together and performed close to near-perfection. Arguably his best start came in the season opener, when he completed 79 percent of his passes in the loss to Chicago. Maybe Sunday's game ought to be seen as a last chance of sorts, but obviously with Freeman available now, the Bengals would have to act now if they were planning on making a move. Aside from fan interest in it, there's no other reason to believe the team would entertain altering its quarterback plans at the present moment.

Dalton is familiar with all the chatter about him, but he's tuning it out. He said he doesn't read much that's written about him, good or bad.

"The biggest thing with social media these days is anybody can say whatever they want and have [no] consequences for it," Dalton said. "So you can't listen to all that stuff. You can't read into all that stuff, because honestly, they have no idea what went on."

He added that he believes he will adequately respond to last week's performance.

"Ever since I have been playing the game, when things haven't gone right, I feel like I've bounced back pretty quickly, and bounced back and done some really good things," Dalton said. "I expect that going into this week."

If the Bengals were to decide on making a quarterback switch, below are a few of the statistics they would consider while seeing if signing Freeman was worth it. There are pluses and minuses:

Leading Questions: AFC North

February, 23, 2011
2/23/11
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With the offseason in full swing, let's take a look at one major question facing each AFC North team as it begins preparations for the 2011 season:

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Should the Cincinnati Bengals give into Carson Palmer’s trade demands?

After eight underachieving seasons in Cincinnati, Palmer wants out and everyone from his agent to teammates to his realtor believe Palmer is absolutely serious. So how should the Bengals handle this situation?

Cincinnati is consistently one of the NFL's more downtrodden franchises and has been through this before. In the past, players such as Takeo Spikes, Corey Dillon and Chad Ochocinco have expressed the desire to get out of Cincinnati and couldn't leave on their terms.

But Palmer's situation is different for two reasons. First, he's the franchise quarterback, the most important player on the team. Second, he's threatened to retire if he's not traded, which is something Spikes, Dillon and Ochocinco never did. These two factors up the ante tremendously in terms of putting pressure on the Bengals.

If Palmer, 31, holds firm on his demands, that leaves Dan LeFevour and Jordan Palmer as the other quarterbacks on Cincinnati's roster. The Bengals cannot start the 2011 season with either of those players under center. As more time goes by with uncertainty, it becomes more likely the Bengals must do something to get quarterback help in the draft or free agency.

In my opinion, the Bengals should trade Palmer while they can still get decent value for him. Cincinnati will be rebuilding for the next two years anyway -- with or without Palmer -- and there are plenty of teams in need of a good quarterback.

But the Bengals are standing their ground, hoping Palmer will have a change of heart. That's a dangerous assumption with free agency potentially starting next month and the NFL draft coming in April.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Are concerns about Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco legit?

As we continue the subject of quarterbacks, we move over to Baltimore. Flacco is getting drilled this offseason by media and fans for not leading the Ravens past the divisional round. Baltimore entered last season as a Super Bowl favorite and by those standards the team -- and particularly the offense -- underachieved.

Now people are starting to doubt Flacco. He has struggled in the playoffs, recording just one passer rating above 90.0 in seven career postseason games. It's no secret an organization is tied into the success and development of its quarterback. But are the expectations of Flacco, in his third season, too high too soon? The answer is, yes.

Flacco has become a victim of his own early success. He advanced to the AFC title game as a rookie and has had expectations of getting to the Super Bowl thrust upon him since.

Last season, Flacco set career-highs in passing yards (3,622), touchdowns (25) and passer rating (93.6) for the Ravens (12-4). But it's the second-round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers that stands out in most people's mind.

Flacco likely must get past rival quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of Pittsburgh for the Ravens to take that next step. But there is no shame in losing to the eventual AFC champions in the postseason.

Young quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman are viewed in a much more favorable light in their cities. Flacco has had as much career success and put up equal or better numbers than all of them. He deserves a break.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

What will the Steelers do at cornerback?

As their Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers proved, the Steelers must add quality depth in the secondary. The Packers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints provide the blueprint of how to beat Pittsburgh's vaunted defense: spread the Steelers out with multiple receivers.

The Steelers simply don't have enough good cornerbacks to defend three- and four-receiver sets. This also takes Pittsburgh's strongest players-- its linebackers -- off the field in favor of players such as William Gay and Anthony Madison.

Now that linebacker LaMarr Woodley received the franchise tag, veteran cornerback and pending free agent Ike Taylor is Pittsburgh's No. 1 priority. Taylor is Pittsburgh's best corner, but he's also 31 and the Steelers must gauge how much money and how many years to give to him.

The draft will also be important. Previous draft picks at corner such as Keenan Lewis, Joe Burnett and Crezdon Butler have not panned out for the Steelers, who typically address this position in the middle rounds. It's time Pittsburgh invests a high draft pick at this position to increase the probability of finding a future starter.

Do not be surprised if Pittsburgh retains Taylor in free agency and spends its first- or second-round pick on a cornerback in April to fix this issue.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Are the Cleveland Browns fine without an offensive coordinator?

Pat Shurmur of the Browns has a lot on his plate this year. Not only is he a first-time head coach, but Shurmur is also taking over the role as offensive coordinator in his first season with Cleveland.

Is this a good idea?

After a brief search, the Browns decided to leave the position vacant. Shurmur is a former offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams and didn't want to give up those responsibilities after becoming a head coach.

A head coach's first responsibility is to manage all 53 players. But Shurmur clearly will give more special attention to his players on offense. That's a major reason the Browns hired experienced defensive coaches such as Dick Jauron and Ray Rhodes to manage the other side of the football.

President Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert have both done a good job so far in Cleveland. But I have reservations about creating this type of setup with a rookie head coach on a rebuilding team.
Ben RoethlisbergerGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesSteelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 7-2 in his career against the Ravens.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has never beaten Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Neither has quarterback Joe Flacco, or the other Ravens who joined the team within the past four seasons.

Similar to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Roethlisberger has been one of the biggest thorns in the side of the Ravens (8-3). Roethlisberger is 5-0 against Baltimore since 2007 and 7-2 in his career against his biggest rival. The only two losses came in 2006, which was the year of Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident.

"That's a horrible stat," Ravens linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs admitted this week.

Can Baltimore break its five-game losing streak against Roethlisberger in Sunday's matchup against Pittsburgh (8-3) at M&T Bank Stadium? With first place in the AFC North hanging in the balance, this would be a perfect time for the Ravens to end their drought.

The AFC North blog teamed up with its resident scout -- Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. -- to map out four ways the Ravens can beat the two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

1. Bring pressure, collect sacks

Analysis: Roethlisberger was sacked eight times in his two losses as starting quarterback this season against the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots. The Buffalo Bills also sacked Roethlisberger five times during last week's 19-16 overtime win for the Steelers. That was a common theme in the three games Pittsburgh's offense struggled under Roethlisberger. Rushing the passer hasn't been Baltimore's strongest area, but it seems to be improving and getting more disruptive as of late. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman was flushed out the pocket several times and looked uncomfortable last week in Baltimore's win.

"I would come after them," Williamson said. "I think Pittsburgh's blitz recognition, as a whole, is a weakness. Their blockers don't pass off blitzers very well, and a lot of Pittsburgh's linemen don’t have a lot of experience, including Maurkice Pouncey, who is their best guy."

2. Win the pre-snap battle

Analysis: Something I believe the Steelers do very well is mask their blitzes. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is very good at showing different fronts to confuse the quarterback with who's coming and who's dropping into coverage. By the time Pittsburgh shows its coverage, it’s too late because there’s pressure on the quarterback. I think the Ravens and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison can better implement disguises in their defense to confuse Roethlisberger. If so, Roethlisberger's penchant for holding the ball too long could result in sacks and perhaps a big turnover or two.

"I don't think Roethlisberger is a very good pre-snap quarterback," Williamson explained. "A guy like Peyton Manning is tremendous pre-snap, recognizing the defense well before the ball is even snapped. Ben is more reactionary, more sandlot: The ball is snapped, this is what I see, now make something happen and get it there."

3. Take advantage of offensive line woes

Analysis: Pittsburgh's offense line is banged up and has a lot of moving parts. The Steelers lost starting left tackle Max Starks (neck) for the season and have rotated players at both guard positions. Baltimore's defensive line, led by Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata, should be able to win most battles at the line of scrimmage. That would stuff Pittsburgh's running game and put Roethlisberger in a lot of 3rd-and-long situations.

"If you look at the Steelers' guards, they are really bad, and [tackle] Jonathan Scott on the edge is a real problem," Williamson said. "There's a lot of one-on-one matchups there that favor Baltimore's defensive front. We saw a huge one last week with [Buffalo] defensive tackle Kyle Williams."

[+] EnlargeEd Reed
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesIf Ed Reed can keep Mike Wallace in check, Pittsburgh's offense should be much less explosive.
4. Use Ed Reed to take away the deep ball

Analysis: In his first press conference after returning from his four-game suspension, Roethlisberger noticed something while watching the games on television. "It looks like Mike Wallace got faster," Roethlisberger said. The quarterback was very excited about the prospect of connecting with Wallace on big plays this year, and the pair hasn't disappointed. Wallace is having a breakout season, already setting new career highs in yards (792) and touchdowns (eight). Wallace is averaging 22.0 yards per reception, as he has been able to consistently get behind the defense. This is where Reed comes in. The dynamic safety was absent from the first meeting due to offseason hip surgery. But Reed is back and making big plays again. He already has four picks in five games. If Reed can help keep Wallace under wraps, a big part of Pittsburgh's offense will be taken away from Roethlisberger.

"I think they will take shots downfield every game if they can," Williamson said of the Steelers. "Ben is a very good deep thrower and it ties in very well with Wallace, who is obviously an elite deep threat with crazy speed. Pittsburgh is aggressive in that way. They don't have any reservations about throwing deep, and I think they want to go deep no matter what defense they're playing."

If Baltimore can accomplish these four things, it has a great chance of ending its five-game losing streak against Roethlisberger. This is one of the many great chess matches in this rivalry, where the winner will have the inside track to capture the AFC North division title.
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 3.

[+] EnlargeBrett Keisel
J. Meric/Getty ImagesBrett Keisel took the first interception of his nine-year career to the house.
The play seemingly took 20 minutes. But in the end, Pittsburgh Steelers 285-pound defensive end Brett Keisel rumbled his way into the end zone for a 79-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It was a dream come true for Keisel. The 32-year-old has spent his entire career playing defensive end in Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme. Therefore, Keisel mostly takes on blockers while stud defenders James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu get all the glory.

But when a rare big play was there to be made, Keisel knew what to do with the football. Tampa Bay receiver Sammie Stroughter dropped a pass as he was hit by Harrison, causing a deflection, and the ball bounced right into Keisel's hands.

With help from a convoy of teammates and a few nifty moves on Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, Keisel made the first interception of his career a memorable one. It was also the ninth turnover forced by the Steelers (3-0) in the past two games.

"That was great," Polamalu said of Keisel's interception. "We've been making plays like that on defense, and hopefully we continue to do that and make it easy for the offense."

Browns trade again (and again)

April, 25, 2009
4/25/09
6:06
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns are wheeling and dealing.

In an apparent effort to get as many draft picks as possible, the Browns traded down in the first round once again to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cleveland moved the No. 17 pick for Tampa's No. 19 overall pick and a sixth-rounder (No. 191 overall). The Bucs then took Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman.

Earlier Saturday, the Browns shipped their No. 5 overall pick to the New York Jets for the Jets' first- and second-round picks, along with three players. There have been two trades so far in the first round and Cleveland has been involved in both.

(Update: Cleveland traded again with the Philadelphia Eagles for their No. 21 pick.)

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