AFC North: Najeh Davenport

Morning take: Marvin Lewis not worried

November, 28, 2008
11/28/08
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories in the AFC North Friday:

  • Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who made his name as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens, said he is not worried about his future with the team.

Morning take: Right or wrong, I get a much different feeling from the two Ohio teams. In Cleveland, everyone is on eggshells. In Cincinnati, there seems to be an unusual level of calm for a one-win team.

Morning take: See the first morning take.

Morning take: This is likely a sign that starting tailback Willie Parker will not play Sunday against the New England Patriots. Some have been clamoring for backup Mewelde Moore to get more carries and will get their wish.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Here are the most interesting story lines in the AFC North:

  • Coming off the season-ending shoulder injury to rookie tailback Rashard Mendenhall, the Pittsburgh Steelers reacted quickly Tuesday and signed Najeh Davenport.

Morning take: Not a bad move, considering the circumstances. Davenport knows the offense so he shouldn't have much of a learning curve. He just needs to hold the fort for another week or two before starter Willie Parker returns.

Morning take: Unlike the Steelers' move, this signing didn't make as much sense. Benson's had some character concerns and there's a hometown product from nearby Kentucky in Shaun Alexander who has a better resume and would have been a better public relations move.

  • Continuing Tuesday's theme of AFC North running backs, Willis McGahee's ribs are a concern this week for the Baltimore Ravens.

Morning take: Baltimore could really use McGahee this week against the Tennessee Titans. But fullback La'Ron McClain also is quietly developing into a nice find when needed to carry the football.

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

With rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall (shoulder) and veteran RG Kendall Simmons (Achilles') now headed for injured reserve, Pittsburgh's depth and resourcefulness is about be tested.

On the surface, the injuries seem like deal-breakers. With RB Willie Parker already out, Mendenhall's injury obliterates Pittsburgh's depth at the position. And because the rookie was the team's only legitimate power back, there isn't a viable replacement on the roster equipped for short-yardage situations. And though Simmons has been no better than an average NFL starter for a few years now, he's smart and experienced -- two qualities that seem to be lacking on the Steelers' offensive line lately.

Still, these developments shouldn't break this team -- or even significantly affect how the Steelers go about their business. RB Mewelde Moore is set to start at Jacksonville on Sunday, and though he's a bit small and should be Pittsburgh's No. 3, he's a better runner than his numbers against Baltimore (13 yards on eight carries) indicate. He has good vision and instincts and, despite his 209-pound frame, is tough enough to run inside. He lacks Parker's burst and breakaway speed and Mendenhall's power and measurables, but Moore is, at worst, a capable emergency starter. He's also an excellent receiver and a solid contributor in pass protection -- an asset Pittsburgh needs now more than ever.

With Simmons done, the Steelers likely will turn to backup RG Darnell Stapleton, which is a mistake. Stapleton isn't a bad player, but the team has better options. RT Willie Colon could slide inside to guard and OT Max Starks could start on the edge. Starks is talented and underrated and Colon -- who took reps at guard in training camp each of the last two years -- could handle the move with a little coaching. In this scenario, Pittsburgh's offensive line would be bigger and more experienced than if Stapleton replaces Simmons.

The Steelers won't change their scheme much to accommodate the new starters, but in any case they need to get better at what they already do. Coordinator Bruce Arians has taken some heat for his play calling, and rightfully so. Against blitz-happy Philadelphia and Baltimore defenses the last two weeks, he didn't do enough to aid an offensive line that struggles in protection and a quarterback who tends to hold on to the ball a beat or three too long. To preserve QB Ben Roethlisberger, give the linemen a hand and make the most of Moore's abilities, Arians needs to use more screens, draws and the like against pressure defenses (the Jaguars and Giants, two of the Steelers' next three opponents, certainly qualify).

Additionally, FB Carey Davis' ankle injury could limit Arians' flexibility, though it won't dramatically affect an offense that already prominently features two-tight end and multiple-receiver sets. RB Najeh Davenport likely will be brought back for depth and short-yardage work, and RB Gary Russell is a wild card who could spell Moore.

In the end, Pittsburgh may throw a bit more often and align Moore in the slot or split wide at times, but the core offense will remain unchanged. Mendenhall's and Simmons' replacements should be fine, but the pressure on Big Ben's shoulders and a stout Steelers defense just got turned up a little more.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

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