AFC North: Nate Clements

Links: Browns bolster scouting department

June, 20, 2013
6/20/13
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Baltimore Ravens

Matt Vensel of The Baltimore Sun previews the Ravens' Week 1 matchup with the Broncos in Denver.

With Matt Birk's retirement, the Ravens are looking to Gino Gradkowski to take over at center, writes Aaron Wilson of The Sun. So far this offseason, reviews of Gradkowski's performance have been positive. Quarterback Joe Flacco: "Matt was a great center, and I think Gino has done a great job last year of picking the offense up and being able to kind of get in there right away and do pretty good."

Switching teams has not mellowed former Ravens safety Bernard Pollard, writes Clifton Brown of CSNBaltimore.com.

Cincinnati Bengals

Cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, who is to speak at the NFL Rookie Symposium, said he'll talk with the rookies about his inability to escape his past, writes Mike Garafolo of USA TODAY Sports. Jones: "No matter how much I've done to improve or give back to the community or just growing as a person, the first time something pops up, it's all, 'Well, he's done this in the past.'"

While cornerback Nate Clements would like to reunite with the Bengals, the interest doesn't appear to be mutual at this point, writes Josh Kirkendall of Cincy Jungle.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns added five new scouts Wednesday, reports Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer. Frank Edgerly, who spent the past four seasons with the Patriots, was named a senior pro scout. Brent Blaylock, Brendan Donovan, Matthew Manocherian and Patrick Moore were added as college scouts.

Chris Pokorny of Dawgs By Nature looks at the bottom half of the Browns' running back depth chart in an ongoing training camp preview series.

What can veteran receiver Davone Bess offer the Browns? Jared Luginbill of Browns 101 explores.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY Sports has a preview of the team heading into training camp.

A judge denied the Steelers' plans to have taxpayers help pay to add 3,000 seats to Heinz Field, ruling that the team failed to show that an addition or modification was installed in at least half of the 30 other NFL stadiums with at least 25 percent of the cost borne by federal, state or local governments, reports Adam Brandolph of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

 
If there is one player on the Cincinnati Bengals who would like a shot at redemption, it would be strong safety Chris Crocker. But that's unlikely to happen.

Lewis
Crocker
Crocker is listed as doubtful for Saturday's wild-card game after he injured his right quadricep in what was a meaningless regular-season finale for the Bengals last Sunday. He was limited in practice Wednesday but didn't practice Thursday or Friday. Nate Clements would likely replace Crocker in the starting lineup, but Taylor Mays is also a possibility.

This is a tough break for Crocker, who made key mistakes in last season's 31-10 playoff loss at Houston. He dropped a sure interception that could have been returned for a touchdown, which would have tied the score in the third quarter. Then he failed to push running back Arian Foster out of bounds on a 42-yard touchdown run, which was the game-clinching score in the fourth quarter.

Crocker was released by the Bengals in early April but he re-signed with the team in late September when injuries hit the Cincinnati secondary. Now, an injury will likely sideline Crocker on Saturday.

Wake-up: Comparing Romo to Big Ben

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Greetings from the AFC South stomping grounds. I'm here for Thursday night's game between the Steelers and Titans. Most of the blogs today and tonight will focus on Pittsburgh because it's game day. Consider yourself warned. Time for the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: When watching film of the Cowboys for Sunday's game, the Ravens see some similarities between Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, you read that correctly. "(Romo) is actually a really dangerous quarterback," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata told CBS Sports. "He can move around really well in the pocket, and when he escapes, he makes plays. He's kind of like Roethlisberger in that way, where he tries to extend plays and look down the field and throw it and he does a really good job at it." If Romo is able to escape the pass rush like Roethlisberger, the Ravens up-and-down secondary could be in trouble.

BENGALS: Nate Clements made his second straight start at strong safety, which seems to indicate that his move from cornerback is permanent. "Nate wants to do whatever helps the football team be successful,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “If it’s playing him snaps at safety and that’s what he thinks it is, he’ll do it. I can remember having a conversation with Rod Woodson about that. Rod was saying, ‘If you think it makes us better, then OK.’ With Nate, it was, ‘If you think this helps us, then I’m game.” He had eight tackles and a forced fumble Sunday.

STEELERS: Pittsburgh isn't underestimating Titans running back Chris Johnson even though the former 2,000-yard rusher is averaging 42 yards per game. "He’s still a home run-type runner," linebacker Chris Carter told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "He can still break an 80-yard run, so we’re focused on containing him. You definitely have to give a player like that respect because his résumé has looked good for years. We can’t give him any lanes, and that’s ultimately what it comes down to. He’s not the type that’s going to run over you; it’s about him getting open space.” The Steelers' run defense ranks 11th this season.

BROWNS: Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who tied for the league lead with nine interceptions, believes he understands the adjustment he needs to make to reduce his critical mistakes. "It's an ego thing and I think I just need to get rid of the ego and take what they give me and move on and not be as stubborn," Weeden said, via The Plain Dealer. "Just throw the football away and move on." As the paper points out, Weeden has struggled the most in pressure situations. He's 31st in the NFL in third-down passing with one touchdown and four interceptions, and he's he's 32nd in fourth-quarter passing with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
Injuries will force the Bengals to go with three cornerbacks Sunday at Jacksonville.

Four cornerbacks -- Leon Hall (hamstring), Nate Clements (calf), Jason Allen (thigh) and Dre Kirkpatrick (knee) -- are among the seven inactives. That means the Bengals will go with Terence Newman and Adam Jones as the starting cornerbacks. Chris Lewis-Harris, who was signed from the practice squad, is the third corner. Cincinnati could go with recently re-signed safety Chris Crocker as the nickel corner.

The banged-up Cincinnati secondary faces Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who ranks 30th in the league with 468 yards passing. His 5.9 yards per attempt is 31st.

Here are the Bengals' inactives: CB Leon Hall, CB Nate Clements, CB Jason Allen, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, RB Bernard Scott, LB Roddrick Muckelroy and WR Ryan Whalen.
The Bengals are down to two healthy cornerbacks heading into Sunday's game at the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Nate Clements (calf), Leon Hall (hamstring), Jason Allen (thigh) and Dre Kirkpatrick (knee) have not practiced all week. Hall, who is listed as questionable, is the one who has the best chance of playing. Kirkpatrick is out again, and Clements and Allen are doubtful.

Asked how not practicing affects his availability Sunday, Hall told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “We’ll see. Not necessarily. I think we’re still going to take it day by day and probably do the same thing that I did last week.”

If all the injured cornerbacks are inactive, the Bengals will have two corners: Terence Newman and Adam Jones. Chris Crocker, the team's starting strong safety last season, was re-signed Thursday and could play nickel back for the Bengals.

The Bengals are fortunate that they're playing the Jaguars on Sunday. Jacksonville is the 31st-ranked passing team in the NFL, averaging 147 yards passing per game.

Bengals-Jaguars injury report

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
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Injury report for Bengals-Jaguars game on Sunday:

BENGALS

OUT: CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee). DOUBTFUL: CB Nate Clements (calf), CB Jason Allen (thigh). QUESTIONABLE: C Jeff Faine (hamstring), CB Leon Hall (hamstring), LB Roddrick Muckelroy (illness) and RB Bernard Scott (ankle). PROBABLE: DE Carlos Dunlap (knee), DE Michael Johnson (foot), FS Reggie Nelson (shoulder), OT Andrew Whitworth (knee).

JAGUARS

OUT: LB Daryl Smith (groin), DE George Selvie (knee). PROBABLE: DT Tyson Alualu (not injury related), OL Eben Britton (ankle), RB Rashad Jennings (knee), DE Austen Lane (foot), C Brad Meester (not injury related), RB Montell Owens (concussion), WR Laurent Robinson (concusion), CB Kevin Rutland (concussion).

Final Word: AFC North

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
AP Photo/Alex BrandonAndy Dalton has the fourth-highest passer rating in the league after three weeks of play.
No sophomore slump: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is on quite a tear in his second season in the NFL. In going against Jacksonville and the league's 21st-ranked pass defense this Sunday, Dalton is shooting for his third straight game with 300 yards passing. In his previous two games, he has completed 74 percent of his passes (43 of 58) with six touchdowns and two interceptions. Dalton leads the league with a 158.3 passer rating in the fourth quarter, which happens to be the perfect passer rating. He is having a much better start than Carolina's Cam Newton, last year's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Getting the defense on track: There will be reason to start worrying about the Bengals' defense if it continues its decline at Jacksonville. Cincinnati, a top-10 defense in points and yards allowed a year ago, is giving up 34 points and 416.7 yards per game. The Bengals get a chance to right themselves against the Jaguars, who are averaging 17.3 points per game. Only two teams (Dallas and Philadelphia) have scored fewer through three games this year.

Green's encore: Wide receiver A.J. Green has been a model of consistency in terms of catches. He has at least five receptions in his first three games of the season. His challenge Sunday is following up his 183-yard performance from a week ago. Last season, Green averaged 57.7 yards receiving in the games after a 100-yard performance. He ranks second in the NFL in receiving yards per game (103.7) and is tied for eighth in the league in receptions (21).

Interception drought: The Bengals are one of three teams that have not intercepted a pass this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This has been an ongoing problem for Cincinnati. The Bengals picked off only 10 passes last season, which was tied for sixth-fewest in the NFL. It could be difficult to get one Sunday. Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert hasn't been intercepted this season (79 pass attempts). Plus, cornerbacks Leon Hall (hamstring) and Nate Clements (calf) are battling injuries and won't be at full strength even if they play.

Bounce back for the running back: BenJarvus Green-Ellis is disappointed that he fumbled Sunday, the first time that has happened in his five-year career. He had gone 589 touches without coughing up the ball. One of the reasons Cincinnati chose not to re-sign Cedric Benson was his fumbling problem late last season. Green-Ellis can redeem himself against the Jaguars, who are giving up 154.3 yards on the ground per game. Green-Ellis does most of his damage in the red zone. He has scored 13 rushing touchdowns in his past 19 games.
It's a later edition for wake-up call because, as you all know, there was a night game in the division. For those who didn't believe me that it was going to be a close game between the Ravens and Browns, it's fine but don't let that happen again. Really, we're laughing with you. Now, let's take a quick tour around the division ...

BENGALS: Cornerback Adam Jones said he is appealing a $15,750 fine from the NFL for a horse-collar tackle of Redskins running back Alfred Morris. He told the Cincinnati Enquirer that it was "ridiculous." Jones liked the league much better last week, when it gave him the AFC special teams player of the week award. ... Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said he anticipates Nate Clements (calf) and Leon Hall (hamstring) playing on Sunday despite both cornerbacks not practicing for a second straight day. The final injury report comes out Friday afternoon.

BROWNS: Marla Ridenour from the Akron Beacon Journal believes the Browns rediscovered their pride against the Ravens. Ridenour wrote: "All night, there were flashes of talent from rookie defensive lineman Billy Winn and first-year linebacker Craig Robertson. There were flashes of brilliance from rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and rookie running back Trent Richardson.Unlike the Bills’ game, the moments to forget were offset by moments of promise." But the moments to forget still make you cringe, like the Browns' dropped passes in the end zone and the Ravens returning a Weeden pass for a touchdown.

RAVENS: Outside linebacker Paul Kruger gave the Browns another shot at the end zone to tie the game when he was penalized for unnecessary roughness on fourth down. Luckily for Kruger, the Browns threw an incompletion instead of a touchdown to end the game. Kruger didn't take the blame for shoving the Browns' Joe Thomas to the ground. Instead, he said it was a nice bit of acting by the Pro Bowl offensive tackle. "I was just getting held pretty bad," Kruger told The Baltimore Sun. "I threw my hands at him to get him off me and he flopped pretty bad. Unfortunately, they called it. I wish I was that strong. I would be doing that every play. Yeah, he just flopped pretty bad." It could be worse. The replacement refs would've called Kruger for pass interference.

STEELERS: Left guard Willie Colon told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that players should have gained a new level of respect for the regular officials after dealing with three weeks of the replacements. "It's one of those things where they got a lot of crap before because we always thought they were bad refs," he said. "Now to really see what bad looks like, we're appreciative of them." ... The Steelers won't be getting suspended tight end Weslye Saunders back after the bye. He'll be eligible to return on Oct. 8. Sanders, who violated the league's policy performance-enhancing substances, was suspended for four games, not four weeks.
It's the start of a long day for the AFC North blog. In just a little over 12 hours from now, the Browns and Ravens kick off from Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. Because of that, I wanted to warn you that these two teams will dominate the blog. That's what happens when they're the only game in town. Now, it's time to get your wake-up call ...

BENGALS: The team's starting cornerbacks, Leon Hall and Nate Clements, both didn't practice Wednesday. Clements, who started at safety Sunday and was seen walking out of Paul Brown Stadium in a protective boot on Monday, has a calf injury. Hall didn't play with what was originally believed to be a left calf injury. An MRI has since determined that it’s a hamstring injury. “I’m going day-by-day,” Hall told the Cincinnati Enquirer before Wednesday’s practice. “We’ll see what happens, see how I’m feeling. It’s not too bad today. It’s a little sore." If Hall and Clements can't play against Jacksonville, Terence Newman and Adam Jones will start at cornerback.

BROWNS: Brandon Weeden will be without his most productive wide receiver. Mohamed Massaquoi has been declared out for Thursday's game against the Ravens. He tops the Browns wide receivers in catches (nine) and receiving yards (145) and ranks second in yards per catch (16.1). Just listen to Weeden on how valuable Massaquoi has become to the team. "[Massaquoi's] a guy that's been consistent all year," Weeden told The Plain Dealer. "He's a guy I have a lot of confidence in. I'm hoping comes back sooner rather than later. He's gonna be missed, but I think just consistency. He's a guy that doesn't make a bunch of mistakes and (he's) a competitor, a great teammate and kind of a leader for the rest of the receivers."

RAVENS: The inside linebacker who is getting the most snaps next to Ray Lewis isn't Jameel McClain. It's Dannell Ellerbe. According to the Ravens' official website, Ellerbe has played 65 percent of the defensive snaps. The reason is based on adapting to a pass-first league. "I think [Ellerbe] might be just a little bit better in the coverage aspect,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "Jameel is a very, very good run linebacker, but he does a good job in the pass defense too.” Ellerbe has taken advantage of the increased playing time, leading the team with 2.5 sacks and ranking second with 20 tackles.

STEELERS: It looks like linebacker James Harrison will miss his fourth consecutive game after leaving the Steelers practice facility before practice because his knee bothered him, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. "It's a little bit of a setback," agent Bill Parise told the paper after speaking to Harrison. "Hopefully, it's not something that will derail our plans." The Steelers have the next four days off for the bye before returning Monday. With each game that he misses, it makes Harrison look worse that he didn't have the surgery in the spring when the knee was an issue. Chris Carter and Jason Worilds, two young players who have replaced Harrison, have combined for one sack.
It is really unfair to make players suit up for a Thursday night game, only four days removed from knocking helmets on Sunday. But, for someone who isn't playing, it's fun to know there's going to be an AFC North matchup tomorrow. As always, remember to set your fantasy lineups accordingly. Time for wake-up call ...

BENGALS: Nate Clements has proven to be versatile with the ability to move back and forth from cornerback to safety. Last Sunday, he proved his toughness. He hurt his leg in the first quarter, but ended up playing 96 percent of the snaps. According to the team's official website, Clements was seen leaving Paul Brown Stadium in a walking boot and it's unclear how serious the injury is. "He's very valuable, a very tough man," coach Marvin Lewis said. "Every football game he goes out there, every chance he gets to go out there, it means a lot to him and he takes it very seriously." Clements shows his commitment through his durability. In his previous 11 seasons, he's played at least 15 games in 10 of them.

BROWNS: Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden immediately regretted describing his performance Sunday as "good" and "solid" in the post-game press conference. He completed 62.8 percent of his passes against the Bills but he threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter. "I thought about it before I even walked out the room [on Sunday]," Weeden told The Plain Dealer. "First and foremost, the most important thing is winning the game. I didn't do enough to win the game so I didn't play well enough. I shouldn't have said I played well. I didn't play well. What I was referring to was I felt comfortable. I felt good; I just didn't do enough to win the game." Let's see how "comfortable" Weeden looks with Haloti Ngata rushing up the middle Thursday.

RAVENS: Head coach John Harbaugh won't be fined for making contact with an official in Sunday night's game against New England, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Harbaugh was penalized late in the fourth quarter for unsportsmanlike conduct. In his post-game press conference, Harbaugh acknowledged that he bumped an official, but he explained that it was done accidentally. He was trying to call for a timeout. The news wasn't as good for Washington Redskins offensive coodinator Kyle Shanahan, who was fined $25,000. Schefter also reports that Patriots coach Bill Belichick is expected to be fined for grabbing an official. At a time when the NFL is looking to protect these replacement officials as much as possible, Harbaugh should feel lucky that he didn't get disciplined.

STEELERS: Ben Roethlisberger insisted there's no problem between him and offensive coordinator Todd Haley and clarified his statement that he used some plays from his old playbook on Sunday. He said he used hand signals that were part of the old offense. “I really didn’t think it would get blown up as much as it did, and I know some people are saying that I’ve been resistant to Todd,” Roethlisberger said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “But it’s one of those things that we went to Todd, and it’s in the playbook now. It was simply a signal that I used with our receivers on two different occasions." Roethlisberger is smart enough to know that telling reporters that he pulled plays from his old playbook would generate a buzz. And Roethlisberger acknowledged that he's still close to former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who is now the offensive coordinator for the Colts. “We talk every week," Roethlisberger said.

Bengals' corners face another young QB

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
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A week after giving up 322 yards passing to Cleveland's Brandon Weeden, the Bengals' cornerbacks face another rookie first-round quarterback in Robert Griffin III on Sunday.

Two games into the regular season, Leon Hall hasn't looked the same since injuring his Achilles last year, and Nate Clements (32 years old) and Terence Newman (34) have looked old. The Bengals' defense ranks 29th in completion percentage (71 percent), 29th in passing yards allowed (308.5), and 30th in passing first downs (31).

Last season, Cincinnati allowed only one team -- Seattle -- to throw for 300 yards. This season, both opponents (the Ravens and Browns) have topped that mark.

"It's just doing our jobs, being where we need to [be] all the time, being consistent," coach Marvin Lewis said. "We're pressing a little bit, and it showed."

Big plays allowed have always been a problem for the Bengals, and it's something that Lewis has tried to stress to his defense. The Bengals have given up 11 pass plays of more than 20 yards. Only the Saints, Bears and Buccaneers have allowed more.

The Bengals have to be wary of RG3's arm. His 9.6 yards per attempt leads the NFL.

Cincinnati's pass defense will get a boost if Carlos Dunlap returns after missing the first two games with a knee injury. He has 14 sacks in 24 career games.
Joe Flacco and A.J. Green Getty ImagesBaltimore's Joe Flacco, left, and Cincinnati's A.J. Green could hold the keys to victory Monday.
Thanks to Marvin Lewis, the Cincinnati Bengals match up pretty well against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens have been a perennial playoff team, but Lewis, the Ravens’ defensive coordinator from 1996 to 2001, builds his Bengals roster to counter that of his division rival. Because he helped hand-pick several of the top defensive players who have helped make the Ravens one of the best defenses in the league, the Bengals usually know they can give the Ravens a game.

Since 2006, this competitive series has had only two games in which the margin of difference was bigger than 10 points. In fact, Lewis has a 10-8 career record against the Ravens. Since John Harbaugh arrived in Baltimore in 2008, though, he has won five of eight against the Bengals.

Here’s what to watch for in this competitive Monday night game:

Baltimore Ravens

1. Will the Ravens have a pass rush? The loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs was huge for the Ravens. His Achilles tendon injury has created an Achilles’ heel for their defense. They need a pass rush, and this goes beyond replacing Suggs’ 14 sacks. In the preseason, the Ravens didn’t show they were consistently getting to the quarterback. Second-round linebacker Courtney Upshaw is still getting his feel for the NFL but might offer some hope. The pressure will fall on Paul Kruger, who takes over Suggs’ spot. The Ravens are blessed with good coverage cornerbacks, which might allow them to try some blitzes.

2. More will fall on the arm of Joe Flacco: Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron plans to let Flacco take more leadership on the field and let him use more no-huddle. Although the Ravens don’t plan to abandon the run, they will be running a quicker offense. Normally, the Bengals play the Ravens to low-scoring games in which both teams end up scoring in the teens. Last season, offense became more of a factor. The Ravens won those games 31-24 and 24-16. Flacco would love to get three or four touchdown drives against the Bengals.

3. More speed at wide receiver: One of the reasons the Bengals and Lewis keep the scores low against the Ravens is the Bengals use plenty of man-to-man schemes. In the past, the Ravens didn’t have a lot of speed at wide receiver. This year, they have speed. Torrey Smith, in his second season, is now a complete receiver with speed instead of being only a deep threat like in his rookie year. Jacoby Jones adds a sub-4.4 threat. LaQuan Williams is fast. Watch to see whether the Ravens' receivers can win the battle against the Bengals' cornerbacks.

4. Are the Ravens solid up front? The Ravens are fielding one of the oldest offensive lines in football. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie is 32. Guard Bobbie Williams is 35. Center Matt Birk is 36. One of the keys to the running game is how Williams and Birk will do against defensive tackle Geno Atkins. If Atkins’ quickness beats the aging legs of Birk and Williams, the Ravens might have trouble running the football up the middle. They might also be vulnerable to inside blitzes.

5. Will Ray Rice’s role change? Rice has carried the Ravens' offense for years, but the subtle changes in this year’s offense could adjust his role. First, will the no-huddle limit some of the runs Rice could make? Second, if the Ravens have problems in the middle of the line, will he have to bounce more plays to the outside? Rice is a threat running and receiving, but the new emphasis on throwing the ball could make him more of a threat through the air.

Cincinnati Bengals:

1. Problems in the middle of the Bengals' offensive line: The Bengals lost guard Travelle Wharton and center Kyle Cook for the season, and they have to make do with Clint Boling at left guard and Jeff Faine at center. Faine is an established NFL veteran, but he sometimes has trouble against big 3-4 defensive tackles. How he handles Terrence Cody, Haloti Ngata and Ma'ake Kemoeatu could be the key to the game for the Bengals. If the pocket collapses in the middle of the field, it could be a tough day for quarterback Andy Dalton.

2. Establishing the man-to-man matchups: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is a master of matching up his cornerbacks against receivers. He has plenty of options. Nate Clements and Leon Hall are the starters, but also at his disposal are longtime Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman, Adam “PacMan” Jones and Jason Allen.

3. Making sure Taylor Mays has a good game: Mays won the strong safety job, so this will be his most extensive playing time as he enters his third year in the league. Mays has cornerback speed and is a big hitter, but he is still raw at the position. The Ravens will try to challenge him by sending tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta in his direction. Flacco also will try to get him out of position with play-action fakes that could free up Torrey Smith for some deep completions.

4. Establishing a running game: The Bengals had a solid running back with Cedric Benson. Now, the BenJarvus Green-Ellis era begins. Green-Ellis is a smart player who doesn’t fumble, but he has yet to prove he can be an every-down back week in, week out. The Bengals still have a young quarterback in Dalton, so it would be nice if he could count on Green-Ellis getting 16 to 18 carries a week.

5. Sorting out the receiving corps: Everyone knows A.J. Green has established himself as one of the best young receivers in football. Tight end Jermaine Gresham is a big-play target. But the Bengals have revamped everything behind him. Andrew Hawkins takes over as the slot receiver. Brandon Tate is the starter at wide receiver for now, but third-round pick Mohamed Sanu is an intriguing prospect. With defenses figuring to double-team Green, Dalton has to see who can establish themselves as dependable pass-catching options.

AFC North's $5 million-plus club

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
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Ever wonder who gets paid the most in the AFC North? Well, Labor Day is your lucky day. Let's take a look at the players who average more than $5 million per season over the life of their contract. That includes salary, signing bonus, workout bonuses, etc.

The AFC North team with the most members in the $5 million-plus club is the Steelers with nine. The Bengals have the fewest with six. Only one quarterback in the division, Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, is at this level. Baltimore's Joe Flacco, who averages $4.76 million, will move up in 2013 whether it's with a new contract or the franchise tag.

Here's a look at the highest-paid players in the AFC North (average per season over life of contract):

BENGALS

CB Leon Hall: $9.7 million

LT Andrew Whitworth: $6 million

DT Domata Peko: $5.5 million

CB Nate Clements: $5.2

DE Robert Geathers: $5.1

RT Andre Smith: $5.1 million

BROWNS

LT Joe Thomas: $11.5 million

DT Ahtyba Rubin: $8.83 million

CB Joe Haden: $8 million

LB D'Qwell Jackson: $7.7 million

LB Chris Gocong: $5.6 million

CB Dimitri Patterson: $5.35 million

RB Trent Richardson: $5.1 million

RAVENS

DT Haloti Ngata: $12.2 million

LB Terrell Suggs: $10.4 million

WR Anquan Boldin: $8.3 million

CB Lardarius Webb: $8.3 million

RB Ray Rice: $7 million

OT Marshal Yanda: $6.4 million

LB Ray Lewis: $6.3 million

S Ed Reed: $6.3 million

STEELERS

QB Ben Roethlisberger: $14.6 million

LB LaMarr Woodley: $10.2 million

S Troy Polamalu: $9.8 million

LB Lawrence Timmons: $9.5 million

LB James Harrison: $8.7 million

WR Antonio Brown: $8.3 million

CB Ike Taylor: $7 million

TE Heath Miller: $6.7 million

G Willie Colon: $5.8 million

Predicting win total: Bengals

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
4:01
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The AFC North blog continues its series of revisiting the "More or Less" post, where ESPN's John Clayton predicted the win total for every team in the NFL.

The reason to look back comes from the fact that Clayton made his projection in June. A lot has changed over that time, especially for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are forecasted to go 8-8.

SportsNation

How many games will the Bengals win this season?

  •  
    17%
  •  
    57%
  •  
    26%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,041)

The biggest change for the Bengals is on the offensive line. Cincinnati lost left guard Travelle Wharton to a season-ending knee injury and may be without center Kyle Cook for a significant amount of time, if not the season, because of an ankle injury. As far as the No. 2 wide receiver spot, it looks like Armon Binns will get the nod over Brandon Tate, although offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will probably rotate them throughout games. The one question that Andy Dalton has answered this summer has been the one about his arm strength. He continually took shots downfield in camp and hit A.J. Green for a 50-yard touchdown in the second preseason game.

The defense took a minor hit when defensive end Carlos Dunlap injured his knee in the preseason opener. He hasn't played the rest of the preseason and the Bengals' top pass rusher is considered questionable for the season opener at Baltimore. First-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick, who was expected to compete for a starting role or the nickel back job, missed all but one day of training camp with a knee injury and won't play a snap in the preseason. The Bengals also haven't committed to a starter at strong safety, where Taylor Mays has been physical this summer and Jeromy Miles has made plays in the preseason. The team has continued to shift Nate Clements from cornerback and safety as well.

So, will the Bengals finish with more or less than eight wins this season? Go ahead and vote and send me the reason for the decision to my AFC North mailbag.

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