AFC North: New York Jets

Live blog: Jets at Ravens

November, 24, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the New York Jets' visit to the Baltimore Ravens. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Live blog: Jets at Bengals

October, 27, 2013
Join our NFL experts as they break down the Miami Dolphins' visit to the New England Patriots. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4:00 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Double Coverage: Jets at Bengals

October, 25, 2013
Green/SmithUSA TODAY SportsA.J. Green, left, and the Bengals hope to stay hot against Geno Smith and the surprising Jets.
Rookie quarterbacks have caused the Cincinnati Bengals problems in recent seasons, as their 7-8 record against them since 2008 attests. On Sunday afternoon in the familiar confines of Paul Brown Stadium, they hope to pull that record even when Geno Smith and the New York Jets come to town.

Just like the Bengals' own young quarterback, Smith has found the winning formula the past five weeks, winning three games in that span. All four of the wins he has engineered this season have become victories because of game-winning drives he has led. While there might be other factors at play that are contributing more to New York's 4-3 record, there isn't much denying that Smith has had some hand in it, too.

As they interrupt a four-cities-in-five-weeks road tour with this home game, the Bengals are looking to extend their winning streak to four. In this edition of Double Coverage, Bengals reporter Coley Harvey and Jets reporter Rich Cimini look at what could contribute to that happening or to Cincinnati losing and dropping to 5-3.

Coley Harvey: So Rich, Sunday’s game will feature two of the three players in the league named Geno. Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins and Jets quarterback Geno Smith have earned rather impressive headlines this season. In Atkins’ case, it was for signing his $55 million contract extension five days before the season opener. Recently, Smith’s headlines have come from the four game-winning drives he’s led. Both are good young players, but something will have to give. How confident are Smith and the Jets that they’ll be able to keep Atkins and the rest of Cincinnati’s defensive line out of their backfield?

Rich Cimini: You just hit on one of the keys to the game, Coley. The Jets have allowed a lot of sacks (25), but I think many of those can be attributed to Smith, who tends to hold the ball too long. That said, the line needs to do a better job, especially the left side. Tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and rookie guard Brian Winters allowed two sacks apiece last week, bringing their totals to four and three, respectively. That's not a good number for Winters, who has started only three games. I don't see how he handles Atkins; he's simply not ready for that kind of challenge this soon. There are some tough matchups across the board for the Jets. The coaches will have to game plan ways for Smith to get the ball out quickly. I see Andy Dalton is coming off a big game. Is the Bengals' offense for real?

Harvey: It’s tough to really answer that question, Rich. One week the Bengals' offense looks for real, the next, it looks like a cheap imitation of its former self. Thankfully for the Bengals, though, the ineptitude they have shown offensively at times this season hasn’t shown up in the past three weeks. You could say Dalton is a big reason why. He is, after all, coming off back-to-back 300-yard passing performances. The more likely reason this offense has started taking off, though, lies in something Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth talks about often: the apparent “matchup problems” the Bengals create. In addition to receiver A.J. Green, the Bengals have quality second- and third-tier receivers in Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones, a pair of ball-seeking tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert and a balanced rushing attack led by BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the shifty Giovani Bernard. Cincinnati has finally figured out how to use all these weapons, and it's paying off.

The Bengals’ offensive line has been a group of unsung heroes of sorts, too. They had a fairly easy challenge last week preparing for Detroit’s line-first pass rush. Just how complex are the looks the Jets’ multiple defensive fronts give teams this season? Could the Jets' defense be a key to this game?

Cimini: Definitely. The Jets are ranked fourth in total defense, due largely to the line. We're witnessing the emergence of something special. The linemen are all good, and they're all young, starting with Muhammad Wilkerson, who is on his way to his first Pro Bowl. The next-best is rookie Sheldon Richardson, a high-energy player who shows up in the running game and the passing game. Quinton Coples is listed as a rush linebacker, but he's often in a three-point stance. He's coming off his best game of the season. This is what happens when you draft a defensive lineman in each of the past three first rounds. The Jets will control the Bengals' running game, and they will get after Dalton on obvious passing downs, but they're vulnerable to quick, short passes. That's how you neutralize the Jets' big fellas.

The Jets did a good job last week against the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski, but now they face a double threat at tight end with Gresham and Eifert. How are they being utilized?

Harvey: So that’s the way to neutralize the Jets’ front, huh? Bad news for Gang Green: Short, quick passes are the Bengals’ forte. Dalton has thrived throwing them all season. On passes that have traveled 5 yards or less, he has the league’s highest completion percentage at 76.7 percent. On 66 completions from that range, he has thrown for 500 yards. Of those, 316 have come after the catch.

Eifert and Gresham certainly are major contributors to that short-passing game, grabbing balls off flare screens and slants across the middle. Last week, though, Eifert caught his first touchdown pass of the season when he ran a seam route deep into the Lions’ secondary for a 32-yard reception. While they are tight ends and do their share of pass blocking and run blocking, Eifert and Gresham are true threats in the Bengals’ passing game, too.

Going back to Geno Smith for a moment. What has been the trick the past few weeks to him leading these game-winning drives?

Cimini: The trick? I go back to something Rex Ryan said a few weeks ago. I asked him what he learned from his first experience with a rookie quarterback (Mark Sanchez, 2009), and he said, "Make sure you have a great defense." So, yes, Smith has enjoyed some dramatic moments, but they're 4-3 because of the defense. But since you asked about Smith ...

He became the first rookie since the merger in 1970 to register four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first seven games. Clearly, his signature drive came against the Falcons, when he drove them to the winning field goal in the final two minutes. In the other three game-winning drives, he attempted a total of five passes, including a 69-yard touchdown strike. Obviously, we're not talking about a lot of passing shows. But he never gets visibly rattled, he always seems in control -- good qualities to have. Do you think Smith could have some success against the Leon Hall-less secondary? The Lions' Matthew Stafford picked them apart for 357 yards.

Harvey: It’s certainly possible. The Bengals are going to be bringing in one of their own young players, second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick to perform some of the responsibilities that had been Hall’s. Kirkpatrick will be playing some in the slot, he’ll be playing some outside. You’ll see recently signed veteran Chris Crocker taking some of Hall’s snaps. Adam Jones will be getting some, as well. And assuming he’s healthy enough to play, Terence Newman will be getting his share of opportunities to lock down the Jets’ receivers. In short, without Hall, it’ll be a cornerback-by-committee setup for the Bengals. It’s worked before, most notably against the Patriots in Week 5, when Hall was out with a hamstring injury. The week before, the Bengals still held the Browns in check defensively, even though they ended up losing that game 17-6.

Cincinnati’s main concern, judging from last week’s Jets-Patriots game, seems to be stopping New York’s running game. A lot of people here this week have been comparing the Jets to the Bills with respect to the potency of their multi-back running game. As someone who will see the Bills twice this season, do you think that’s a fair comparison to make for a defense that’s used to facing truer pass-first offenses?

Cimini: The Jets use a two-man committee, Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory. In that sense, they compare to the Bills. In terms of ability, they're not as potent as the Bills. The Jets don't have a C.J. Spiller-type, meaning a home-run threat. They are the ultimate grind-it-out rushing attack. Their most explosive back, Mike Goodson, blew out his knee two weeks ago, so he's done for the seaosn -- and they will miss his ability to threaten the perimeter. Powell and Ivory are a nice tandem, each capable of a 100-yard rushing day on any given Sunday, but I wouldn't say either one possesses special qualities. Powell is more of a slasher than Ivory, who reminds me of a poor man's Marshawn Lynch. In other words, he runs with some nasty. You won't see them running too often outside the tackles. They also mix in some Wildcat and read-option, maybe five to 10 plays a game. Recently signed Josh Cribbs, no stranger to the AFC North, got a couple of reps last week in the Wildcat. I wouldn't sleep on him if I were the Bengals.

There was a lot of chatter in New York before the draft about the possibility of picking Bernard. What has he brought to the Bengals' offense?

Harvey: Yeah, I don’t think anybody in Cincinnati is going to sleep on Cribbs. They know better than most teams just what he can do. With respect to the Jets’ overall rushing game, it was kind of surprising to hear Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict almost nonchalantly dismiss it this week. He said he didn’t think the Bengals would have much issue stopping it, saying that after “15, 20 plays” the Jets would realize it wouldn’t work. Big, bold talk from the NFL’s leading tackler. Then again, Burfict is the one who was scolded this training camp for bringing Bernard to the ground during a practice drill, so maybe he really can talk that talk.

Bernard really is a special player, Rich. New York had good reason to be excited about possibly drafting him. He’s quick, shifty, has great acceleration and is a home run threat. His two receiving touchdowns have come on short screen passes that ended up becoming longer gains. Both scores were caught at the line of scrimmage and resulted in 20- and 27-yard touchdowns, respectively. He certainly brings a unique dimension to the passing game.

This game features a pair of head coaches who know one another quite well. When Bengals fans, like most people outside New York, think Rex Ryan, they think of his hijinks with the media and his always-second-guessed decisions. Who is Rex the coach, in your opinion?

Cimini: Ryan has changed this season, Coley. He's not the walking sound bite he was in his first few years. A few reasons for that, I think: First, he has a new boss, general manager John Idzik, an old-school, buttoned-down guy who doesn't care for all the yapping. Obviously, Ryan is coaching for his job, so in the interest of self-preservation, he has conformed to fit Idzik's head-coaching model. Second, I think Ryan realized before the season this was going to be a very young team. He knew he wouldn't be doing the players any favors by making bold predictions. Maybe you can do that with a veteran team, as he did in 2009 and 2010, but it doesn't make sense to put that kind of pressure on kids. He also has taken on more of a teaching role, running the defense on a day-to-day basis. So far, it's all working out. I don't think there's any doubt that, through seven games, he's on his way to a contract extension.


Double Coverage: Steelers at Jets

October, 11, 2013
Ben Roethlisberger and Geno SmithUSA TODAY SportsBen Roethlisberger and the 0-4 Steelers take on Geno Smith and the surprising Jets.

Things you didn't expect to see in the standings when the NFL released the schedule last April: The New York Jets at 3-2, the Pittsburgh Steelers at 0-4.

The rebuilding Jets were supposed to struggle under a coach who already was being called a lame duck, and the Steelers ... well, they were supposed to be the Steelers, a model of consistency.

The two teams meet up Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Steelers are off to their worst start since 1968, the year of the Jets' only Super Bowl season. If the Steelers lose this game, they're pretty much done in terms of playoff aspirations. The Jets played a similarly desperate team Monday night, and that didn't seem to faze them, as they stunned the Atlanta Falcons on the road. The Steelers should be well-rested coming off a bye week. Jets team reporter Rich Cimini and Steelers reporter Scott Brown break down the matchup:

Cimini: Scott, I look down the Steelers' roster and I still see a lot of those familiar names -- Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, etc. It's hard to imagine how the Steelers could be this bad. I'm sure you could write 5,000 words on why they're 0-4, but how 'bout a few thoughts on what has gone wrong?

Brown: Rich, I think I have written triple that amount on everything that has gone wrong, but yes, who would have thought the winless Steelers would be playing the 3-2 Jets even just a couple of weeks ago? Turnovers have been the biggest problem for the Steelers, and that is on both sides of the ball. The Steelers have committed 11 of them with six coming in the last two games by Roethlisberger alone, and they are still without a takeaway, which is unbelievable when you think about it.

Playing from behind has a lot to do with the Steelers’ turnover problem, especially on defense. The defense is at its best when it puts opposing quarterbacks in obvious passing situations and forces them into the kind of mistakes that lead to turnovers. Would you believe the Steelers have had exactly two leads this season and those were 2-0 and 3-0 in the season opener against the Titans and in the second game at Cincinnati, respectively?

Rich, this defense usually confuses and frustrates rookie quarterbacks, but Geno Smith has hardly played like a first-year signal caller. Has his play surprised you, and is it sustainable?

Cimini: I was surprised by how well he played Monday night in Atlanta because he had been a turnover machine -- 11 in his first four games. All of a sudden, something clicked. I don't know if it was a one-game thing or the start of a trend.

I know the Steelers' defense isn't what it used to be, but Dick LeBeau will have had two weeks to cook up something to confuse the kid. How he responds to new looks from the defense will decide this game. The Jets leaned a bit more on the running game last week, taking some pressure off Smith, and I suspect they'll take a similar approach on Sunday. Blitz pick-up will be a key, as will the receivers' ability to gain separation. I remember the Steelers were very aggressive last season in Week 2 with the Jets' wideouts. While on the subject of quarterback play, how would you assess Big Ben's play to this point?

Brown: It has been fine other than the turnovers, and I think it will get better with tight end Heath Miller back and running back Le'Veon Bell giving the Steelers a legitimate threat in the ground game. Roethlisberger is on pace to throw for almost 5,000 yards this season, which would obliterate his career-high of 4,328 yards (2009). But Roethlisberger is also averaging just over 40 pass attempts per game. That number is way too high, especially given how leaky the Steelers’ offensive line has been through the first quarter of the season.

The emergence of Bell should restore balance to the Steelers’ offense. My question for you is whether or not such balance will have to wait a week? The Jets’ defensive line looks awfully physical, and it is hard to envision that Steelers having much luck running the ball against it.

Cimini: You're right, Scott, the Jets have been very good against the run. They've faced some good backs -- Chris Johnson, C.J. Spiller, Doug Martin -- and they're allowing only 76.2 yards per game and 3.0 per carry. I'd be surprised if the Steelers have much success on the ground.

The Jets' front seven is much improved from last season. They added more athleticism at nose tackle (Damon Harrison), tackle (Sheldon Richardson), weak inside linebacker (DeMario Davis) and rush linebacker (Quinton Coples). They're no longer vulnerable on the perimeter, as they were last season. I think they will make the Steelers one-dimensional, which should allow them to get good pressure on Roethlisberger. Speaking of pressure ... four sacks for the mighty Steelers? What happened to that defense?

Brown: Man, depends on who you ask. The easy answer is to say that age has finally collared a once fearsome defense, but that is not entirely accurate. Defensive end Brett Keisel, strong safety Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor are among the most tenured Steelers, and they have played well this season.

Age has caught up with the Steelers a little bit, and the defense needs to get more out of younger players such as cornerback Cortez Allen and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. Jones, the Steelers’ No. 1 pick last April, is going to be really good, but he has not made much of an impact as a pass-rusher. The Steelers desperately need Jones to emerge opposite Woodley, who has three of the Steelers’ four sacks.


Countdown Live: Jets-Steelers

September, 16, 2012
Join our NFL experts as they break down the match up between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4:25 p.m. ET. See you there.

Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

A shocked Ben Roethlisberger wants answers from team president Art Rooney II following the "retirement" of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

"When I get back, I'm going to go up to Mr. Rooney's office and ask him what he wants from me, what he wants from this offense, because I think that's a viable question for him," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at the Pro Bowl in Honolulu. "He's our owner and our boss, so I really would like to know kind of what he wants and where he sees our offense going because I'd like to tell him where I see us going."

The Steelers announced Arians had retired, but he later said his contract wasn't renewed by the team. Arians had been the only offensive coordinator in coach Mike Tomlin's five seasons as Steelers head coach.

Roethlisberger, who is close with Arians, invited him to Hawaii as his guest for the Pro Bowl, but Arians decided not to go after he was no longer with the team.

Roethlisberger was described as being "miffed" by the timing of the Steelers' move with Arians.

"We feel like we are really close to being an elite offense," Roethlisberger told the Tribune-Review. "For your leader to be gone is kind of a shocker for us, but you've got to be ready for it, and whatever the Rooneys and coach Tomlin decide is our next step. I think the [Steelers'] mind was made up, and B.A. was kind of ready to move on as well."

Hensley's slant: Roethlisberger has to be worried about the direction of the offense. Team sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Rooney wants the offense to go back to its blue-collar identity of the past. The trouble is, the Steelers are built to throw the ball with one of the best young and fast receiving groups in the league. You can criticize Arians' play calling. But it's hard to argue that the Steelers should go back to a run-first offense.

BENGALS: Mike Zimmer is returning for his fifth season as the Bengals defensive coordinator, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Rutgers' Greg Schiano as their head coach. Zimmer also had been in the running for the Miami Dolphins job before Joe Philbin was hired. While Zimmer is coming back, defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle is expected to be named the Dolphins' defensive coordinator. Hensley's slant: If the Bengals had their way, this is how it would have played out. Cincinnati didn't want to lose Coyle, but it was more important to keep Zimmer. The Bengals defense will remain a top-10 one under his direction.

BROWNS: Brad Childress is close to becoming the Browns' offensive coordinator, sources told The Plain Dealer. For more, click on the AFC North blog posted last night. Hensley's slant: My take on the probable hiring will be posted shortly.

RAVENS: In his introductory news conference as the new Colts head coach, former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said he went from an all-time low -- the loss in the AFC championship game was his most devastating one ever -- to an all-time high. “As fate would have it, I’ve got to be honest with you, I thought for sure that I was going to be coming to Indy to play for a world championship," Pagano said, via The Indianapolis Star. "That’s what I thought I was going to be coming here for, and certainly not standing before you today as the next head football coach of the Indianapolis Colts." Hensley's slant: Don't be surprised if Pagano takes some Ravens with him. Pagano's first target should be outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who will be a free agent, because he'll need a leader who can explain the defensive system to the other players. It would be like when Rex Ryan brought Bart Scott along to the New York Jets. Defensive line coach Clarence Brooks could also follow Pagano to Indianapolis.
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

Steelers linebacker James Harrison was unapologetic for the hit that forced him to miss Monday night's loss to San Francisco, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

"It happened, oh well," Harrison told the paper. "Deal with it. Move on. When it came down to it, my helmet hit his. Oh, well."

Harrison, who returned from his one-game suspension Tuesday, said he isn't concerned about the future ones.

"Nope, not worried about anything," Harrison said. "Can't see the future. I am not a fortune teller. I will deal with it as it comes."

Hensley's slant: It doesn't sound like Harrison received the NFL's message. If he gets flagged for another illegal hit, he is facing a suspension involving multiple games. Harrison is in a no-win situation when it comes to fighting the NFL.

BENGALS: There are other more complicated ways of the Bengals clinching a wild-card spot, but the most straightforward one is: The Bengals win out and the New York Jets lose at least once in their final two games (against the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins). According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, if the Bengals lose to Arizona on Saturday and the Jets win, the Bengals would need to beat the Ravens and have the Jets lose to the Dolphins. Both teams would be 9-7 in that scenario, but Bengals would win tiebreak based on better conference record. Hensley's slant: Looking at the Jets' last two games, they could easily lose to the Giants or at Miami. The Jets are 2-5 on the road this season. The biggest obstacle for the Bengals is the regular-season finale against the Ravens. Cincinnati is 0-6 against teams that currently have a winning record.

BROWNS: Running back Montario Hardesty is looking to end the season on a positive note after a calf injury has ruined most of it. Hardesty has carried the ball in one of the past seven games because of a calf injury. "I definitely want to finish out these two games strong," Hardesty said, via The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Hensley's slant: Hardesty might be able to salvage some of the season, but it's probably too late to get rid of that injury-prone label. His inability to stay healthy combined with Peyton Hillis' expected exit is a major reason why the Browns are already being linked to Alabama running back Trent Richardson in the first round.

RAVENS: If Billy Cundiff can't kick Saturday because of a left calf injury, the Ravens will turn to veteran journeyman Shayne Graham, whom the team signed Wednesday. "If I'm asked to go out and play, then I go out and play and play my best to help these guys win," Graham said, via MASN Sports. "If it's for one week, it's for one week. If it's for two, it's two. If it takes more or less, that's really out of my hands. All I can do is line up and kick when they ask me to." Hensley's slant: The Ravens had to make contingency plans after Cundiff missed a 36-yard field goal Sunday, his ninth failed attempt of the season. But Baltimore had better hope Cundiff is healthy enough to kick in the playoffs. Graham missed both of his field goals, including a 28-yarder, in a playoff loss two years ago. That's a major reason why the Bengals didn't re-sign him.

AFC North mailbag

November, 26, 2011
If you have a question about the AFC North, send it to my mailbag. It's Saturday morning, so let's open up some mail ...

Devin from Ontario, Canada, writes: Why haven't the Steelers been able to take the ball away this year?

Jamison Hensley from AFC North headquarters responds: There are two reasons. The first one is obvious: the Steelers need to catch the ball. There have been several interceptions that have been dropped. That would add to the total. The other factor is the pass rush. Of the top eight teams in takeaways, five (Green Bay, San Francisco, Baltimore, Detroit and Houston) rank in the top half of the league in sacks. When you get pressure on the quarterback, you force rushed throws that lead to interceptions and you can strip the ball from the quarterback. LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison have had good stretches in rushing the passer, but the Steelers need to do a more consistent job as a defense.


Gene from San Diego writes: How would you grade Baltimore's defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano at this point in the season? They are still producing, but been a bit lapse the past few games. I like his mentality and that he infuses the young players.

Hensley responds: Pagano gets an A, and it's tough to argue otherwise. He vowed to be aggressive when he took over for Greg Mattison and he's backed that up this season. The Ravens are among the best in sacks, takeaways and points allowed. This has been a high-impact defense.

Kurk from Budapest, Hungary, writes: I'm not ready to give up on the Bengals' chances of winning the division, but I'm enough of a realist to be hoping for a Wild Card spot. Which 5-5 team should worry Bengals' fans the most?

Hensley responds: The New York Jets. This might surprise you because the Jets wasted a prime opportunity when they lost at Denver. But New York should win its next three games: home against Buffalo, at Washington and home against Kansas City. Under that scenario, the Jets would get to 10 wins if they win two games in the final three weeks of the regular season: at Philadelphia, home against the Giants and at Miami. This is a team that knows what it takes to get to the postseason after advancing to the AFC championship game the past two years.

Jared from Cleveland writes: Do you think Colt McCoy has showed enough the last couple of games to get people off his case and give him a chance? He'll never be able to put up great numbers with our lack of receiving talent this season. Cleveland needs to focus on building a team around one guy instead of continuing to waste draft picks on quarterbacks that they are going to discard after a couple of seasons playing for a terrible team.

Hensley responds: McCoy's stock has increased by completing over 70 percent of his passes the past two weeks. But he needs to start increasing points on the scoreboard. The Browns have scored over 17 points just once this season; Cleveland has yet to score a touchdown in the first and third quarters. As I've said repeatedly, you can put all the blame on McCoy because of the supporting cast around him. But the quarterback has to take responsibility for an offense struggling this much, no matter what the circumstances.

David from La Verne, Calif., writes: I'm sure that using a Baltimore homer to report on the game wasn't your idea but it did seem there were two teams on the field which couldn't be discerned from the bulk of your story. Maybe if the Ravens had to cross the country on a short week the result might have be different.

Hensley responds: I cover the AFC North, so the blogs and columns will focus more on those teams. So I don't consider myself a "Baltimore homer." I'm just doing my job as the AFC North blogger. I also didn't have anything to do with making the 49ers go cross-country on four days rest. You can direct your anger at the NFL schedule makers for that one. I think Jim Harbaugh already has.

Jack from Cincinnati writes: Happy belated Thanksgiving Jamison, lovin what you have been doing with the blog. In the AFC North chat this week you talked about how you still see the bengals winning nine games this season. Does that change with the announcement of Schaub being out for the season? There are no given wins in the NFL, but with games against the Cardinals, Browns, and Rams remaining, that seems like three probable wins, and I would think that it would be probable for the Bengals to beat a Texans team lead by Leinart or either the Ravens/Steelers as they were so close to beating them. Only winning one of those last three games gives them 10 wins. Is that more probable than nine?

Hensley responds: Thanks for being a part of the chat (shameless plug: it happens every Wednesday at 2 p.m.). I still feel that the Bengals will finish with nine wins. Your reasoning is sound. I agree that Cincinnati should beat the Browns, Cardinals and Rams. I think the rematches with the Steelers and Ravens will result in losses again (although it will be close again). And even though the Texans lost Schaub, they still have Arian Foster, Andre Johnson and the NFL's top-ranked defense. At this point, I predict the Bengals will lose that one. Of course, I will say that forecasting games is a week to week proposition. So, these picks are far from locked in.

Dave from Westminster, Md., writes: Do you still think the Steelers are better than the Ravens now? Why the disrespect when you live near Baltimore?

Hensley responds: I'm a blogger and an analyst. My views shouldn't be shaped by where I live. It's funny how Ravens fans feel I "disrespect" the Ravens and other fans feel I'm a "Ravens homer." As far as your first question, the Ravens have better wins than the Steelers (including a sweep of Pittsburgh) but they have more embarrassing losses than the Steelers. There wouldn't be an argument if Baltimore had beaten Seattle and Jacksonville. The Ravens would the undisputed best team in the AFC. Those losses hurt the resume. Pittsburgh has been the more consistent team overall.

Bengals Week 2 preseason recap

August, 21, 2011
The Cincinnati Bengals completed their second preseason game on Sunday. Cincinnati lost to the New York Jets, 27-7. Here are some observations:

The Good
  • Punter Kevin Huber may be an early candidate for Bengals MVP. He is having a great preseason and booted several more impressive punts Sunday against the Jets. Huber had nine punts for 424 yards, which is a stellar 47.1 average.
  • Cincinnati's first-team defense made some strides this week. The offense struggled early (we will get to that later). But the defense did a decent job of keeping the game close in the first half. Cincinnati's first-team defense gave up 10 points before most of the starters were pulled. The Jets had a lengthy touchdown drive before halftime against a mix of Bengals starters and backups.
The Bad
  • Cincinnati's offense does not look ready for Week 1. This unit is just too sloppy. Cincinnati's first three possessions ended like this: an Andy Dalton interception, a 17-yard loss on a fumble that forced a punt and another interception. The timing just looks off, although Cincinnati's starting offense eventually warmed up at the end and scored its first touchdown of the preseason.
  • Overall, the Bengals need to start better. They have been outscored 41-10 in the first half when starters get a majority of the playing time. Yes, it's only the preseason. But it doesn't look good when Cincinnati's first team routinely fails to set the tone. The Bengals aren't the Pittsburgh Steelers or Green Bay Packers. Cincinnati is a young team that needs to show something in the preseason to gain momentum and confidence for the regular season.

Three things: Bengals-Jets

August, 21, 2011
Three things to watch for in Cincinnati's preseason game against the New York Jets on Sunday night. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET.

Will the effort be there? This sounds like a silly question for a preseason game. But neither the Bengals' starters nor the backups showed up ready to play in last week's 34-3 drubbing to the Detroit Lions. Cincinnati looked shell-shocked and sloppy. The Bengals turned over the football, didn't play hard and were battered in every phase of the game by Detroit. Cincinnati is a rebuilding team. It needs to play better now to start building confidence.

What strides will rookie quarterback Andy Dalton make? The Dalton era in Cincinnati got off to a rough start. His first throw was intercepted and he finished with 69 yards and an interception. Dalton needs to show growth in his second career start. The Bengals are relying on the second-round pick to be the starting quarterback in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns.

What to make of the defense? Two seasons ago, Cincinnati was No. 4 in total defense. Last season, the Bengals were No. 15. This unit wants to get back to its 2009 form but looked more like the 2010 version last week. The Jets' star-studded offense should be another good test for the Bengals' defense.

Morning take: Steelers' O-line

August, 21, 2011
Here are the most interesting stories Sunday in the AFC North: Morning take: Pass protection has been an issue for years in Pittsburgh. Too many blitzers are running free this preseason. The Steelers need to correct that.
Morning take: It can't get much worse than last week's 34-3 drubbing to the Detroit Lions. The Bengals, particularly the starters, need to show up ready to play.
Morning take: I was impressed with Taylor last week in training camp. He will make the Ravens as a sixth-round pick. But can Baltimore, which has title aspirations, trust Taylor to be the No. 2 quarterback?
Morning take: Moore had a solid game (two touchdowns) and a solid camp. But injuries have always held him back. Staying healthy will be key.

Three things: Steelers-Eagles

August, 18, 2011

Three things to watch for in Pittsburgh's preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

Steelers' pass protection: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger didn't play much against the Washington Redskins last week -- and that was a good thing. Roethlisberger was hit enough to suffer a hand injury in limited playing time. Pittsburgh's blitz recognition looked shaky last week. The Steelers gave up three sacks and eight hits on their quarterbacks. Philadelphia's defense recorded six sacks last week against the Baltimore Ravens. The Eagles' pass rush will be a good test to see if Pittsburgh corrected its early mistakes.

The emergence of Isaac Redman: One of the best players I saw in Steelers training camp this summer was backup running back Isaac Redman. The former undrafted free agent did well last year with limited opportunities. He is looking for a bigger role in 2011. Redman scored Pittsburgh's only touchdown last week with an impressive 22-yard run. He had five carries for 42 yards and a touchdown against Washington. Redman's emergence this preseason could help Steelers starting running back Rashard Mendenhall, who had a career-high 324 carries last season.

Jerricho Cotchery's debut: The veteran receiver was signed in free agency to provide depth and a veteran presence at receiver. The former New York Jet will play his first game as a Steeler on Thursday. Cotchery has only one week of practice under his belt, but needs to begin finding his niche with the team. He is most effective in the slot and is competing with second-year receiver Antonio Brown for the No. 3 receiver role.

Next step for QB Andy Dalton

August, 15, 2011
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton looked like a rookie making his first NFL start last week. His first pass was intercepted. His next two attempts to throw resulted in an incompletion and a sack.

The Bengals' offensive line didn't help. Dalton had pressure in his face often. Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh nearly ripped Dalton's head off on one play. Dalton finished 11 of 15 for 69 yards and an interception.

Week 2 of the preseason is important for Dalton. The Bengals now have tape to critique of Dalton's first game and need to see growth Sunday against the New York Jets.

Dalton's next step is to play with more poise. Detroit's pressure bothered him and forced several bad throws, including the interception. The Bengals' offensive line also has to block better.

Dalton has the tendency to float his deep balls. That needs to be corrected if the Bengals plan to take shots down the field with athletic receivers A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson. Dalton didn't take many deep chances downfield against Detroit. The Bengals need to test his arm more against the Jets.

Finally, Dalton and the Bengals need to be more competitive. I know it's just the preseason. But a young team like the Bengals cannot afford to continue laying eggs. It's hard to lose a preseason game by 31 points. Effort was definitely an issue.
Here are the most interesting stories Sunday in the AFC North:
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered injuries in practice to starting offensive linemen Jonathan Scott (ankle) and Ramon Foster (unspecified).
Morning take: Neither injury is considered serious. That is a good thing, because depth on Pittsburgh's offensive line is lacking. This will give young players a chance to get significant reps in practice.
Morning take: Cotchery is probably the best of what's left at receiver. The Ravens failed to land Malcom Floyd and Derrick Mason. Now it's pretty slim pickings.
  • Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur says the new West Coast offense will come along.
Morning take: The Browns still have a long way to go offensively from what I've seen in camp. Fortunately for Cleveland, there is a month of practices and four preseason games before the regular season.
Morning take: "Grind" is a good word to explain what the Bengals and Browns are going through offensively. The team and quarterback that learns the fastest likely will prevail in Week 1.



Sunday, 12/21
Monday, 12/22