AFC North: Philadelphia Eagles

PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 16-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles:

What it means: The Steelers avoided their first 1-3 start under Mike Tomlin with a sloppy yet dramatic win over the Eagles. Shaun Suisham's 34-yard field goal as the game expired helped Pittsburgh improve to 2-2 and keep pace with the Ravens. Ben Roethlisberger led a 14-play, 64-yard winning drive in the fourth quarter, which came after Philadelphia took its first lead of the game. The Steelers are 5-1 under Tomlin following a bye and have won five straight home games.

Roethlisberger comes up big: Roethlisberger carried the Steelers once again and led them on a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive. He completed 4 of 5 passes for 50 yards. His biggest play was converting a third-and-12 with a 20-yard pass to Antonio Brown.

Mendenhall makes his mark: Running back Rashard Mendenhall made an impact in his first game since ACL surgery in January. He jump-started one of the worst offenses in the NFL with 81 yards on 14 carries. He scored the Steelers' only touchdown on a 13-yard run (off a Roethlisberger lateral).

Not making the stop: The Eagles took their first lead of the game in the fourth quarter because the Pittsburgh defense couldn't make the critical stop. The Steelers allowed Philadelphia to convert twice on fourth-and-short and gave up the 2-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek on third-and-goal.

Receivers don't step up: The Steelers had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown on their final drive of the first half. Brown dropped a pass in the end zone, and Jerricho Cotchery stumbled after making a catch and fell 2 yards short of the goal line. A drop by Mike Wallace on third down ended a drive in the third quarter.

Penalties haunt defense: With the Steelers ahead 10-0 in the third quarter, the defense helped the Eagles score their first touchdown with two 15-yard penalties that were critical in the 80-yard drive. Ryan Clark was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and Ryan Mundy was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Not cashing in: The Steelers' defense got turnovers early, but the offense failed to capitalize. Pittsburgh scored no points off two Michael Vick fumbles, although one in the red zone stopped the Eagles from scoring. The Steelers had only three takeaways entering this game.

Injuries continue to hurt Steelers: Safety Troy Polamalu left in the first quarter after reinjuring his calf, and linebacker LaMarr Woodley later went out with an injured hamstring. Neither returned. Polamalu missed the previous two games with a calf injury, and Woodley was sidelined six games last year with a hamstring injury.

What's next: After getting a bye in Week 4, the Steelers play their second game in five days when they visit the Tennessee Titans.

Countdown Live: Ravens-Eagles

September, 16, 2012
Join our NFL experts as they break down the matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. See you there.

At least four teams have called the Cleveland Browns about the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft, sources told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

One of the teams believed to be in the mix is the St. Louis Rams. That would mean dropping to No. 6. Just say no. Why? The Browns can say goodbye to an elite offensive playmaker in running back Trent Richardson if they trade down. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers would immediately grab Richardson at No. 5.

Another potential trade partner is the Philadelphia Eagles. This would require the Browns to fall to No. 15. Cleveland really has to say no to this one. Why? It's a pipe dream to think wide receiver Michael Floyd is going to be available at this spot. He's going to get drafted by Buffalo (No. 10) or Arizona (No. 13).

The top offensive prospects who should be on the board in the middle of the first round are guard David DeCastro and wide receiver Kendall Wright. Two additional second-round picks are not worth this dropoff. Plus, general manager Tom Heckert indicated 17 days ago that the Browns would consider falling back as far as No. 8. The Eagles' spot is out of that range.

As I mentioned earlier this week, the Browns shouldn't trade back. They need playmakers, not picks. Their draft should be based on quality, not quantity.

Still, there's a good chance that the Browns will trade back. Heckert's track record shows he likes to acquire extra picks. And, as ESPN Insider Bill Polian pointed out, Mike Holmgren's teams often find their running backs later in the draft or through free agency.

But Richardson is one of those special types of backs. He has the toughness to excel in a division like the AFC North and he has the potential to immediately affect an offense like Adrian Peterson did.

If Holmgren doesn't believe me, he should consult with his good friend and ESPN analyst Jon Gruden before thinking of trading back.

“The easiest thing to do is turn around and hand the ball to somebody 300 times a year,” Gruden said in a conference call. “Everybody says, ‘Don’t take a running back. You can get those guys in the fifth, sixth or seventh round.' You go try to find Trent Richardson in the fifth, sixth or seventh round."

Gruden added, “He’s a beast. He broke all of Emmitt Smith’s high school rushing records in Florida. I’ve seen him run over people, run around people, he protects the ball, he can catch it, can pick up blitzes. He might be the strongest human being on the planet."

Just because teams are interested in the No. 4 pick doesn't mean the Browns should be interested in giving it up. Just say no.
The Browns made the right call when they decided to add an offensive coordinator, and they needed to hire someone with experience.



But hiring Brad Childress -- who was named offensive coordinator, according to a league source -- is not the answer. The Browns really needed to push to get Mike Sherman, who appears to be headed to the Miami Dolphins to be their offensive coordinator.

The problem with Childress is his track record with offenses. In the eight years Childress has been a head coach or offensive coordinator in the NFL, his offenses have ranked in the bottom half of the league five times.

The disturbing part is he's been an NFL playcaller for only one season. The result? The Vikings finished 23rd in yards and 26th in points (17.6 per game) in 2006 before Childress passed those duties over to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell the next season. Childress didn't call the plays in his three seasons as the Eagles' offensive coordinator (Andy Reid held that role), and he didn't call the plays in his final four seasons with the Vikings.

That résumé doesn't inspire confidence that he will turn around a Browns offense that scored more than 17 points twice last season. Then again, it's hard to imagine any coordinator could really affect an offense that has major question marks at quarterback and running back as well as a void of playmakers at wide receiver.

Hiring Childress isn't the worst move. The team could have simply promoted quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple, but that wouldn't have accomplished anything.

Pat Shurmur was overwhelmed in his first season as the Browns' head coach, and he needed to have the responsibility of running the offense taken away. The only way an inexperienced head coach will succeed is if he has experienced coordinators supporting him. The Browns will have veteran voices with Childress and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.

If I were Shurmur, I would rely on Childress' advice but not his play-calling ability.
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North: Morning take: Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been successful in the no huddle, but the team only uses it when necessary. The Steelers may want to consider this change of pace more often this year.
  • Cincinnati Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga had another strong effort against the Carolina Panthers.
Morning take: Maualuga recorded four tackles in limited playing time. He is back at his natural position and playing with good instincts.
Morning take: This is natural for rookie corners. Smith blew an assignment Thursday against Washington and allowed a touchdown pass. But Smith has all the physical tools that cannot be taught.
Morning take: You knew Philadelphia would come back strong after last week's poor outing against Pittsburgh. The Browns got a taste of what it will be like to face a contender this season.

Three things: Browns-Eagles

August, 25, 2011
Three things to watch for in Cleveland's preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET.

Colt vs. "Dream Team" secondary: The Eagles are getting a ton of preseason hype. Most of it stems from their all-star cornerback trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. This will be a good test for Browns second-year quarterback Colt McCoy, who has been stellar in the preseason. McCoy is expected to play about three quarters against Philadelphia's talented defense.

Montario Hardesty returns: Coming off last year's ACL surgery, Hardesty is expected to make his preseason debut against Philadelphia. The Browns have been eager to see more from last year's second-round pick. Cleveland sat him in the first two preseason games for precautionary reasons. Hardesty also went light in training camp. The Browns hope he can give starting tailback Peyton Hillis a breather in the regular season.

QB test continues for defense: The Browns will face another good quarterback. After going against Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford the first two weeks of the preseason, Cleveland faces dynamic Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on Thursday night. It will be another good test for the Browns' young defense. Vick will be motivated to play well. He was embarrassed in the second preseason game, throwing three interceptions against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North: Morning take: I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and I don't see it. These two teams do not play enough in the regular season, and they certainly haven't met in big games.
  • The rebuilding Cincinnati Bengals will make their 2011 debut Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium.
Morning take: This is the first home game of the post-Carson Palmer/Chad Ochocinco era. The youthful Bengals will get a chance to show what they can do in front of their home crowd against rookie quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
  • The Cleveland Browns could be without six starters in the third preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Morning take: That's too bad, because this is the most important preseason game. Injured players like receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (foot) and guard Eric Steinbach (back) have missed a lot of playing time and can use the reps with the offense.
Morning take: Essex is versatile and will provide depth at the guard and tackle spots. He’s one of those players who always seems to find his way into the lineup. Essex has 25 starts in six seasons.

AFC North Stock Watch

August, 22, 2011
Week 2 of the preseason is in the books for the AFC North division. Let's see who's stock is rising and falling.


1. Cincinnati Bengals' starters: Cincinnati's first team is getting hammered in the preseason. The Bengals are being outscored 41-10 in the first half when starters get a majority of playing time. That is inexcusable for the preseason. Starting slow is a habit the Bengals need to break. This team is too inexperience and not good enough this year to overcome these kind of deficits in the regular season.

2. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton: Cincinnati's second-round pick added two more interceptions Sunday night against New York. One interception was a drop and deflection from receiver A.J. Green, and the second was a pass that sailed too high. Dalton also had a poor exchange with tailback Cedric Benson that resulted in a fumble and a 17-yard loss. The growing pains continue for Dalton. He threw for 86 yards, two interceptions and had a 16.4 passer rating against the Jets.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive line: Via injuries and inconsistent play, the Steelers' offensive line remains a work in progress. Two left tackles -- Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert -- both went down with injuries in Pittsburgh's 24-14 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Pittsburgh's offensive line also is having trouble keeping players off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He played well but was sacked twice and hit several more times by Philadelphia.


1. Steelers' defense: Pittsburgh's first-team defense looked in midseason form with a healthy Troy Polamalu in the lineup. The Steelers baffled Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and forced three interceptions. Pittsburgh treated the first half like a regular-season game and was fast and physical. The Steelers return all 11 starters from last year, which is extremely valuable following the NFL lockout.

2. Browns quarterback Colt McCoy: Cleveland's second-year quarterback continued his solid preseason with a three-touchdown performance against the Detroit Lions. McCoy didn't throw for many yards (96). But he ran the offense efficiently for the second straight week.

3. Ravens receiver Lee Evans: It was a successful Ravens debut for Evans, who was recently acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills. He tied for the team lead with three catches for 68 yards in Baltimore's 31-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The biggest play came on a hookup between Flacco and Evans for 43 yards. But Evans not only showed deep speed, he showed versatility. Evans' two other receptions came on a quick slant and out route for first downs.

Morning take: Hardesty to debut

August, 22, 2011
Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North: Morning take: It will be good to see Hardesty back on the football field. Also, am I the only person who finds it ironic Philadelphia plays three AFC North teams to start the preseason?
Morning take: Fullback Vonta Leach and receiver Lee Evans particularly looked good Friday night. Both are expected to help take Baltimore's offense to the next level.
  • There is no ligament damage for Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackles Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert.
Morning take: This is good news for the Steelers, who lack depth on the offensive line. Scott and Gilbert are the team's two left tackles responsible for protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.
  • Cincinnati Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton knows the offense must get better.
Morning take: With a new system and a rookie quarterback, the lockout put Cincinnati's offense in a tough spot. But every team is dealing with the same circumstances. The Bengals need to be ready by Week 1.

Steelers Week 2 preseason recap

August, 19, 2011
The Pittsburgh Steelers played very well Thursday night in a 24-14 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here are some observations:

The Good
  • I really liked the Steelers' focus and energy. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t like the effort from his players in last week’s preseason loss to the Washington Redskins. Therefore, this game had more of a regular-season feel in the first half. Pittsburgh's starters jumped on the Eagles' starters by taking a two-touchdown lead early in the second quarter. Pittsburgh led 21-0 at halftime. The Steelers probably wouldn’t admit it, but I think the fact Philadelphia was on the preseason schedule this week helped. The Eagles are getting a lot of “Dream Team” and “Super Bowl” hype. The reigning AFC champion Steelers usually like to prove a point in those type of situations -- even if it's just the preseason.
  • Offensively, the Steelers looked potent. They had no problem putting together back-to-back, 14-play touchdown drives on their first two possessions. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finished 8-for-12 passing for 125 yards and two touchdowns. He had a 140.6 passer rating against a star-studded Eagles secondary. Roethlisberger kept plays alive and connected on a pair of touchdown passes to Antonio Brown and Hines Ward. Apparently, both receivers have been working on their end zone dances.
  • It was good to see a healthy Troy Polamalu back in the lineup. The Steelers Pro Bowl safety had an Achilles injury last year and hasn’t played 100-percent healthy in a game since November 2010. But Polamalu’s acceleration and playmaking were back. He had two pass defenses and picked off Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and returned it 36 yards.
  • Pittsburgh’s pass defense baffled Vick Thursday night. With Polamalu in the lineup this week, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was able to throw some coverages and blitzes at Vick that forced some questionable throws. Vick was picked off three times, once each by Polamalu, safety Ryan Clark and cornerback Keenan Lewis.
  • It was a successful Steelers debut for receiver Jerricho Cotchery. The free-agent signing led Pittsburgh with two receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown. Cotchery looks comfortable in the slot already. He adds quality depth and should be able to contribute early.
The Bad
  • There wasn’t much bad about this game, but Pittsburgh's offensive line did get banged-up. Offensive tackle Jonathan Scott suffered a knee injury on the first drive and didn’t return. Rookie second-round draft pick Marcus Gilbert also suffered a knee injury. Gilbert said via Twitter Thursday night that he will be fine. Scott's injury may be more worrisome. Pittsburgh’s offensive line is thin to begin with and cannot afford too many injuries.

Anything additional on the "bad" side would be nitpicking. The Steelers put together a great team performance. It's just what you want to see in the second preseason game against another Super Bowl contender.
Here are the latest happenings Thursday evening in the AFC North:

Vick, Bengals would not have worked

August, 18, 2011
Philadelphia Eagles franchise quarterback Michael Vick had some interesting comments about the Cincinnati Bengals in September's edition of GQ Magazine. Vick said he initially believed that the Bengals and Buffalo Bills were better options than the Eagles.

Vick could not have been more wrong.

Cincinnati was not the place if Vick was seeking instant playing time. In 2009, the Bengals had $100-million quarterback Carson Palmer in the fold. Barring injury, Vick would have had no chance to compete or supplant Palmer in the starting lineup. Vick eventually took the job in Philadelphia from Kevin Kolb, who was a much easier target.

Second, the Eagles' foundation on offense is much stronger. Philadelphia's explosive West Coast offense compared with Cincinnati's system under former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski isn't close. Vick found the right system to learn and perfect. Philadelphia, in turn, tailored the offense to fit his strengths. Cincinnati's old offense under Bratkowski didn't have the same flexibility and creativity for Vick's unique talents.

Finally, the stability of the organization counts for something. From ownership, down to coaching and the players, Vick walked into a much better situation in Philadelphia. Vick is now leading a Super Bowl contender just two years after being released from prison. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is hitting the reset button once again and is considered one of the NFL's worst teams.

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.
Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu will make their 2011 preseason debuts Thursday against the Philadelphia Eagles, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed. Harrison is returning from offseason back surgery. Polamalu rested after last season's Achilles injury.

Steelers starting guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee) and cornerback Bryant McFadden (groin) will not play this week. Both also missed last week's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins.

Pittsburgh's No. 1 cornerback, Ike Taylor, had successful thumb surgery and is expected to miss the rest of the preseason.