AFC North: Pro Football Focus

PITTSBURGH -- Is Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown the best player at his position in the NFL?

Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson builds a strong case for Brown, who leads the NFL with 719 receiving yards this season after finishing second in the league with 1,499 receiving yards last season.

Monson calls Brown a "modern day version of Jerry Rice" since he doesn’t have the greatest measurables but makes the game look easy at times because of his innate understanding of it.

The PFF piece is the latest example of Brown starting to get his due as a premier wide receiver. In the past there were questions about whether the fifth-year veteran was a legitimate No. 1 receiver, because he is 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds in a league that covets tall wide receivers.

"From the day I got here he wasn’t a household name other than special teams, and you’ve just seen the guy ascend and put himself up there with the great receivers in the game right now," said Todd Haley, who took over as the Steelers' offensive coordinator in 2012. "He continues to get better, and that’s the exciting thing."

Brown is having an All Pro-caliber season even though no one has emerged as the Steelers' clear cut No. 2 wide receiver, something that would help divert some attention from Brown. Markus Wheaton, who starts opposite Brown, has slumped after a promising start, and former No. 3 wide receiver Justin Brown was a healthy scratch last Monday night.

Wheaton, Brown, Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey and rookie Martavis Bryant are all trying to solidify roles, and for now the Steelers are content to play their receivers -- well, at least the ones not named Antonio Brown -- based on situations.

"You’d love to see somebody jump up and say, 'Hey, we can’t have this guy off the field,' and that’s usually the way it works, so right now we’re kind of in that process and we just need guys to make plays," Haley said. "When your number’s called you need to step up and make the play, and if you don’t there’s some guys champing at the bit to show that they can do it."

The Steelers don’t seem to be in a hurry to set a hierarchy after Brown, the two-time Pro Bowler. It could change on a weekly basis, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he doesn’t have a problem with a largely rotating cast at wide receiver.

"We work every day with all of them, so it’s really just knowing who’s out there on a particular play, because each guy may run a route a little bit different," Roethlisberger said. "As long as I know who’s in there as we’re going, I’m fine and I feel confident with whoever’s in there is going to make a play."
CINCINNATI -- The New England Patriots, for better or worse, are now in the Cincinnati Bengals' rearview mirror. But before we completely move on from Sunday night's game, let's take a quick peek at some of the ways our friends at Pro Football Focus analyzed and examined Cincinnati's Week 5 game.

As always, take the grades and notes you see below with a certain grain of salt because they can end up being amended. Bad grades also can sometimes simply be the product of particular schemes, coverages or formations a team happens to employ in a respective week based upon the opponent.

Here are a few Bengals grades and notes following Sunday's 43-17 loss:

  • It seemed like just about anything that could go wrong for the Bengals on Sunday did. But to its credit, the Bengals' offensive line held up much better than what may have been originally perceived, according to PFF. In pass protection, the group held its own with veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth leading the way with a plus-1.4 pass-blocking grade. Whitworth also had a plus grade in run blocking, collecting a 1.2 grade there. He was the only offensive lineman with a positive run-blocking grade.
  • As well as Whitworth played on the left side of the line, the right side struggled, according to PFF's evaluation. Right tackle Andre Smith, right guard Mike Pollak and center Russell Bodine all had run-block grades below minus-2.0.
  • Behind A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu, who both played more than 50 snaps, James Wright received the most at receiver, totaling 22 snaps.
  • The running back snap breakdown went as follows: Giovani Bernard (44), Jeremy Hill (12). It was tough to get the balance the Bengals wanted in the running game because they were down by so much so early. The Bengals were down immediately 14-0 before starting to come back, briefly.
  • Quarterback Andy Dalton was barely pressured. He received pressure on just seven of his 27 dropbacks.
  • With Darrelle Revis covering him, Green was targeted five times. On those passes, Green caught three for 64 yards, helping bolster his claim that he didn't think Revis shut him down.
  • The Bengals threw seven passes that traveled 20 yards or more downfield, the most they have attempted in a single game all season. Entering Sunday's game, 63 percent of Dalton's passing attempts had traveled 15 yards or less in the air, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
  • New England targeted Cincinnati's linebackers all night, attempting 15 passes in their areas of coverage. Vincent Rey allowed six catches on six targets and Emmanuel Lamur allowed three on six targets.
  • Lamur also was credited with just one missed tackle by PFF (although from my personal recollection, I can remember him missing at least three) and received his lowest overall grade of the season: minus-5.0. He now has a minus-4.2 overall grade this season. Only Robert Geathers and Domata Peko have worse overall grades from PFF.
  • Cornerback Leon Hall also had his struggles. He allowed five catches on eight targets and missed three tackles.
  • Defensive end Wallace Gilberry recorded the Bengals' highest grades in overall play, play against the pass and play against the run. He had a plus-3.8 overall grade.
  • Defensive tackle Geno Atkins played 51 snaps, recording two tackles and a quarterback hurry.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North: Morning take: Based on comments from LaMarr Woodley and Dhani Jones, I think it's the opposite. Flacco has to beat his critics more consistently, starting this year, to earn their respect.
Morning take: Barring injury, Hillis should have another solid season behind a pretty good offensive line. But being on the "Madden NFL 12" cover should make Browns fans nervous.
  • Should Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison be suspended for his comments towards NFL commissionner Roger Goodell?
Morning take: You can't rule out the possibility. But usually players are allowed to speak their minds in the NFL without missing games. A fine seems more likely.
Morning take: That's not Benson's game. The Bengals want the pending free agent back because of his straight-ahead style, which fits their team.