AFC North: Quinton Coples
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.
ESPN.com 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.
But how much the Steelers coveted DeCastro will probably surprise you. According to NFL Network, the Steelers had a draft-day trade in place with the New York Jets to move up to No. 16, one spot ahead of the Bengals, and take DeCastro.
The Jets were reportedly willing to fall back to the Steelers' spot at No. 24 to get pass-rushing defensive linemen Bruce Irvin or Quinton Coples. Once the Seahawks surprisingly chose Irvin at No. 15, the Jets backed out of the trade with the Steelers and drafted Coples, NFL Network reported.
On April 26, the night of the first round, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked if the team had attempted to trade up for DeCastro after selecting him. "I’ll leave that to the imagination," Colbert said last month. "I’ll just say again, we identified several guys that we thought we would entertain trading up to get, and this kid was one of them."
You could tell the Steelers were excited to get DeCastro that night because they used the word "excited" three times in Colbert and Mike Tomlin's opening statement about DeCastro. In the end, the Steelers still got the top-rated guard in the draft by staying put and not losing draft picks.
It's not known what the Steelers were willing to give up, but they might have had to trade their picks in the third and fourth rounds to move up for DeCastro, according to the draft trade chart. Pittsburgh selected linebacker Sean Spence in the third round and moved up in the fourth for nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu. The Steelers' entire draft would have looked completely different and wouldn't have been as strong.
The reason behind the trade was getting in front of the Bengals, who had been heavily linked to DeCastro leading up to the draft. But Cincinnati was more interested in Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler than DeCastro. The Bengals passed on DeCastro at No. 17 (when they chose Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick) and No. 21 (when they traded back to No. 27). According to the Bengals' official website, the team got an extra third-round pick to fall back six spots to get Zeitler, who would've been their choice if they remained at No. 21.
4. Browns: RB Trent Richardson, Alabama. Not buying into the Browns' interest in wide receiver Justin Blackmon or quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Richardson is clearly the best offensive player in the draft outside of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. The Browns' struggling offense needs an identity, and Richardson can instantly give it a tough one.
17. Bengals: DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina. Things didn't go as planned in the first half of the draft for the Bengals, who watched guard David DeCastro, safety Mark Barron and cornerback Stephon Gilmore all get taken in the top 15. Defensive end is a major need for the Bengals, but it would be hard to resist taking a talent like Coples. Even though Coples has boom-or-bust potential, this is a pick based on best player available.
21. Bengals: G-T Cordy Glenn, Georgia. The decision here came down to Glenn, wide receiver Kendall Wright or cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. You could argue wide receiver is the bigger need, but Glenn is the better prospect. After failing to get DeCastro at No. 17, the Bengals turn to Glenn to make an immediate impact at right or left guard.
22. Browns: OT Jonathan Martin, Stanford. This was a tough call because the Browns need speed at wide receiver, and Wright and Stephen Hill are sitting there. But that's the reason the pick is Martin. There are so many more wide receiver prospects available than offensive tackles, so the Browns have a better chance of a wide receiver falling to them early in the second round (perhaps South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery).
24. Steelers: NT Dontari Poe, Memphis. Could the Steelers have envisioned a better draft unfolding than this? Pittsburgh would've been happy with Dont'a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw or even Amini Silatolu. Instead, Poe falls into their laps. He becomes the heir apparent to Casey Hampton.
29. Ravens: OLB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama. The Ravens are always looking for pass rushers, and Upshaw gives them another tone-setter on defense. He replaces Jarret Johnson in Baltimore's base defense and plays opposite Terrell Suggs as an edge rusher in passing situations. Upshaw has drawn comparisons to LaMarr Woodley, so you know he's an AFC North-type of player.
Here's a quick analysis to go along with the video report by ESPN's Todd McShay:
Position: Defensive end-tackle. School: North Carolina
Possible AFC North destination: Bengals
Positive: Flashes explosive power which helps him to rush the passer from the interior or from the edge. Negative: Lacks a strong motor and has been known to give half-hearted effort.
Projection: Coples' attitude makes it hard to pin down where he'll go in the draft. He could go as high as No. 8 to the Dolphins or be available when the Bengals are selecting No. 17. Should go in the top 20.
Each day, we'll tackle one pick and have you vote on it. Once we get through all six first-round selections by early next week, I will compile an AFC North fans' mock for the Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers.
Cincinnati Bengals and the 17th overall pick. Here are the choices:
SS Mark Barron, Alabama: He's tough and physical who will become a leader in the locker room. A series of injuries have prompted questions about his durability.
DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina: A top-1o physical talent, he has excellent size and shows good burst to close on ball carriers. He has boom-or-bust potential because of his lackadaisical attitude.
G David DeCastro, Stanford: He's everything you want in a lineman -- he's big, nasty and technically sound. But DeCastro isn't an elite athlete and isn't consistently explosive.
DE-LB Courtney Upshaw: His power and competitiveness jumps off the tape. He's not a great athlete and it showed in his combine results.
General manager Tom Heckert said the Browns might consider trading down from No. 4 but they won't drop below the top eight for a reason.
"There's going to be five guys that we really like," Heckert told the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the NFL owners meetings.
So, who are in the Browns' Fab Five in this draft?
Removing the presumed top three off the list (Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Kalil), I honestly don't think there is a Fab Five. It's more like a Terrific Two with Trent Richardson and Morris Claiborne.
In the spirit of playing along, this would be my prediction for the Browns' five targeted players:
- Trent Richardson, Alabama running back
- Morris Claiborne, LSU cornerback
- Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State wide receiver
- Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M quarterback
- Quinton Coples, North Carolina defensive end
This is a busy week for the Browns, who will be hosting several big-name prospects for pre-draft visits. According to the Plain Dealer, Richardson, Claiborne, Blackmon and Tannehill will meet with the Browns this week.
Now, it's your turn. Give me your list for the Browns' Fab Five (and take out Luck, RG3 and Kalil) and see how it matches with mine. Remember this isn't your list of the best five players remaining. This is your prediction of what the Browns are thinking.