AFC North: Robert Griffin III

BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine disputed reports that there was any problem with Kyle Shanahan’s interview to be the offensive coordinator, and in the process gave a little lesson in journalistic ethics.

“I was in there with Kyle for the interview part,” Pettine said Thursday, “and I think it shocked both of us that it came out that he was ‘blunt force trauma’ in the interview and things didn’t go well.”

Pettine was asked about a rumor making the rounds that Shanahan was very direct with Browns CEO Joe Banner about the firing of Rob Chudzinski after one season, and that Shanahan was unimpressive in his interview.

“To my knowledge it did not happen,” Pettine said of the discussion with Banner.

[+] EnlargeKyle Shanahan
AP Photo/Alex BrandonKyle Shanahan has spent six years as an offensive coordinator, most recently with Washington.
He added that he did not believe Shanahan and Banner had a separate, private meeting.

Pettine said Shanahan did impress. The new Browns coach had a lengthy list of positives that Shanahan brings, but the most important trait was his experience. Pettine is a defensive coach, and he liked the fact that Shanahan has been an offensive coordinator for six years, with an offense that ranked in the Top 10 in four of the six years.

“It would have been very difficult to have a first-year coordinator on the offensive side,” Pettine said.

He and Shanahan said the important task of evaluating players will start now, and that the offense will be tailored to the skills of the players on the team.

The successes and struggles with Robert Griffin III also were discussed, including the fact that Shanahan and his father Mike Shanahan played Griffin in the playoffs as a rookie when he had an injured knee. Griffin was obviously hobbling, and he wound up tearing his ACL in that game, which set him back in 2013.

“When it was all said and done and we heard about it, it was nothing that I felt reflected poorly on Kyle,” Pettine said.

Shanahan also talked with the Browns at length about Griffin’s struggles in a 3-13 season in 2013. Griffin wound up missing the final three games.

“I didn’t feel like I needed to be assured (about it),” Pettine said. “He opened up about it and talked about it at length. It was something that I didn’t think was an issue at all. He was very passionate about it, and he talked about the relationship in similar terms.”

"Any time you go through a 3-13 season, it is a challenge," Shanahan said. "It’s a challenge on your relationship. It’s a challenge with everybody in the building. You’ve got to deal with a lot of stuff, a lot of negativity, and the thing I learned going through that, especially with a high-profile guy, there’s a lot more stuff that comes out.

"The thing that I always did with him, and that we did with each other, is when stuff would come out, we’d address it. We’d get into our room. We’d talk about it and make sure we felt good about it, and I think Robert and I -- through a very tough time -- we managed to keep our relationship through the year.

"I’m not going to say it was easy. Nothing’s easy when you go through something like that. But I do believe going through it, Robert and I in the long run, it’ll make both of us better."

Pettine said negatives are exaggerated when things go bad with a team. He said the narrative when he left the Jets and Rex Ryan to work in Buffalo was that he had a falling out with Ryan.

“It’s absolutely not true,” Pettine said, “but I think people try to fill the gaps in that, ‘That must be the case because he left.’”

Which circled back to his comments on the reports that Shanahan had a bad interview and was not impressive.

“Some stuff was either prematurely reported or was reported wrong,” Pettine said, referring to other reports that Cam Cameron might join the Browns. “I know the difficult job that people have. It’s get it right and get it first, and I know that’s a priority, but sometimes I think get it first is taking top billing over getting it right in some situations.”
As part of ESPN's #NFLRank project, Football Outsiders named Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco as the most overrated among players ranked 31-40. It's been about a week since anyone put the "overrated" label on Flacco, so the Super Bowl MVP was due to hear it again.

This is the point made by Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz:
Even if we dismiss any thought of future potential and only look at regular-season performance in 2012, Flacco was simply not as good as Andrew Luck (No. 41), Colin Kaepernick (No. 42),Robert Griffin (No. 46) or Russell Wilson (No. 47). And while those guys didn't lead their teams to the Super Bowl title, it's hard to say that they choked in the postseason.

Many of the statistics with Flacco and the NFL's young guns are comparable. I just wouldn't overlook the fact that Flacco produces big plays and plays big in critical moments.

Last season, Flacco ranked fourth in the NFL in fourth-quarter passing, which was better than Wilson (fifth), Kaepernick (seventh), RG III (17th) and Luck (29th). Flacco's 40 passes of at least 25 yards in the 2012 regular season ranked behind only Drew Brees (47).

The most valid criticism is Flacco's lack of consistency. Last year, he produced more games of fewer than 200 yards passing (six) than with more than 300 yards (five).

Flacco's trump card is victories. His 63 wins since 2008, including the regular season and playoffs, are six more than anyone else during that same span, according to ESPN Stats & Information. While some will argue Flacco hasn't necessarily played a big role in those wins, his numbers will dispute that. In those wins, Flacco has averaged 227 yards passing with 88 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

I understand the buzz about the latest wave of good young quarterbacks. But I question the assertion that they're better than Flacco when you're comparing their rookie seasons to a Super Bowl champion's five-year body of work.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made headlines recently when he told USA Today Sports that he is taking a wait-and-see approach with the new wave of quarterbacks.

"People ask me all the time about these young quarterbacks," Roethlisberger said Thursday. "Let's wait. One year does not mean a lot in this league. Let's see what happens in two, three years."

Roethlisberger has every right to say this because he's done it. After winning 14 straight games to take the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie in 2004, he helped Pittsburgh win the Super Bowl in his second season.

While many like to say the Steelers' defense carried Roethlisberger to the title that year (his passer rating was the lowest of any winning Super Bowl quarterback), Roethlisberger finished third in the NFL in 2005 in passer rating during the regular season and contributed three touchdowns in the AFC Championship Game that year.

I believe this type of underappreciation is why Roethlisberger made this statement. This month, Roethlisberger was ranked No. 61 in NFL Network's top 100 players. Eleven quarterbacks were put ahead of him. Yes, eleven. Three of the league's new young guns -- Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson -- are all higher than Roethlisberger.

I know Roethlisberger isn't a coveted fantasy football quarterback, but he wouldn't be the 12th quarterback selected if league executives were building a real football team among the current crop of players. Despite battling injuries the past two seasons, Roethlisberger is still among the best downfield passers in the game and the toughest to bring down. He's among the top six quarterbacks in the NFL right now and he's got the two Super Bowl rings to back it up.

And, even though Mike Wallace thinks Ryan Tannehill can be the next Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch feels Landry Jones was drafted to replace Big Ben, there's a lot of football left in him. Roethlisberger is 31 and in the prime of his career.

So, while it looks like everyone is in a rush to anoint these young quarterbacks, let's not forget that Roethlisberger is the more established quarterback, and honestly, he's a better one at this stage of their careers.

AFC North links: Milliner/Haden best duo?

April, 12, 2013
Baltimore Ravens

For Lardarius Webb, patience remains his watchword as he makes steady progress in his rehabilitation from a torn anterior cruciate ligament for the second time in four years, writes Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. The Ravens' top cornerback ended his season in October after injuring his right knee against the Dallas Cowboys. Now, Webb forecasts a sound recovery for the upcoming season.

Garrett Downing of the team's website focuses his mock draft spotlight on receiver Keenan Allen of California.

Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer takes an in-depth look at what the Bengals should do at linebacker before the season starts.

Cleveland Browns

Alabama prospect Dee Milliner says he and Joe Haden would be the best cornerback tandem in the NFL if the Browns select Milliner in the draft, writes Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel is scheduled to visit the Browns early next week.

Browns CEO Joe Banner executed a minor trade with his former club, shipping 2012 sixth-round linebacker Emmanuel Acho to the Eagles for third-year reserve running back Dion Lewis, whom Banner helped draft in the fifth round of 2011 out of Pittsburgh. The small and shifty Lewis (5-foot-8, 190) will most likely serve as a third-down back and possible kick returner.

Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer looks back at the Browns' failed attempt to trade for the pick that would have brought them quarterback Robert Griffin III last April.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers will open their preseason schedule Aug. 10 at home against the Giants.

Bob Labriola of the team's website looks at this year's class of quarterbacks available in the draft.

UConn linebacker Sio Moore visited with the Steelers, writes Gil Brandt of
Colin Kaepernick & Terrell SuggsReutersOne of Terrell Suggs' responsibilities will be to help keep Colin Kaepernick in the pocket.
NEW ORLEANS -- For his next act, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will try to accomplish what Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady could not pull off in these NFL playoffs. Kaepernick will try to lead his team past the Baltimore Ravens.

No bar appears too high for Kaepernick to clear after the second-year pro helped the 49ers overcome a 17-0 deficit at Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game. But as Super Bowl week cranks up, Ravens QB Joe Flacco has been cast as the "hot" quarterback. He has eight touchdown passes without an interception in three playoff games, placing him within statistical striking distance of 49ers greats Joe Montana and Steve Young.

Against that backdrop, NFC West blogger Mike Sando and AFC North counterpart Jamison Hensley pick up the Kaepernick discussion from New Orleans, site of Super Bowl XLVII.

Sando: Kaepernick's NFL career began amid some questions over whether the 49ers should have traded up to draft him in the second round out of Nevada. More recently, there was debate over whether 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was wise to bench Alex Smith in favor of Kaepernick. The debate now is ... what?

Jamison, do you have a sense yet as to how the Ravens are viewing Kaepernick? Are they seeing him as a dynamic quarterback with victories over Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan in his first nine starts? Or do you get the sense Kaepernick still must earn their respect as an inexperienced QB?

Hensley: The Ravens definitely respect Kaepernick, but they know they're dealing with a different quarterback than the other ones they've faced in the past two weeks. This goes beyond his freakish athleticism. Baltimore knew it couldn't intimidate the likes of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. But I get the sense that the Ravens feel that they can rattle Kaepernick if they can hit him early.

You saw what Haloti Ngata did to Robert Griffin III this season. The problem, of course, is trying to run down Kaepernick. This is where the respect comes in. "Assignment" is the buzz word among the Ravens' defense. The players know they have to play disciplined defense. They can't have any breakdowns or missed tackles. That will result in a Kaepernick touchdown. The key is not allowing Kaepernick to get to the outside. The job of containing him will fall on Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger.

Mike, what do you think is the biggest mistake defenses have made against Kaepernick?

Sando: It's a pick-your-poison situation. Blow an assignment and Kaepernick can take it the distance, as Green Bay proved in the divisional round. Commit additional resources to containing Kaepernick on the edge and you're going to get a face full of RBs Frank Gore and LaMichael James, who combined for three touchdowns against the Falcons. Containing Kaepernick's rushes isn't enough.

Kaepernick averaged 11.5 yards per pass attempt from inside the pocket in the NFC Championship Game. He stayed in the pocket on 21 of 23 drop-backs. He had only two rushing attempts all game. But he still posted a 90-plus Total QBR score for the second time in two playoff games. No one else has more in the five-year history of the metric.

The key is making a quarterback uncomfortable. We might not call it "rattled" when it happens to Manning or Brady, but we're talking about something similar. The 49ers would not say they rattled Brady early in their Week 15 victory over the Patriots, but they affected him. They made him jumpy. That was one of the reasons they jumped to a 31-3 lead in the game.

Kaepernick did not appear comfortable on the road against Seattle. But he has led a touchdown drive immediately after each of his four interceptions this season. He plays with attitude and rushed for more than 4,000 yards in college, so he's used to taking some hits. I expect the 49ers to run the ball with Gore. There's no reason to invite trouble with a pass-happy plan early. We should see heavy doses of the 49ers’ ground game -– including some option looks featuring Kaepernick.

Hensley: The Ravens are no strangers to mobile quarterbacks. They played Michael Vick and Robert Griffin III this season. Vick ran for 34 yards on 10 carries and his longest run was 8 yards. RG III managed 34 yards rushing on seven attempts and didn't break a run longer than 13 yards. This is surprising to me because the Ravens don't have the same speed on defense they've had in previous seasons.

Sando: Kaepernick rushed for only 21 yards in the NFC Championship Game. However, the threat of his running made it tougher for the Falcons to defend the entire offense. Kaepernick has attempted 49 of his 52 postseason passes from the pocket. But the 49ers have also run more plays from the pistol formation in two postseason games (62) than they did all season (44). Kaepernick is also a threat on scrambles. Overall, he has three rushes of at least 50 yards this season, counting playoffs. Only Adrian Peterson has more.

Hensley: Ravens players said Kaepernick reminds them more of Vick than RG III. They don't think watching their tape of how they played against Washington will help them because the 49ers' blocking schemes are different. The Ravens want to force Kaepernick to beat them with his arm. Even though the Ravens' cornerbacks are far from household names, Cary Williams and Corey Graham have two interceptions each in the playoffs. Since 2008, when John Harbaugh became head coach, the Ravens have 22 interceptions in the playoffs. That's twice as many picks as any other team in the league over that span.

Sando: Kaepernick threw a pick-six against the Packers in the divisional round, so he’s not immune to making mistakes. Overall, however, he leads the NFL in Total QBR (82.6), yards per pass attempt (8.6) and starting quarterback won-lost percentage (77.8, tied with Matt Ryan) for the regular season and playoffs combined. We all know how hot Flacco has been for Baltimore. That 8-0 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions is impressive. But Kaepernick and Kurt Warner are the only quarterbacks over the past five seasons with two single-game QBR scores in the 90s during the playoffs. Kaepernick has done it in two starts.

Hensley: The Ravens' defense has been as hot as Flacco. Baltimore has allowed four offensive touchdowns in three playoff games and none have come on the ground. In the second half of the AFC Championship Game, the Ravens shut out Tom Brady and the Patriots, the highest-scoring team in the NFL this season.

Baltimore is doing this without getting tremendous pressure on the quarterback. The Ravens have only six sacks in the postseason. That wasn't the case 14 months ago, when the Ravens sacked Alex Smith nine times. But I think we can both agree that the 49ers are a different team and definitely a different offense now.

Sando: Kaepernick is one of the biggest differences for the 49ers. He takes sacks far less frequently than Smith took them. Kaepernick is much more dangerous as a runner. He has a stronger arm. He gives the 49ers their best chance to win.

RGIII not playing in Cleveland (again)

December, 15, 2012
Nine months ago, you could blame the Washington Redskins officials (or Mike Holmgren, depending on your perspective) for Robert Griffin III not playing in Cleveland. This weekend, you can blame the Redskins' doctors.

RGIII is not expected to play against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday because of a knee injury. Instead, rookie fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins will make his first NFL start.

"The decision was not my own...," Griffin tweeted.

The Browns attempted to get RGIII in March in a pre-draft trade with the St. Louis Rams that would have allowed them to jump up to No. 2 in the draft. But the Redskins outbid the Browns, sending three first-round draft picks and a second-round one to the Rams. Holmgren later said the Browns didn't get a fair shot to trade up in the draft because of a close relationship between the Rams and Redskins.

The Browns, though, have gotten lucky lately with opposing quarterbacks. They have won three straight games, a win streak that began with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and third-stringer Charlie Batch, who was replacing injured quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. Now, the Browns get Cousins instead of RGIII.

If the NFL continues its current schedule rotation and RGIII remains with the Redskins long term, the next time Browns fans will get a chance to see the quarterback that got away is 2020. So, mark those calendars.
I hope you're ready for a lot of questions to begin your Tuesday. Why did the Ravens fire Cam Cameron? Why didn't Mike Tomlin go for a two-point conversion? Why did the Bengals throw the ball late in the fourth quarter? And why may Browns fans still not see Robert Griffin III play this year? All of these answers can be found in your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Cameron, who was fired as offensive coordinator Monday, was involved in a heated exchange with coach John Harbaugh on the sideline Sunday that carried over into the locker room after the game, two team sources told The Baltimore Sun. Harbaugh then made the decision to get rid of Cameron after talking to owner Steve Bisciotti and other team officials, the sources added. Harbaugh and Bisciotti reportedly weren't pleased with Cameron's play selection at the end of the game, and Harbaugh wanted quarterback Joe Flacco to be protected more, according to sources. Harbaugh adamantly denied any confrontation took place.

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette pointed out how coach Mike Tomlin made the mistake of not going for a two-point conversion after the Steelers scored with 6:17 remaining, which would have made it a two-score game (16-point deficit). Instead, he decided to kick the extra point to keep his team down by 17 points, more than two touchdowns. "Until we stopped them, it was going to be insignificant," Tomlin said after the game. "I was holding the two-point plays for that reason and that reason only. Now, we still have them in our hip pocket. Those specialty plays we didn't want to put on tape unless we had an opportunity to close the gap. As you can see, we didn't."

BENGALS: Coach Marvin Lewis defended his team's play calling when the Bengals chose to throw the ball with a two-point lead and 6:35 left in the game. Quarterback Andy Dalton, who was 3-of-4 for 16 yards on that final drive, was sacked on third-and-4. Getting the ball back with 3:44 remaining, the Cowboys then drove 50 yards to set up the winning field goal as time expired. “If we run it and don’t make a first down, then you’re going to tell me, ‘Why didn’t you throw it?,'" Lewis said, via The Cincinnati Enquirer. “We’re just trying to do what we can do to make a first down and keep the clock going and get more points. The goal was to try to score when you got the ball on offense. We had one incompletion in the thing, and now you can sit back and say that we had an incompletion. Had we completed the balls and go forward, then we get a first down and we’re good."

BROWNS: Robert Griffin III still may not play in Cleveland this year. RG III, whom the Browns tried to trade up for in this year's draft, suffered a mildly sprained right knee this past Sunday and is considered questionable for the Redskins' game at the Browns. Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur said the team will be ready for RG III. "We can't stop the preparation worrying about who's going to play," he said, via The Plain Dealer. "Because I'm sure there's elements of drop-back football and option game that both the quarterbacks that might play can execute. We have to be ready for that."

How Suggs affects game plan vs. RG3

December, 5, 2012
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs vowed that he will return this season after suffering a biceps tear in his right arm and called himself a game-time decision for Sunday's game at the Redskins.

"We kind of live by the creed, ‘If you can breathe, you can play.’ But we just got to check it,” Suggs told reporters in Baltimore on Wednesday. "We got to see how it holds up throughout the week."

Suggs' availability will significantly alter the Ravens' game plan against dynamic rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.

When Suggs returned after missing six games with an Achilles injury, the Ravens relied on the four-man pass rush more often and had more success with it. According to ESPN Stats & Information's John McTigue, the Ravens have the second-best Total QBR allowed (28.9) since Week 7, sending such pressure after posting the second-worst in the first six weeks of the season.

That means the Ravens feel they need to blitz more without Suggs to generate a pass rush, which could work to Baltimore's disadvantage Sunday. Sending five or more rushers hasn't been a successful strategy against RG3. Against the blitz, RG3 has completed 68.2 percent of his passes for nine touchdowns and no interceptions. His QBR against the four-man rush is 74.1, and his QBR against the blitz is 98.4.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh indicated that this is an injury that Suggs can play with.

"He basically has a bicep, a very serious strain, it could be called a tear, it’s something he could possibly play with,” Harbaugh said. "He’s figuring out now with the trainers and the doctors.”

Upon Further Review: Steelers

October, 29, 2012
Revisiting the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-12 win over the Washington Redskins:

Even the current best rookie quarterback in the NFL couldn't overcome Dick LeBeau's mastery over first-year passers. OK, the stone-handed Redskins receivers also played a major factor in Robert Griffin III's demise at Heinz Field.

The Steelers improved to 15-1 against rookie quarterbacks (including playoffs) since LeBeau returned as defensive coordinator in 2004. Pittsburgh shut down RG3's biggest strengths -- throwing deep and scrambling.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Steelers defended as many passes as RG3 completed (four) on throws deeper than 10 yards downfield Sunday. Griffin completed 4 of 12 passes (33.3 percent) deeper than 10 yards downfield after entering the game with a league-leading 61.5 completion percentage on those throws.

Also, RG3 didn't attempt a scramble against the Steelers on Sunday for the first time in his career. Entering the game, Griffin led the NFL in scrambles (24) and scramble yards (289).

"I thought we did a nice job," coach Mike Tomlin said. "We weren't perfect. They test you really. Dive, quarterback pitch, some of those things. The big thing and what we talked about all week is, regardless of what happened, we needed to run to the football with energy. We thought that was the only way we could contain that outfit."

STAT THAT STICKS: 0 -- Number of times Ben Roethlisberger was sacked Sunday. The Steelers improve to 14-0 all-time in games when Roethlisberger isn't sacked, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

OVERHEARD: “If we can keep the run game going and protect Ben, this is going to be the outcome every Sunday. We still left some points out there, but it’s the best effort by the offensive line this season.” -- Right guard Ramon Foster told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Steelers (4-3) play at the New York Giants (6-2), who have won four straight games to complete a perfect October.

Here are my thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 27-12 win over the Washington Redskins at Heinz Field:

What it means: The Steelers (4-3) continue to close the gap on the Ravens (5-2), moving to within one game of the AFC North leaders. After struggling with consistency all season, Pittsburgh has won back-to-back games for the first time this season. This was the Steelers' sixth straight home win, their most since the 2008 season. Pittsburgh has won five in a row over the Redskins.

Starting strong: The Steelers executed their dink-and-dunk offense to near perfection early in the game, scoring on five of their first six drives. The 1-yard touchdown pass to Will Johnson -- Ben Roethlisberger's third of the game -- put Pittsburgh ahead 27-9 in the third quarter. Roethlisberger finished 24-of-33 for 222 yards.

Keep running: In his second start, Jonathan Dwyer had his second straight 100-yard rushing game. The last Steelers running back to gain 100 yards in consecutive games was Willie Parker, who rushed for 138 and 105 yards in the first two weeks of the 2008 season. Dwyer had 107 yards on 16 carries against the Redskins.

Containing RG3: The Steelers' defense did a good job in not allowing Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to run wild. Pittsburgh held the NFL's 12th leading rusher to 8 rushing yards on six carries. The Redskins' receivers were the ones who limited RG3 in the passing game with eight drops.

Miller time: Tight end Heath Miller caught a 7-yard touchdown in the second quarter to put the Steelers ahead 17-7. It was Miller's sixth touchdown in seven games this season. He had four total touchdowns in his previous two seasons. All six touchdowns were passes thrown in the red zone.

Steady Suisham: Shaun Suisham continued a strong season with field goals from 48 and 27 yards. Suisham is 6-for-6 on field goals between 40 and 49 yards this season. He was 6-of-11 on such kicks last season.

Clark leaves with concussion: Safety Ryan Clark left in the third quarter with a concussion and didn't return. He was injured when he took a shot to the head on a tackle. Clark left the field under his own power and then went to the locker room to get evaluated. The Steelers were without both starting safeties, Clark and Troy Polamalu, who missed his fifth game with a calf injury. Ryan Mundy and Will Allen were the safeties the rest of the way.

What's next: The Steelers stay in the NFC East, traveling to play the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
There are mixed feelings about the Browns getting rid of Mike Holmgren as team president, based on the results of the SportsNation poll. Of the 7,053 votes, 42 percent say it was the right move and 41 say it was not.

Here are some comments from the AFC North blog readers:

Tony from Columbus, Ohio: Mike Holmgren should have been the coach, not the de facto owner.

Michael from Cincinnati: At a time the Browns were in need of a decisive leader, Holmgren proved to be indecisive from the start. From keeping Eric Mangini as coach to failing to even muster up a legitimate offer in the Robert Griffin III sweepstakes, Holmgren should never have been.

[+] EnlargeMike Holmgren
AP Photo/Mark DuncanPoll voters were mixed in their opinions of Mike Holmgren's time with the Cleveland Browns.
Joe from Columbus, Ohio: The people who voted to keep Holmgren must not be Browns fans. He is building at a glacial pace. He had no defined job, no passion and let his rookie coach hang himself. Why be here if you're not going to use your coaching experience to help the guy and the team out? He was overpaid, underworked, and underachieved. In Jimmy (Haslam) we trust.

Rich from Charlotte, N.C.: Yes, I'm excited about the new owner. However, here we go again with more turnover. The GM and head coach will soon be gone and with that a whole new phylosophy of the game will come in. New offense, maybe back to the 3-4 defense. So that means starting over with new players. At most there should be turnover at the coaching level. The Packers and Seahawks didn't start winning overnight. It took at least, If I recall, it took three or four years before they were contenders in games. I wish they would have given Holgrem and the GM at least another year.

Aaron from Cleveland: No, the Browns did the right thing by letting Holmgren go. His role with the team under Randy Lerner was as de facto owner. Under the new regime, the owner will be active in the operation of the team. Further, Holmgren was never good at being a GM or president of a team. When he had the dual role of GM and coach in Seattle, he was quickly stripped of the GM role. Lerner never wanted to be involved with the Browns and was terrible at making personnel decisions relating to running a football program. Holmgren was his last, best testament to that failure as an owner.

Mark from Fredericksburg, Va.: I think that you can see that the Browns are on the right path to becoming relevant in this league. I think we can thank Mike Holmgren and the personnel he brought in for what looks to be bright days ahead for the franchise. However, Jimmy Haslam absolutely has the right to bring in the personnel he feels comfortable with leading his franchise. If the Browns turn this thing around with the players they have in place right now, then all credit can go to Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert. Sustaining it will be the job of Joe Banner.

Paul from Lake Helen, Fla.: No, Mike failed. He should not have been kept on because of three big mistakes. 1. Waiting too long to fire Eric Mangini and then re-booting and installing a new system. 2. (The Cleveland fans called this right away) Hiring Pat Shurmer, a rookie head coach. The Browns have had way too many inexperienced head coaches. Cleveland has been Coaching 101. 3. Not attracting any high-profile free agents to fill holes and not drafting any Pro Bowl talent with their high draft picks. Goodbye Big Show, time to close the curtain on the No Show.

Matt from California: I'm really split on the Holmgren firing. On one hand, we definitely started to develop a good defense under him and drafted very well. I'm still holding out hope Heckert stays, but I really think Pat Shurmur was just not the right choice as coach. That was Holmgren's biggest decision and has not worked out well at all from a win perspective.

Kevin from Chicago: Holmgren's record speaks for itself. No one expected him to turn the Browns into a Super Bowl contender immediately, but a 10-30 record is indefensible. He made a number of critical mistakes, including bringing Jake Delhomme in as the starting quarterback, and neglecting the wide-receiver position. Pat Shurmur often appears befuddled on the sidelines, and is on his way to cementing his reputation as one of the worst head coaches in the franchise's history. Mike Holmgren was paid king's ransom to turn a long suffering franchise into a winner, but his actions and questionable work ethic have instead further relegated the Browns to irrelevance. Jimmy Haslam demonstrated to the team and the fans that losing will no longer be tolerated in Cleveland.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 26, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 8:

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Patrick McDermott/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III will face a tough test Sunday against Pittsburgh's defense.
Rough on rookies: Robert Griffin III has been the most impressive of the first-year quarterbacks this season. His biggest test comes Sunday in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers have a long history of rattling rookies. Since Dick LeBeau returned as defensive coordinator in 2004, the Steelers are 13-1 against rookie quarterbacks. The lone loss came against the Ravens' Troy Smith in the final regular-season game in 2007 in Baltimore when the Steelers rested four starters, including James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, to get ready for the postseason. Pittsburgh has held rookies to a 52.7 completion rate and an average of 167 yards passing per game with nine touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

Secondary success: The Browns are a different pass defense when cornerback Joe Haden is on the field. During his four-game suspension, the Browns allowed quarterbacks to complete 66.4 percent of their passes with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. With Haden on the field, Cleveland has held quarterbacks to a 58 percent completion rate with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. In three games this season, Haden has intercepted two passes and has broken up four throws. The defense has to figure out a way to derail Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who is 2-0 against the Browns. Rivers has thrown for 584 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 118.8 versus Cleveland.

Going deep: If you've missed the Steelers' big-play offense, it likely will return Sunday against Washington. As the NFL's worst-ranked pass defense, the Redskins have allowed 29 completions for more than 20 yards (tied for second worst in the NFL) and seven passes for more than 40 yards (tied for worst). The Steelers haven't stretched the field as regularly under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley as they did in the past. Ben Roethlisberger has connected on two passes over 40 yards after averaging 10 such throws the previous three seasons. Perhaps this will be a redemption game for speedy receiver Mike Wallace, who has five dropped passes this season.

Air it out: Browns coach Pat Shurmur was criticized for throwing the ball too much last Sunday. He might hear criticism if he doesn't throw the ball against the Chargers. The Browns have a banged-up starting running back (Trent Richardson) and are facing the NFL's 25th-ranked pass defense. In the past two games, the Chargers have given up a total of 679 yards passing and seven touchdown passes. But San Diego was facing Peyton Manning and Drew Brees during that time. Cleveland rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has been on a tear recently, throwing for at least two touchdowns in each of his past three games. He leads all rookies this season in passing yards (1,783), passing touchdowns (nine) and completions of 20 or more yards (25).

Hot at Heinz: Sunday's game against the Redskins marks the Steelers' first home game since Oct. 7 and only their third of the season. The Steelers have won five straight home games and are 9-1 at home since the start of the 2011 season. With a win, the Steelers would have six straight home wins for the first time since winning eight home games in a row from 2008-09. After next week's game at the New York Giants, the Steelers play five of their final eight games at Heinz Field.

Upon further review: Bengals

September, 24, 2012
Revisiting the Cincinnati Bengals' 38-31 win at the Washington Redskins:

The big criticism of Andy Dalton was that he lacked a big arm. Then Bengals offense has responded this season with big plays and lots of them.

In the past two games, the Bengals have produced five touchdown passes covering at least 40 yards. That's a huge difference from last season, when Cincinnati had three such throws for the entire season.

"We’ve got so many guys," Dalton said. "Everybody knows what A.J. (Green) can do, but other guys are making big plays for us, big catches. It’s nice to be able to spread the ball around and get the ball to more than just one guy.”

Dalton has spread the scoring passes around. He's connected with Brandon Tate for a 44-yard touchdown. He's hit Armon Binns for a 48-yarder. The only receiver who has reached the end zone on two big pass plays has been slot receiver Andrew Hawkins, who has weaved his way through defenses for scores of 50 and 59 yards. Then there was the unexpected touchdown pass from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to Green.

“Everyone was saying ‘Who is your second receiver?’" coach Marvin Lewis said. "And I keep telling you guys we have four of them and they’re all very good and they just keep doing their jobs."

STAT THAT STICKS: 73 -- Yards covered by Sanu's touchdown pass to Green. According to ESPN Stats & Information, this was the longest touchdown pass by non-quarterback since Steelers punter Josh Miller's 81-yarder to Chris Hope in 2003.

OVERHEARD: "When (Robert Griffin III) goes to the bathroom tonight, he's going to see Mike Johnson right behind him." Defensive end Carlos Dunlap to the team's website about Johnson, who sacked RG3 three times.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Bengals (2-1) look to make it three in a row when they travel to face the Jaguars (1-2) on Sunday. Cincinnati ended a seven-game losing streak at Jacksonville last season, when the Bengals beat the Jaguars, 30-20.

Bengals' corners face another young QB

September, 21, 2012
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.