AFC North: Roddy White

Jimmy Smith moved closer to being the Ravens' starting cornerback and he didn't even play in the preseason opener because of a back injury. That's what happens when his chief competitor, Cary Williams, struggles and fails to make his case to remain the starter for a second consecutive season.

Smith
Four days ago in Atlanta, Williams got picked on by quarterback Matt Ryan, giving up five passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. The numbers are worse than the effort. On the first catch allowed, Williams tried to jam Julio Jones, who was able to get inside position for a 26-yard gain on a slant. The next two passes were completions to Jones when Williams played seven to eight yards off the line.

Williams' weakness got exposed on the next two completions that he allowed. He often gets good position against receivers, but he doesn't turn around. Williams plays the receiver, not the ball. That was the case when Jones had to reach around Williams for the seven-yard touchdown grab. Williams was in front of Jones and could have deflected the pass if he had turned.

It was a similar scenario on the second drive when Williams ran stride for stride down the left sideline with Roddy White. The pass sailed close to the sideline, and White reacted by moving under it for a 21-yard catch. Williams once again never saw it.

When the regular season begins next month, Williams could look back at this game as a missed opportunity. The Ravens need to give Smith, a first-round pick from a year ago, a hard look with the first-team defense over the next three preseason games.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:
  • Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl receiver Roddy White will provide a good test for Baltimore Ravens first-round pick Jimmy Smith.
Morning take: This is a tough matchup for Smith before the regular season. White is big and physical, and these are the type of No. 1 receivers Smith was drafted to stop.
Morning take: Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski are locks to make the team. Dan LeFevour may be expendable if Cincinnati wants to use a roster spot on another position.
Morning take: Legursky is a blue-collar player who fits the Steelers well. Tony Hills had the first chance but didn't take advantage in the preseason.
  • Young players on the Cleveland Browns will try to impress against the Chicago Bears.
Morning take: The Browns are not a deep team. So I'm curious to see which young players step up and make the team for backup roles.

Steelers Week 3 preseason recap

August, 28, 2011
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The Pittsburgh Steelers were the last AFC North team to complete Week 3 of the preseason on Saturday night.

Here are some observations:

Steelers 34, Falcons 16

The Good
  • Receiver Antonio Brown continues to be Pittsburgh's star of the preseason. The second-year standout lit up Atlanta with four catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns. Brown's two scores were for 77 and 44 yards. Brown had a huge reception in last season's playoffs to help Pittsburgh beat the Baltimore Ravens. He is carrying that momentum and confidence into this season. After Saturday's stellar performance, Brown likely has the edge over veteran Jerricho Cotchery to become Pittsburgh's No. 3 receiver.
  • Pittsburgh backup cornerback Crezdon Butler showed playmaking ability against Atlanta. Butler returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter. Butler was also active. He led the Steelers with nine tackles and made a big impression. He could be one of Pittsburgh's top reserves in the secondary.
The Bad
  • Steelers backup quarterback Byron Leftwich broke his arm Saturday and reportedly could miss the entire season. Leftwich had a good chance to be Pittsburgh's No. 2 quarterback. Now, that job goes to Dennis Dixon and reduces his chance for a trade. The biggest goal of the preseason is to prevent injuries. Leftwich and top cornerback Ike Taylor (broken thumb) suffered big injuries in two of Pittsburgh's three preseason games.
  • Pittsburgh’s first-team defense gave up chunks of yards to Falcons No. 1 receiver Roddy White. He recorded eight receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers didn't make any significant upgrades to the secondary in the offseason and teams will continue to attack Pittsburgh through the air this season.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:
  • Will Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco play for the Atlanta Falcons next season?
Morning take: Interesting thought, because Bob Bratkowski is their new quarterbacks coach. But Atlanta has enough receivers and doesn't need to take in such a big personality.
  • Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome believes second-year defensive tackle Terrence Cody could be a breakout player.
Morning take: I expected more out of Cody as a rookie last year. He only recorded 13 tackles. But Cody is mammoth with good feet. So he should play a bigger role.
Morning take: Roethlisberger's size allows him to handle the blitz better than most quarterbacks. Roethlisberger should work on taking less punishment as he gets older, but his style has led to three Super Bowl appearances.
  • Who are the five most important Cleveland Browns next season?
Morning take: I have to agree quarterback Colt McCoy leads the way. The Browns will go as far as McCoy takes them next season. Many are skeptical, but Cleveland's coaches are showing a lot of confidence in McCoy.

Morning take: Lucky Steelers?

November, 29, 2010
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Here are the most interesting stories Monday in the AFC North: Morning take: Bills receiver Steve Johnson dropped a wide-open touchdown in overtime to allow the Steelers to pull it out. But a win is a win.
Morning take: The pass-interference call before halftime was questionable. But the Ravens have been on the short end of plenty of calls. Ask Roddy White.
Morning take: Expect a lot more questions at quarterback this week, as Delhomme's performance didn't silence many critics.
Morning take: The Bengals aren't very interesting now. But Cincinnati will be interesting in the offseason, when it likely makes major changes after a disappointing year.

Can anyone defend the pass?

November, 18, 2010
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William GayAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarWilliam Gay struggling in the secondary is just one reason Pittsburgh's pass defense has been vulnerable this season.
In one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory, one thing is clear in the AFC North: Pass defense is the division's Achilles' heel.

An 0-4 Week 10 highlighted the AFC North's secondary woes. Whether it was Tom Brady picking apart the Pittsburgh Steelers, Roddy White running circles around the Baltimore Ravens, or Santonio Holmes zipping by the Cleveland Browns in overtime, it was an ugly week for defensive backs in the division.

Can anything be done about the AFC North's flimsy pass defense? We teamed with Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson to diagnose the problem and offer some solutions.

Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)

Total defense: No. 9

Pass defense: No. 26

Scouts Inc.'s diagnosis: "All their cornerbacks are mid-round picks, and that's what they do. They bring in mid-round corners and spend first-round picks on other positions and groom them for a year or two. Pittsburgh's cornerbacks play a lot of 'off coverage,' and a team like New England can exploit that. The Patriots took what they gave them with short and intermediate passes, and it's a really bad fit for the Steelers. They've been successful giving you a lot of the smaller stuff. But what worries me is the pass rush has fallen off a little bit." --Williamson

AFC North blog's solution: Pittsburgh has by far the NFL's best run defense at 63.2 yards per game. At the beginning of the season, opponents were banging their heads against the wall trying to establish the run in the first half, and that played right into Pittsburgh's hands. Now teams have adjusted and determined it's better to throw for 5-7 yards on first and second down instead of trying to get it on the ground. This is where the Steelers have to adjust. More press coverage would help. Although that's not Pittsburgh's identity, mixing in cornerbacks playing closer to the line of scrimmage could reduce the short and intermediate passes against its defense. Also, taking a look at young cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and/or Crezdon Butler may not be a bad idea in sub packages, where William Gay has really struggled.

Baltimore Ravens (6-3)

Total defense: No. 10

Pass defense: No. 13

Scouts Inc.'s diagnosis: "They have very average corners, and I think they only have one pass-rusher. They need a LaMarr Woodley-James Harrison pairing. The Ravens have Terrell Suggs, but they don't have the other guy. They drafted Sergio Kindle and he got hurt, obviously. Baltimore has one pass-rusher who is very good, but you can take Suggs away by chipping him or keeping your better players on him. So, to me, they need either one better corner or a better pass-rusher. But with the combination Baltimore has now, it's going to be a liability." --Williamson

AFC North blog's solution: Don't be fooled by Baltimore's No. 13 ranking. The Ravens were No. 1 against the pass through the first several games, which is an indication of how much they are struggling. As Williamson mentioned, the Ravens are in a tough spot. Baltimore says it has four or five starting-caliber cornerbacks, but none is playing like a No. 1 corner. I don't like the musical chairs Baltimore is playing with Lardarius Webb, Fabian Washington, Josh Wilson and Chris Carr. The Ravens need to pick who they believe are their two best players and go with them. Being shuffled in and out of the lineup has seemingly thrown everyone off rhythm and perhaps made each cornerback unsure of his role in the defense. Suggs had his first multi-sack game of the season against the Atlanta Falcons, and that could go a long way to helping the pass rush. Getting safety Ed Reed 100 percent healthy as well will be a major boost. There is hope for this pass defense despite a midseason slump.

Cleveland Browns (3-6)

Total defense: No. 24

Pass defense: No. 23

Scouts Inc.'s diagnosis: "I think the Browns are a well-coached defense. They are physical in the front seven and obviously want to stop the run first. But the Joe Hadens of the world, and Eric Wright and T.J. Ward are working to get better. So I tend to think inexperience is the issue as opposed to these guys just can't get it done. In the case with Baltimore and the Steelers, and lately with the Browns, if you're going to game plan against these defenses, you're going to throw." --Williamson

AFC North blog's solution: Indeed, the blitz-heavy Browns are being tested through the air and giving up too many big pass plays. That is a major reason they are 3-6. Wright has been the biggest culprit and admitted as much to the media this week. But Cleveland plays hard on defense. The Browns' secondary simply needs experience and to avoid mistakes at the worst possible times, such as overtime last week against the New York Jets. Haden, Cleveland's first-round pick, is starting to improve, and it's time to insert him into the starting lineup permanently. With Sheldon Brown (shoulder) injured, Haden could start Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-7)

Total defense: No. 15

Pass defense: No. 12

Scouts Inc.'s diagnosis: "I think they're weak at safety, but they're very strong at corner. I also thought Adam Jones looked great when he played. It looked like he was coming back to form [before a season-ending neck injury]. But injuries have taken a toll, and the pass rush is worse than people even realize. I think that deserves a lot of blame. They don't have anybody exceeding expectations as a pass-rusher. I know Carlos Dunlap got a lot more snaps this past week, and it may be time to see what he has. For Michael Johnson and a lot of those young guys, it may be time to put those guys in." --Williamson

AFC North blog's solution: I have the least amount of worries about the Bengals' pass defense. It still has the highest rating in the division despite the worst pass rush. Health has been an issue, too. If cornerback Johnathan Joseph and veteran safety Chris Crocker can remain in the lineup the rest of the season, that's two starters who will provide stability. The pass rush looks pretty hopeless, and I don't see much potential to improve. With the exception of Dunlap, who is very raw, there isn't a natural pass-rusher on the Bengals' defense. That should be a major priority in next year's draft. Cincinnati showed signs of playing good pass defense last week against the Indianapolis Colts, and it needs to build off that. Colts quarterback Peyton Manning had some trouble against this secondary, and that's a good sign.

AFC North Week 10 decisive moment

November, 16, 2010
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NFC Decisive Moments: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Was it a push-off or a clean play?

According to most people who saw the Atlanta Falcons' 26-21 come-from-behind victory against the Baltimore Ravens, Falcons receiver Roddy White pushed Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson before making a 33-yard touchdown reception late in the fourth quarter. The game-winning play is the decisive moment for Week 10.

"Yeah, you've got to do whatever you've got to do to win," White admitted to reporters after the game. "It was one-on-one coverage with one guy. But he was kind of flat-footed, and he tried to grab me, so I just pushed him down."

No flag was thrown, despite Wilson's protests to officials. After the game, Wilson calmed down and was relatively low-key about the play.

"I was playing coverage, man, and I guess it's tough to play good coverage in this league," Wilson said. "I don't know. I can't call it."

Either way, both teams had a great showing and further confirmed the Falcons and Ravens are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. When two good teams play, it's often a very thin line between winning and losing, which the Ravens learned Thursday.

Morning take: Rob vs. Rex Ryan

November, 13, 2010
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Here are the most interesting stories Saturday in the AFC North:

  • According to Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, he will beat his brother, Rex Ryan, and the New York Jets Sunday.
Morning take: Cleveland is playing well, so this should be a good game. The Browns (3-5) have a chance to get one-step closer to .500.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Hines Ward says the team won't look ahead after a 6-2 start.
Morning take: Pittsburgh was 6-2 last year and crumbled to a 9-7 finish. Barring injuries, this year's team won't do the same.

  • Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White admits he "pushed down" Baltimore Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson for Thursday's game-winning touchdown.
Morning take: The Ravens got the short end but it's time to move on. I don't like to get too deep into officiating in the AFC North blog.
Morning take: Ochocinco thought the cleats would change his fortune, but it turned out he had his worst game (one catch, 15 yards) of the season. Not only that, he's out of $20,000.

Ravens' D lets Falcons 'off the hook'

November, 12, 2010
11/12/10
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Joe FlaccoAP Photo/John BazemoreJoe Flacco rallied the Ravens to a 21-20 lead with 1:05 left, but the defense couldn't hold.
ATLANTA -- Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed walked out of the locker room with a parting shot late Thursday night. With his luggage in hand, Reed, unprovoked, had a message for the media before exiting the Georgia Dome.

"We let them off the hook," Reed said loudly to make sure everyone could hear.

"We" was the Ravens' defense, which has been one of the most consistently dominant units of the past decade. "Them" was the Atlanta Falcons, who improved to 7-2 after an exciting -- and some would say controversial -- 26-21 victory over Baltimore (6-3). In what was viewed as a possible Super Bowl preview, neither team disappointed as each club held the lead in the final minute.

The difference was the Falcons' last drive, where they marched 80 yards in 45 seconds against a Ravens' defense that had snuffed out those scenarios many times before. A 33-yard touchdown catch by Falcons receiver Roddy White over Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson sealed the game for Atlanta.

Wilson argued vehemently with the referees that he was pushed by White, but no flag was thrown.

"I was playing coverage, man, and I guess it's tough to play good coverage in this league," said Wilson. "I don't know. I can't call it."

The Ravens have felt they were on the short end of calls or no-calls before. But the overriding theme in the locker room this time was that they missed chances to make key stops.

"They made the plays at the end and we didn't," Ravens cornerback Chris Carr said bluntly. "It was a very difficult loss. With our defense, we figured that we would stop them."

Here are some other observations from Baltimore's loss:

Ravens were slow starters: Baltimore made a valiant effort by scoring back-to-back touchdowns to overcome a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter. But a poor first half put the Ravens behind most of the game. Baltimore couldn't get anything going early and fumbled a punt return, which led to Atlanta taking a 10-0 halftime lead. Atlanta is extremely tough to beat at home, especially with the lead. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has an 18-1 record in the Georgia Dome.

"Anytime you give points away early, it's hard to come back and beat a team like that no matter how much you fight," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "They won the turnover battle [2-0]."

[+] EnlargeJosh Wilson
Dale Zanine/US PresswireJosh Wilson and the rest of the Ravens' cornerbacks struggled against Roddy White and the Falcons.
No-huddle trouble: This is a copycat league, and the three teams the Ravens have lost to this season have all used the no-huddle offense. Perhaps stealing a page from the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots, the Falcons began the game up-tempo with their version of the no-huddle and had success, taking a 10-0 lead early. The Falcons did a good job of using the no-huddle to keep personnel on the field for Baltimore. Atlanta spread out Baltimore with three and four receivers and took advantage of the Ravens' struggling cornerbacks, which we will get to next.

Cornerback is an issue: Cornerback was a weakness many anticipated for Baltimore entering the season. That wasn't the case early, but it's certainly true now. Wilson, Carr, Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington all had their bad moments. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was 32-of-50 for 316 yards, with three touchdowns and a 101.8 passer rating. The Ravens were doing a lot of rotating at cornerback. No one could contain White, who had 12 receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. A lot of attention will be put on Wilson's final play, but Atlanta had its way with Baltimore's pass defense throughout the game.

Third-down woes: Baltimore struggled on third down in the first two quarters on offense and all game on defense. Baltimore converted 1-of-4 third downs in the first half, but got better in the second, when the team was 5-of-7 and sparked the comeback. But defensively, the Falcons kept picking the Ravens apart on third down, going 12-of-20 (60 percent). Atlanta got 16 first downs via the pass.

"That's the key right there," Reed said. "Instead of us getting off the field, they converted when they had to. Against a good team, you can't do that."

Overall, the Ravens still left the Georgia Dome a confident team. There are some holes that need to be patched. But in defeat, Baltimore proved once again that it can play with any team in any stadium.

The Ravens have 10 days to rest and prepare for the lowly Carolina Panthers (1-7), a team Baltimore aims not to let "off the hook."

Ravens-Falcons halftime notes

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
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ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons lead the Baltimore Ravens, 10-0, at halftime.

Here are some notes at intermission:

  • Perhaps after watching film of Baltimore's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Falcons went primarily with a no-huddle offense in the first half with good results. Atlanta had most of its success in the second quarter, scoring all 10 points. Atlanta running back Jason Snelling caught a 28-yard touchdown on a defensive mix up by Baltimore. The Bengals handed the Ravens one of their two losses this season by using a no-huddle offense with some success.
  • The Ravens are losing a lopsided battle on third down. Offensively, they converted on just 1 of 4 third downs in the first half and their pass protection didn't give Joe Flacco much time. On defense, Atlanta is 8 of 12 on third down and that's been the difference in controlling the pace of the game.
  • The Ravens are doing a lot of rotating at cornerback. Josh Wilson started in place of Fabian Washington, but Washington eventually replaced starter Lardarius Webb late in the first quarter. Carr and Wilson then started a defensive stand in the second quarter. All four played in the first half. I’m not sure if the rotating cornerbacks are by design or if the Ravens are trying to get a feel for the best combination of players.
  • Overall it wasn't a good first half for Webb. He got beat by Falcons receiver Roddy White on several plays and also fumbled a punt return in the second quarter, which led to a field goal by Atlanta.

Five things to watch: Ravens vs. Falcons

November, 11, 2010
11/11/10
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Two of the NFL's best teams will meet Thursday night when the Baltimore Ravens (6-2) face the Atlanta Falcons (6-2).

Here are five things to watch from the Ravens:

1. Who controls the tempo? The Falcons want to force opponents into a track meet at the Georgia Dome. The Ravens prefer to be physical and grind it out. The team that controls the tempo should win. I've watched the Falcons twice in person this year against AFC North teams, and I noticed a significant difference when Atlanta controls the pace. The Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 frustrated Atlanta's offense by not giving up big plays in a 15-9 overtime win. The Cincinnati Bengals played right into Atlanta's hands in Week 7 and lost a shootout, 39-32.

2. Can Joe Flacco outduel Matt Ryan? This is a great matchup between the top two quarterbacks from the 2008 draft class. Ryan and Flacco were both taken in the first round and have turned around their franchises. Both have put up comparable numbers, with Ryan having a slight edge this season in passing yards (1,949 to 1,917), TD passes (13 to 12) and interceptions (5 to 6) . This is the first head-to-head meeting between them.

3. Will Baltimore's secondary contain Falcons receiver Roddy White? White is questionable with a knee injury, but according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, he is expected to play. White, who has 58 catches for 796 yards and five TDs, is one of the more dynamic receivers in the league. Baltimore's pass coverage has been shaky and there's some turnover at cornerback. Josh Wilson, acquired in a trade with the Seattle Seahawks, has been getting more playing time recently in place of Fabian Washington. Wilson is expected to start .

4. Can the Ravens improve in the red zone? Baltimore beat the Miami Dolphins last week pretty convincingly despite going just 1-for-7 in the red zone. A similar lack of production could hurt the Ravens against Atlanta's high-powered offense. The Ravens gained 402 yards against the Dolphins but struggled to execute inside the 20. It was a busy day for kicker Billy Cundiff, who made four field goals for Baltimore.

5. Will Ed Reed make a big play? Coming off offseason hip surgery, Reed has not lost his ability to make game-changing plays. He has three interceptions in two games. Against Atlanta, there will be plenty of opportunities for Reed to make an impact. The Falcons challenge defenses vertically, and Reed is usually Baltimore's last line of defense. Look out if Reed (49 career interceptions) gets the ball in his hands.

Morning take: Woodley, Adams updates

October, 29, 2010
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Here are the most interesting stories in the AFC North: Morning take: The Steelers need their best players against the reigning champion New Orleans Saints, so this is a good sign. Woodley's potential return also means fellow linebacker Lawrence Timmons can move back inside.
Morning take: This is one of the toughest things to do in the NFL. Baltimore is 3-2 in games decided by seven points or less, and continued improvement in this area would serve the Ravens well.
Morning take: Will Miami's passing game have a big day? Atlanta's Roddy White recently ran circles around Cincinnati's banged-up secondary.
Morning take: The Browns still have a long way to go. But it looks like Heckert's first draft led by cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J. Ward and quarterback Colt McCoy could be a solid one.
The Cincinnati Bengals suffered another blow to their secondary Tuesday. The team announced cornerback Adam Jones was placed on injured reserve with a herniated disc in his neck.

Jones suffered the injury in the second half of Cincinnati's 39-32 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons. Jones started in place of injured starter Johnathan Joseph, who missed the game with an ankle injury.

I talked to Joseph in the locker room after Sunday's game in Atlanta and he said he didn't feel right after testing the ankle before the game. There is a better chance of him playing Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (3-3) at home, and the Bengals (2-4) could certainly use him in this must-win game. Cincinnati gave up 201 yards to Falcons receiver Roddy White on Sunday.

Bengals too sloppy to be contenders

October, 24, 2010
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BengalsAP Photo/Dave MartinThe Bengals have plenty of talent on the roster but are missing a winning ingredient.
ATLANTA -- The Cincinnati Bengals have plenty of talent. They also showed heart and character by not folding after a terrible first half Sunday in their mind-numbing 39-32 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

But the Bengals lack a major ingredient and it could cost them their season: attention to detail.

Coming off their bye week, the Bengals (2-4) quickly fell behind by three touchdowns and committed silly mistakes throughout against Atlanta. Cincinnati had two weeks to prepare for this important game but often looked as though it skipped practice and merely showed up at the Georgia Dome. The Bengals made a run in the second half, outscoring Atlanta 29-15, but didn't have enough to overcome their sloppiness.

"It hurts," Bengals safety Chris Crocker said. "All year we've kind of hurt ourselves more than the other team. Going forward, that's what we will look at. You can't afford to beat yourself and beat the other team. That's too hard; teams are too good."

Here's a partial list of Sunday's painful errors:

  • The Bengals had 12 players on the field twice in the first half -- once on offense and once on defense. That's inexcusable for an NFL team, especially one with playoff aspirations and two weeks to prepare. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis took the blame for the offensive penalty but seemed more upset the defense got the same flag coming out of a timeout. "We can't have that," Lewis said.
  • The Bengals, whose tackling and execution on defense were awful, gave up a season high for yards (452) as well as points. Falcons receiver Roddy White had 11 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and tailback Michael Turner rushed for 121 yards and two more touchdowns. The Bengals were ranked No. 4 overall in total defense a year ago and returned many of the same players, but they haven’t come close to matching the play of the 2009 unit.
  • After the game, Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer talked about miscommunication and receivers running wrong routes. For example, on a no-huddle play, Chad Ochocinco cut his route short and Palmer threw about 20 yards too deep. The offense didn't seem on the same page until the second half. "When you're making mental mistakes, you're not in the right place, you got too many guys on the field -- whatever it may be -- the only way to overcome things like that is to keep working," Palmer said. "We have to keep trying to figure out how not to let those things happen."
  • Cincinnati offensive tackle Andre Smith, the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft, didn't know the snap count twice and had two costly false start penalties. The Bengals had seven penalties total.
  • With Cincinnati trying to rally with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, tailback Cedric Benson fumbled untouched at Atlanta's 40 while trying to make a move on the defender. That was the last legitimate chance the Bengals had for a comeback.

The Bengals also didn't win enough one-on-one matchups, particularly on defense. Each detail is minor until it snowballs, and that's when it becomes a major issue.

The Bengals have been dealing with these problems for more than a year, but this season it's costing them games. With the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1) and Baltimore Ravens (5-2) running away in the AFC North division, the Bengals can't afford more losses. For Cincinnati to go 10-6 with a good shot at the postseason, it must go 8-2 the rest of the way against a tough first-place schedule. In Weeks 8 and 9, the Bengals play host to the Miami Dolphins (3-3) and Steelers.

"I know a lot of people around us, if they haven't given up yet, they're about to give up on us," Palmer said. "We're not going to do that. ... We expect to be written off, but we're not going to write ourselves off."

Cincinnati, one of the league's biggest disappointments, has playoff-caliber talent but too often executes like a five-win team. So who do you blame and how do you fix it? Is it the fault of the coaching staff? Are penalties and lack of execution on the players or a combination of both?

"I have no idea," said Ochocinco, one of many players in a sullen locker room who didn't have answers.

Cincinnati, just 3-8 in its past 11 games, hasn't had back-to-back winning seasons in 28 years. Barring a sudden turnaround, that streak will continue ... all because the Bengals don't take care of the little things.

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