AFC North: Temple Owls

Catching the Temple Owls

March, 19, 2010
We interrupt this regularly scheduled NFL program for a quick announcement.

The Temple Owls are playing Cornell at 12:30 p.m. in the first round of the NCAA tournament. I'm already predicting my alma mater advancing to the next round. So feel free to make fun in the blog if I'm not correct.

Either way, I'm checking it out. Maybe you should, too.

Walker's weekend mailbag

December, 19, 2009
Let's see what's on the minds of AFC North readers.

Dan Finnegan from Bremerton, Wash., wants to know if the Pittsburgh Steelers "got tired" down the stretch after a long run in 2008.

James Walker: I believe the Steelers are more mentally fatigued than anything, Dan. The pressure of defending a Super Bowl title is immense. There are expectations internally and externally, and every team is giving its best effort against you every week. That's why very few teams win back-to-back titles. Physically, injuries to safety Troy Polamalu and defensive end Aaron Smith definitely hurt. But in terms of sheer numbers, Pittsburgh had more players banged up last year.

Lee from Philadelphia writes: Fellow Marylander/Temple Owl here. After the Ravens' passing game totally collapsed at Green Bay and the running game exploded vs. Detroit, do you think the Ravens are headed back to a run-first offense for their playoff push? Go Owls in the EagleBank Bowl!

Walker: Always nice to hear from a fellow Owl, Lee. Temple basketball got back on the map with a big win over Villanova last weekend. I expect the Ravens to continue to get closer to last year's formula that worked so well, which is pound the football, play defense and make big passing plays when needed. The Ravens got a little pass-happy at times when they realized quarterback Joe Flacco was making good strides in his second year. Suddenly Baltimore was throwing 30 and sometimes 40 times a game until Flacco experienced growing pains. I think Flacco's three-interception performance against the Packers woke up the coaching staff to some degree.

RuiBoAn from Beijing, China, wants to know if Ray Rice continues his current production and the Ravens make the playoffs, should he get MVP?

Walker: It’s also good to hear from the AFC North blog's international readers. Barring injury, Rice will probably get 2,000 total yards from scrimmage. So I'm all for sending Rice to the Pro Bowl. But I wouldn't go as far as to give him the MVP award. There are a lot of good candidates on teams with much better records.

Zach from Chillicothe, Ohio, writes: JW, in [last] weekend's mailbag you said there weren't any comments by Cincinnati Bengals fans this past offseason, but I challenge you to go back and look at the articles you've written.

Walker: I was just joking for the most part, Zach. There were Bengals fans commenting on their team this offseason. But it is fair to point out that "Bengaldom" has appeared and disappeared on this blog more in the past two seasons than any other fan base.

Kovacs from Santa Monica wants to know what a strong finish by the Cleveland Browns (2-11) would mean down the stretch.

Walker: A strong finish would mean the most for Cleveland's quarterback and head coach, Kovacs. Brady Quinn and Eric Mangini have the most to prove in these final three games. Quinn needs to continue to show that he can be the quarterback of the future, while Mangini needs to prove to Browns owner Randy Lerner and the future head of football operations (Mike Holmgren?) that he deserves to be the coach in 2010. The win over the Steelers definitely helps in both cases. But it wouldn't mean as much if the team went backwards from there.
Posted by’s James Walker

It’s been an interesting season in the AFC North so far as three teams remain close together in the division race.

With that said, let’s see what’s in the weekend mailbag.

Mike from Boston, MA wants to know which AFC North quarterback is having the best season so far?

James Walker: Good question, Mike, because Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Joe Flacco are all playing great this season. But of the trio, I’d give Roethlisberger this edge. His 72.5 completion percentage is off the charts. Roethlisberger is seeing the field really well right now and kudos also go to his pass protection, which is improving every week. Flacco and Palmer also deserve more publicity, too, as it should be a crowded quarterback field in the AFC for this year’s Pro Bowl.

Mike T from Pittsburgh, PA writes: James, I'm a bit surprised to see you question the fourth-down measurement call in the Steelers-Browns game. The refs were right there looking down at the ball. What's the chances they'd all get the call wrong?

James Walker: Referees miss calls all the time, Mike, and I stand by my opinion that this was a blown call. I was at the game live and watched the game again on tape this week and clearly saw distance between the ball and the marker. I understand possible confusion with television angles and all that, but I wasn’t on the field. The replay is the best option I have to make that determination. It didn’t impact the outcome of the game, so it’s time to move on.

Geoff C from Galway, Ireland wants to know about all the other bad calls that went against the Steelers.

James Walker: There’s no point in debating every call, Geoff. We can do that every week in the AFC North blog if we wanted to, especially with some of the recent Baltimore Ravens games. But overall the Cleveland-Pittsburgh game wasn’t well officiated, in my opinion, and the most obvious call to point out was the fourth-down conversion. Rashard Mendenhall’s fumble was extremely close. There was also a spotting issue after Ryan Clark’s interception in the second half. Overall it may have been a mistake to open the discussion on officiating. It’s a league-wide issue, not an AFC North issue. At least the NFL can’t fine me for my comments.

Dan from Johnstown wants to know if the Browns will trade Brady Quinn in the offseason.

James Walker: I think it’s going to be open season for the Browns in the offseason where very few players are safe. It’s my understanding that return specialist Joshua Cribbs isn’t going anywhere. I also have a gut feeling defensive tackle Shaun Rogers could stick on defense as well. But beyond that, the Browns will listen to offers involving their players, especially if it includes 2010 draft picks. Cleveland didn’t have interest in trading Quinn last offseason, but I doubt he is still untouchable for the right price barring a miraculous turnaround in these final 10 games.

Greg from Philly writes: Hey James, I know you are an NFL guy. But as a fellow Temple alum, you got to be excited to see those Temple Owls at 4-2.

James Walker: It's always good to hear from a fellow Owl, Greg. Temple has a good chance this year to win the Mid-American Conference, which is significant progress from when I was on campus. Depending on my work schedule, I'm thinking about attending the Nov. 13 game at Akron since it’s nearby.

Ed Verbus from Simi Valley, CA writes: You can take this to the bank: The Steelers and Ravens are the cream of the crop in this division. This mirage called the Bungles won't last.

James Walker: OK, Ed. I’ll mark it down as a potential "Remember last year/offseason" candidate.

Markiyan from Kiev, Ukraine wants to know why Steelers receiver Hines Ward keeps showing up on the injury report as "non injury."

James Walker: What’s up, Markiyan? Ward is healthy. But he is given Wednesdays off by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin as a way to preserve the 12-year veteran for Sundays. Ward only practices on Thursday and Friday’s walkthrough during the regular season, because Tomlin feels Ward doesn’t need the physical pounding to know his assignments on game day. Ward often credits Tomlin’s decision for extending his career.

(Editor’s note: I'm aware of reader complaints sent to our AFC North inbox about trouble posting comments, and I sent a note to the appropriate people. Let me know in a few days if the situation improves.)