AFC North: Tennessee Titans

Countdown Live: Steelers-Titans

October, 11, 2012
Join our NFL experts as they break down the AFC matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8:25 p.m. ET. See you there.

PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 16-14 win over the Philadelphia Eagles:

What it means: The Steelers avoided their first 1-3 start under Mike Tomlin with a sloppy yet dramatic win over the Eagles. Shaun Suisham's 34-yard field goal as the game expired helped Pittsburgh improve to 2-2 and keep pace with the Ravens. Ben Roethlisberger led a 14-play, 64-yard winning drive in the fourth quarter, which came after Philadelphia took its first lead of the game. The Steelers are 5-1 under Tomlin following a bye and have won five straight home games.

Roethlisberger comes up big: Roethlisberger carried the Steelers once again and led them on a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive. He completed 4 of 5 passes for 50 yards. His biggest play was converting a third-and-12 with a 20-yard pass to Antonio Brown.

Mendenhall makes his mark: Running back Rashard Mendenhall made an impact in his first game since ACL surgery in January. He jump-started one of the worst offenses in the NFL with 81 yards on 14 carries. He scored the Steelers' only touchdown on a 13-yard run (off a Roethlisberger lateral).

Not making the stop: The Eagles took their first lead of the game in the fourth quarter because the Pittsburgh defense couldn't make the critical stop. The Steelers allowed Philadelphia to convert twice on fourth-and-short and gave up the 2-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek on third-and-goal.

Receivers don't step up: The Steelers had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown on their final drive of the first half. Brown dropped a pass in the end zone, and Jerricho Cotchery stumbled after making a catch and fell 2 yards short of the goal line. A drop by Mike Wallace on third down ended a drive in the third quarter.

Penalties haunt defense: With the Steelers ahead 10-0 in the third quarter, the defense helped the Eagles score their first touchdown with two 15-yard penalties that were critical in the 80-yard drive. Ryan Clark was flagged for unnecessary roughness, and Ryan Mundy was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Not cashing in: The Steelers' defense got turnovers early, but the offense failed to capitalize. Pittsburgh scored no points off two Michael Vick fumbles, although one in the red zone stopped the Eagles from scoring. The Steelers had only three takeaways entering this game.

Injuries continue to hurt Steelers: Safety Troy Polamalu left in the first quarter after reinjuring his calf, and linebacker LaMarr Woodley later went out with an injured hamstring. Neither returned. Polamalu missed the previous two games with a calf injury, and Woodley was sidelined six games last year with a hamstring injury.

What's next: After getting a bye in Week 4, the Steelers play their second game in five days when they visit the Tennessee Titans.
Adam Jones' first words at this month's rookie symposium should be: Do as I say, not as I do. In fact, do the opposite.

The Bengals' cornerback is scheduled to address the league's newest players in 11 days, and the NFL couldn't have gotten a better speaker to talk about the wrong way to start a professional career. It's up to the rookies to follow his advice and not his path.

In five seasons in the NFL, Jones has been arrested seven times (but never convicted), has had at least a dozen run-ins with the police and has been suspended by the league for 22 games. He tried to ditch the nickname "Pacman" four years ago, but his bad-boy reputation will remain with him for the rest of his career. You only need to Google "Make it rain" and "Pacman" to see how actions can ruin an image. If you need a refresher on his troubled past, a good read on Jones is a 2009 piece by ESPN's John Barr.

He's lucky to still be in the league, although his mistakes forced a cameo appearance in the CFL, and he has to use this opportunity to educate rookies.

"What you do on the field, what you do off the field, it's all a reflection of you," Jones told the Bengals' official website.

Jones' latest legal trouble came in January when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. A second misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest was dismissed in a plea agreement with prosecutors.

But, by all accounts, Jones has been the consummate teammate. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer repeatedly said last year how Jones has bought "all-in" to what the team is trying to do. Special teams coach Darrin Simmons said last year that Jones is "a focused guy right now. He wants to do it for everybody else. He doesn't want to do it for himself."

Jones' talk to the rookies is another step in that direction.
PITTSBURGH -- Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 38-17 win against the Tennessee Titans:

What it means: The early demise of the Steelers has been greatly exaggerated. After getting pushed around by Houston last week, Pittsburgh was the bully on the field against a Titans team that had convincing wins over two AFC North teams (Baltimore and Cleveland). It didn't matter that four starters were sidelined (nose tackle Casey Hampton, linebacker James Harrison, defensive end Aaron Smith and left guard Chris Kemoeatu), their starting running back (Rashard Mendenhall) didn't get on the field because of a hamstring injury and their starting quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) played with a sprained foot.

Thumbs up: The Steelers' maligned offensive line. Pittsburgh opened up big holes for its backup running backs, including an especially big one that sprung Jonathan Dwyer for 76 yards. The line also protected its hurt quarterback, even though Roethlisberger did get the ball away quicker Sunday. On the touchdown pass to Heath Miller, Roethlisberger had time to pump and look to his left before finding the tight end over the middle.

Delivering some pain: Despite playing with specialized footwear for his sprained left foot, Roethlisberger had one of the best games of his career, throwing five touchdowns. It marked the fourth time in Roethlisberger's career that he had at least four touchdown passes in a game. He had only three touchdown passes in the four games before the injury.

Capitalizing on "special" play early: A 52-yard kickoff return from Antonio Brown set up the Steelers' first touchdown, and a 33-yard pass from punter Daniel Sepulveda on a fake at midfield led to Pittsburgh's second touchdown. But the Steelers' special teams tried to give that lead back in the second half after failing to recover an onside kick and getting a punt blocked.

Timely takeaway: Speaking of that onside kick, the Steelers' defense didn't let the Titans keep the momentum. On the next play, Brett Keisel deflected Matt Hasselbeck's pass with his right hand and LaMarr Woodley made the interception. It was just the second turnover forced by the Steelers this season.

What's next: The Steelers stay at home to face the Jacksonville Jaguars. IllustrationPittsburgh's Troy Polamalu (43) and Baltimore's Ed Reed (20) were the consensus top picks in the safety Power Rankings.'s NFL writers rank the top 10 safeties in the league today. Next week: top 10 owners.

When it comes to rating NFL safeties, there's Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed followed by a huge gap before everyone else.

As expected, the star safeties for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens dominated's positional Power Rankings this week. No other safety received a vote higher than third place.

But what is surprising is that Polamalu -- the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- became the first player in this year's series to sweep all eight first-place votes. Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots did the same among head coaches.

This should finally put to rest the "Troy Reed" debate that has been raging for years between these two great safeties. According to our panel, there is a clear separation between the two. Reed received all second-place votes to finish with 72 points.

"Polamalu and Reed are the secondary's version of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. They are the gold standard of safety play," AFC West blogger Bill Williamson said. "While Reed is great, Polamalu is stunning. I've never seen him play and not make a jaw-dropping play."

Both safeties have different styles. But our panel preferred Polamalu's versatility to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau uses Polamalu all over the field to help defend both the run and the pass.

Reed is more of a ballhawking safety who defends the deep portion of the field. He led the NFL with eight interceptions last season despite missing six games because of offseason hip surgery.

"Taking nothing away from Ed Reed, who is a great player in his own right, but Troy Polamalu is the first guy I think of when I think of safeties," NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas said. "He's been a huge force in Pittsburgh's recent championships. He's just a great all-around player and still in the prime of a career that's going to land him in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot."

Don't fret, Reed supporters. Someone is in your corner.

Earlier this year I interviewed former five-time Pro Bowl safety and current ESPN analyst Darren Woodson, who said he would choose Reed over Polamalu.

"As far as changing the game, I would probably start my defense with Ed Reed, to be honest with you," Woodson explained. "I know I can put him in any situation. I know I can put him on any team, and he will be the free safety in the middle of the field who makes plays on the ball. Now, Troy, it will be a little different. If you put him in a conventional defense, he's probably not going to be the same guy."

The best of the rest: There wasn't much of a consensus after Polamalu and Reed.

Fresh off a big interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV, Nick Collins of the Green Bay Packers finished third with 56 points. But Collins received votes as high as third and as low as seventh. He was a distant 24 points behind Polamalu and 16 points behind Reed.

Adrian Wilson of the Arizona Cardinals finished fourth, but he drew the widest range of votes among safeties in the top 10. senior writer John Clayton and Bill Williamson ranked Wilson No. 3, and NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert ranked Wilson No. 10.

In the final tally, Kansas City Chiefs upstart Eric Berry was fifth, Michael Griffin of the Tennessee Titans placed sixth and Donte Whitner of the Buffalo Bills finished seventh. New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather was eighth, Antrel Rolle of the New York Giants was ninth and the Indianapolis Colts' Antoine Bethea and LaRon Landry of the Washington Redskins tied for 10th.

"There is a pretty wide gap for sure after the top two," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "Nick Collins would be my third safety, but the gap is pretty large. I think it is because Troy and Reed are just so good."

Seventeen safeties received votes, which was the second-highest total to date in our Power Rankings. Last month, 23 cornerbacks received votes for our top 10.

In addition, every voter had at least one player on his ballot who failed to make the cut. For example, NFC West blogger Mike Sando and I both voted for longtime St. Louis Rams safety and current Redskin Oshiomogho Atogwe, who finished 14th.

"I really struggled putting together the list after Polamalu and Reed," Sando said. "I kept shuffling around names and eliminating various guys, only to revive them out of necessity. This wasn't a list to feel good about."

What about Bob? It was not long ago when Bob Sanders was mentioned in the same sentence as Reed and Polamalu. When healthy, Sanders was a game-changing safety and helped lead the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl title after the 2006 season.

But for the past three seasons, Sanders has been injured and spent more time off the field than on it. The Colts cut Sanders, and he was picked up this offseason by the San Diego Chargers.

It's dramatic how fast and how far Sanders has fallen out of the conversation. He didn't receive a single vote from our panel.

"Sanders just hasn't played," AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky explained. "In his prime and healthy, he's fantastic. But who knows if we will see that again. He's played nine games in the last three years. There is no reason to even consider him for a list like this at this point."

The next generation: Polamalu (30) and Reed (32) will not play forever. Therefore, someone needs to step up as the next great safety to carry the torch Polamalu and Reed will leave behind.

Berry, 22, is the most likely candidate. The 2010 first-round pick was voted in the top five after helping lead the Chiefs to the postseason. Berry recorded 92 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions his rookie season.

"I think it's safe to project that Berry will be the premier safety in the NFL in the second half of this decade," Bill Williamson said. "He became the signature player on a surprise playoff team as a rookie. Soon, he will be the face of a rising organization."

Other up-and-coming candidates include Whitner (25), Bethea (26) and Landry (26). Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, 21, also garnered votes from two panelists.

"Eric Berry and Earl Thomas should lead the next wave of top safeties," Sando said. "Berry's peers voted him among the top 100 players in the game for 2011, but I think it's premature to say Berry or any other second-year player is going to become the next Polamalu or Reed. Those guys have set such a high standard."

The Cleveland Browns have made it no secret they are willing to listen to trade offers for the No. 6 overall pick. The team has several holes to fill and would consider sliding down the first round for the right price.

But chances are one of the top two quarterbacks -- Auburn's Cam Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert -- would have to fall out of the top five to make this happen. Quarterback is the one position that gets teams most antsy to trade up. The Baltimore Ravens' deal last year with the Denver Broncos for Tim Tebow is the most recent example.

So who are possible trade partners for Cleveland this year? Let's take a look.

Tennessee Titans

Pick: No. 8 overall

Analysis: The Titans are in a pretty good spot if one of the top quarterbacks slides in this draft. Therefore, they could sit and take their chances at No. 8. But with the threat of other teams willing to move ahead, taking matters into their own hands also is an option for the Titans. The San Francisco 49ers could be a sleeper team looking for a quarterback at No. 7 as well, although they have been singing the praises of Alex Smith this offseason. With Vince Young and Kerry Collins not expected to return, Tennessee has to add someone at quarterback either via the draft or free agency.

Washington Redskins

Pick: No. 10

Analysis: The Redskins are expected to let go of Donovan McNabb once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. So if Gabbert or Newton starts to fall within reach, look out. Washington is known to trade its draft picks to acquire talent, but usually it's for veteran players. But the point is the Redskins are not afraid to part ways with valuable selections to get a player they really want. Meanwhile, the Browns could gain extra picks and still draft a top-10 player on their board.

Minnesota Vikings

Pick: No. 12

Analysis: The Vikings are a veteran team and they are desperate, which is why I think Minnesota is the most likely of this group to trade up to land a quarterback. Minnesota has a lot of good pieces in place on offense and defense. Just two years ago this team was in the NFC title game. But last year proved that without good quarterback play, the Vikings are limited. Starter Brett Favre is retiring, leaving the unproven Joe Webb as the main option right now in Minnesota.

Miami Dolphins

Pick: No. 15 overall

Analysis: The Dolphins also are searching for a quarterback, but they are less likely to be a trade partner than the other aforementioned teams. For starters, Miami doesn't have a second-round pick. That means the Dolphins probably can't offer the Browns enough to trade up, especially since the Dolphins are at No. 15 and have the longest way to go. Also, Miami appears content with targeting second-tier quarterbacks like Arkansas' Ryan Mallett, who should be available in the middle of the first round or later.
Newton, Kolb & Mallett US PresswireCam Newton, Kevin Kolb and Ryan Mallett could be attractive candidates to succeed Carson Palmer.
Thanks to Carson Palmer, there is a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Cincinnati Bengals. Cincinnati's $100 million quarterback wants out in the worst way and has threatened to retire if he doesn't get his wish.

Palmer's stern demands have put the Bengals in a huge bind this offseason, as the franchise now scrambles to find contingency plans in the event Palmer stays true to his word. Not only that, Cincinnati is coming off a disappointing 4-12 season and has plenty of needs throughout its roster.

Bengals ownership has held firm in saying it will not trade Palmer, leaving both parties at a stalemate. But there are many wrinkles to this saga that have yet to unfold.

With that in mind, here are five questions and answers on Cincinnati's quarterback issue:

Question No. 1: Who is currently on the roster?

Answer: For years, the Bengals have put off drafting an eventual successor at quarterback, and the team is now paying for it with Palmer's surprising threat to retire. Cincinnati's in-house options aren't very good. Carson Palmer's younger brother, Jordan Palmer, is the No. 2 quarterback on the roster. The four-year veteran has seen limited action in four career games and has a 34.4 passer rating. Jordan Palmer is trying to take a leadership role in Cincinnati and rally the receivers to work out together in the offseason. Second-year quarterback Dan LeFevour, No. 3 on the depth chart, is unproven. The Bengals picked up LeFevour off waivers from the Chicago Bears as a rookie last September. Neither quarterback is starting material and it would be surprising if Cincinnati starts next season with either player under center.

Question No. 2: What is available via trade or through free agency?

[+] EnlargeRyan Fitzpatrick
Frank Victores/US Presswire Ryan Fitzpatrick could be a possibility for the Bengals in the free-agent market.
Answer: Although the Bengals traditionally aren't major players in free agency or the trade market, Cincinnati must an exception if the team wants an experienced quarterback to replace Palmer. As far as trades, Kevin Kolb of the Philadelphia Eagles would be a solid fit for the Bengals. He's young, has some starting experience and is well-versed in the West Coast offense, which Cincinnati is implementing under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Kolb is a backup in Philadelphia to Michael Vick, who was an MVP candidate last season. So for the right price, the Eagles could listen. Other options include Vince Young of the Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb, who are both on the outs with their teams. The Titans, in fact, could be a good landing spot for Palmer if the Bengals are willing to move him. (We will get to that later.) The free-agent market is thinner. But an interesting option, at least in the short term, could be Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo has expressed interest in re-signing Fitzpatrick (3,000 yards, 23 touchdowns) after a career year. But the Bills are also could draft their long-term solution at quarterback with the No. 3 overall pick. Fitzpatrick was Palmer's backup in Cincinnati in 2008.

Question No. 3: Who is available in the draft?

Answer: This is the safest route for the Bengals to grab "Palmer insurance." With labor uncertainty, there will no be trades or player movement until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. But there is guaranteed to be an NFL draft at the end of April. Cincinnati would be wise to grab one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. The Bengals have the No. 4 overall pick and could have a shot at top quarterback prospects Cam Newton of Auburn and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. But investing such a high pick at quarterback when the team is still unsure about Palmer's future may not be the best route. A quality prospect at the position likely would be available at the top of the second round. Quarterbacks such as Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, Christian Ponder of Florida State and Andy Dalton of TCU could be possibilities there. Mallett showed great throwing ability at the combine but has some off-the-field concerns. But the Bengals have typically gone after those types of players in the past.

Question No. 4: What is Palmer's trade value?

Answer: Palmer is a 31-year-old quarterback whose best years are behind him, but he still has value. He put up a lot of yards (3,970) but not a lot of wins (four) last season. He also tied a career high with 20 interceptions, although some were the result of receivers freelancing and running their own routes. When looking at trade value, you have to examine recent examples. Last year the Eagles traded McNabb to Washington for a second-round pick and a future third- or fourth-round pick, which was conditional. This type of deal seems on par with what the Bengals could receive. Teams just don't give up first-round picks anymore because they're too valuable. So for a veteran such as Palmer, the Bengals could probably land a second-rounder and another pick or two in the middle rounds. Cincinnati also wouldn't have to worry about the $50 million owed to Palmer over the next years. If the Bengals try to call Palmer's bluff and he retires, they get nothing.

Question No. 5: Which teams are potential trade partners?

Answer: Palmer still has a few good years left and could be a solid quarterback in a winning situation. About a third of the league has questions at quarterback. But that doesn't mean every team is a good fit for Palmer. He doesn't want to be part of another long rebuilding process, which is what's going on in Cincinnati. So the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders would be ideal landing spots for Palmer, who could be the missing piece to turning these teams into playoff contenders. Other teams with quarterback needs, such as Buffalo and the Arizona Cardinals, have a lot more work to do and are in the same spot as Cincinnati. So Palmer probably would be less interested. All of this is contingent, of course, on the Bengals' willingness to trade Palmer.

Considering all of these factors, Palmer vs. the Bengals is undoubtedly a must-watch situation this offseason.

Season of coaching change in AFC North

February, 24, 2011
 Pat Shurmur and Jay Gruden AP PhotoPat Shurmur, left, and Jay Gruden are two of the new faces in the AFC North.
The offseason has just begun, but the coaching carousel has been spinning for all four teams in the AFC North.

Often the struggling teams make significant coaching changes, and that was the case with the Cincinnati Bengals (4-12) and Cleveland Browns (5-11). But playoff teams like the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) and even the Super Bowl runner-up Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) also experienced some turnover on their staff.

Here is a look at each change and what it means for the division:

Cleveland Browns

In: Head coach Pat Shurmur, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and a new staff.

Out: Former head coach Eric Mangini, former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

What happened? Mangini entered this past season on the hot seat and went 5-11 for the second consecutive year. There were a lot of philosophical differences between Mangini and Browns president Mike Holmgren. So when the team wasn't winning, it made for an easy decision to go in a different direction. Enter Shurmur, who was a surprise hire for Cleveland. Shurmur has no prior head-coaching experience and wasn't on the radar of other teams. The Browns have pretty much cleaned house and hired a new staff, which includes Jauron and veteran defensive assistant Ray Rhodes.

Analysis: Last year, Holmgren was dumbfounded by some of the things the Browns were doing, particularly on offense. But Holmgren and Shurmur share many of the same views, which will give Holmgren more say in what goes on, and I think being on the same page is important for any team. The Browns are one of the few teams this year that will change both their offense and defense. Cleveland will go to a West Coast offense under Shurmur, who did not hire an offensive coordinator and will call the plays. The Browns also will switch to a 4-3 defense, which is something they haven't run since 2004. Shurmur is taking on a lot of responsibility as a rookie head coach and de facto offensive coordinator, which raises some concerns. Cleveland hopes veteran coaches like Jauron and Rhodes will take care of the defense, giving Shurmur one less thing to worry about. In terms of personnel, the Browns have a lot of work to do. They need better receivers on offense if they plan to pass more and playmakers at defensive end to run a 4-3 scheme.

Cincinnati Bengals

In: Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, receivers coach James Urban.

Out: Former offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, former receivers coach Mike Sheppard.

What happened? Changes were inevitable for Cincinnati's coaching staff this season. There was a lot of unrest among players internally who didn't like the scheme on offense. The Bengals entered the season with playoff aspirations but had an abysmal four-win campaign. Quarterback Carson Palmer was so unhappy that he demanded a trade after the season. Receivers Terrell Owens publicly criticized the coaching staff several times and starting tailback Cedric Benson said he was not returning if Bratkowski was still the offensive coordinator. Bratkowski was let go and later hired by the Atlanta Falcons, and Sheppard went to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Gruden, a former UFL head coach and the brother of former NFL coach Jon Gruden, was hired as offensive coordinator, and Urban was hired as receivers coach from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Analysis: Cincinnati will be the second team in the division implementing a West Coast offense. Gruden also says he wants to make sure Cincinnati has a power running game, which is needed in this division. When the Bengals were at their best in 2009, they ran the football effectively and played tough defense. Cincinnati went away from that last year and had an awful season. How Gruden's offense translates from the UFL to the NFL remains to be seen. Cincinnati also has to handle a lot of personnel issues. Will Palmer retire? If so, who will be the new quarterback? Should the team trade Chad Ochocinco? Will Benson return? Cincinnati will have a very busy offseason trying to figure out these questions before putting together its new offense.

(Read full post)

Eric the UFL?

February, 18, 2011
Here is one out of leftfield.

The UFL's Hartford Colonials are "interested" in former Cleveland Browns head coach Eric Mangini to replace another former Browns coach, Chris Palmer. Palmer recently became offensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.

"He is one of the people we would hope to talk to," Colonials owner Bill Mayer said of Mangini this week. "What comes out of that, I don't know. I've been looking at our Facebook site, and it certainly has generated a lot of conversation. He's a Connecticut native and he's had experience. Whether we end up doing anything with him or not, we haven't sat down yet, so it’s not at all clear whether this timing would work for him.

"That doesn’t mean we're in negotiations or that he's going to be the next coach, but he's certainly on the list."

Don't look for this to happen, folks.

Mangini still has two years left on his contract with the Browns and will make millions of dollars from it. Therefore, I doubt we will see Mangini on the sidelines this upcoming season, especially if it's not in the NFL. The only reason this is news is because a UFL owner publicly threw out the bait in the event Mangini would be interested.

Mangini has already participated in television analysis and discussed a consultant job with the Miami Dolphins since being let go by Cleveland in January. He can stay active in football in various ways, while still getting the rest of his money from the Browns without dabbling in the minor leagues.
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey has a broken bone in his ankle and is "highly doubtful" for the Super Bowl.
Morning take: Pouncey didn't look good after the game, despite the team not officially ruling him out. Backup Doug Legursky appears to be the next man up.
Morning take: Lewis signed a two-year extension, which means he likely will reach a full decade in Cincinnati.
Morning take: Baltimore needs help for Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs. If the Ravens can get another terror on the opposite end, that could spell trouble for opponents.
  • Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar is looking for an NFL coaching gig.
Morning take: Kosar spent time in the Browns organization but now is looking elsewhere. There's even speculation he could land in Cincinnati in some capacity.

AFC North evening links

November, 3, 2010
Here is an update on the latest happenings Wednesday evening in the AFC North:

Seven-step drop: Losing Aaron Smith

October, 25, 2010
Here are seven notes and observations from Week 7:
    [+] EnlargeSmith
    AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThe Steelers could be vulnerable against the run without defensive end Aaron Smith.

  • Lost in the Pittsburgh Steelers' controversial win against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday was the probable season-ending triceps injury to Aaron Smith. This is a huge blow to Pittsburgh (5-1), because Smith is the prototype 3-4 defensive end and one of the biggest leaders in the locker room. This could be the second straight season-ending injury for Smith, who has been one of the NFL's most underrated players. The Steelers are very hard to run against when Smith is healthy, but the defense suffers mightily when he's out. Defensive end Brett Keisel (hamstring) is also banged up, making it possible that Pittsburgh will start backups Ziggy Hood and Nick Eason this week against the reigning champion New Orleans Saints. Hood, a 2009 first-round pick, must grow up fast for the Steelers.
  • Although they narrowly escaped Miami, the Steelers are now tied with the New York Jets, Tennessee Titans and Dolphins for the NFL's best road record at 3-0. All three of these teams are physical and play a consistent style, home and away. Pittsburgh must continue its road success; four of its next six games are away from Heinz Field.
  • Here is a suggestion for the Cincinnati Bengals: It's time to hold a players-only meeting. The Bengals' season is on the brink after a 2-4 start, and there are so many leaks in this sinking ship that players need to talk it out amongst each other without coaches around and demand everyone look in the mirror to figure out how to improve. Cincinnati's issue isn't with one player or one position or one side of the football. It's been a team-wide failing with different culprits, including coaching.
  • It's officially time to wonder if too many offseason activities negatively impacted Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco. I've had this theory for a couple weeks, but wanted to be fair to Ochocinco and allow enough time and games to be played before I brought it up. Ochocinco had two nationally televised shows in the offseason and another just starting with teammate Terrell Owens that airs on Tuesdays. Ochocinco received a lot of press and knew he would get heat if he struggled this season, prompting his "birth control" comment. So far Ochocinco's production has been inconsistent and his attention to detail is waning. Ochocinco had a 100-yard game Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. But quarterback Carson Palmer got on him about running the wrong routes, and the receiver also dropped an easy pass that went through his hands. Many Bengals are suffering mental errors this season, but Ochocinco has been one of the biggest offenders.
  • Kudos to the Cleveland Browns' coaching staff and head coach Eric Mangini for pulling out the bag of tricks before the bye week. Many teams use the extra week of preparation to add wrinkles and practice trick plays. But the Browns (2-5) decided there was no time better than the present to run a tricky fake punt that worked to perfection against New Orleans. Tailback Peyton Hillis also caught the Saints' defense by surprise with a 13-yard pass. Cleveland's staff has struggled this season, particularly with second-half adjustments, and needs to be more creative with things like this to spark the team.
  • The Browns will spend the bye week determining whether it's best to stick with rookie quarterback Colt McCoy or turn back to one of their veteran quarterbacks -- Seneca Wallace or Jake Delhomme. In my opinion, McCoy has played well enough to keep the job. Against the past two Super Bowl champions, McCoy put up Cleveland's season-high passing yards (281) against Pittsburgh and was the winning quarterback against the Saints. In two starts, McCoy has thrown for 355 yards and completed 65.3 percent of his passes. With the Browns coming off a huge win, there's no reason to disrupt things with another shakeup at quarterback.
  • What happened to Baltimore Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington on Sunday? Washington had his worst day as a Raven, allowing three touchdown passes to the winless Buffalo Bills (0-6). His play was so bad that Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh benched Washington in favor of Josh Wilson in the fourth quarter. Washington has had solid games this season, but he was awful against the Bills. He will have a lot of corrections to make during the bye week.

Ravens put their 'trust' in Ray Rice

October, 10, 2010
RiceAP Photo/Gail BurtonRay Rice rushed for a season-best 133 yards and two TDs as Baltimore cruised past Denver.

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens' offense was inconsistent in the first four games. But as it turns out, all it needed to do was add Rice.

Baltimore running back Ray Rice had been injured and ignored so far this season. While fantasy football owners have been disappointed, the Ravens (4-1) shrugged it off because they were winning and knew eventually they would turn back to their Pro Bowl back.

Sunday was that type of game, as Rice rushed for a season-high 133 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-17 victory over the Denver Broncos. It was the first 100-yard game of the season for Rice, who was heavily involved in the game plan and had his number called 27 times after getting just 23 carries in the previous two games.

Rice, a three-year veteran, finally had a chance to put the Ravens on his back and it produced the easiest victory of the season for Baltimore. It's no coincidence Baltimore put up a season-best 415 yards on offense with Rice as the lynchpin.

"That's trust," Rice said. "I couldn't say that [offensive coordinator Cam Cameron] would do that my rookie year."

Baltimore added former Pro Bowl receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to the passing game in the offseason, but the Ravens aren't at their best offensively unless Rice is healthy and productive. With a quick burst, several nice cuts and tough runs, Rice proved he's back to 100 percent after suffering a knee bruise in Week 3. Although Rice nearly broke a couple big runs, his longest rush was for 18 yards as he grinded out carries against the Broncos, who held Tennessee Titans Pro Bowl tailback Chris Johnson to 53 yards in Week 4.

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireRay Rice rushed 27 times and averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
When Rice gets going, everyone else's job becomes easier. Last week, for example, quarterback Joe Flacco had to throw a late touchdown to Houshmandzadeh to pull out a dramatic win over Pittsburgh Steelers. This week, with Rice as the focus, Flacco only needed to throw 25 passes.

Baltimore rushed for four touchdowns and improved to 10-0 all time when it runs for at least three scores. The Ravens rushed for 233 yards as Rice, Willis McGahee and Flacco each scored.

"It's important. We need to be able to run the ball," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It's nice to know we can run the ball. That's a defense that's pretty much set up to stop the run in a lot of ways, and we did a good job of running on them anyway."

Rice credited his offensive line, which played its best game of the season. In addition to paving the way for Rice, Baltimore’s offensive line allowed just one sack, on the opening drive.

"I've never seen a group work harder," Rice said of his blockers up front. "The stats haven't shown the last few weeks, but today [it did]. If I was to give a game ball, I'd have to give it to them."

Baltimore, a preseason favorite by many to win the Super Bowl, is off to a great start, but this team could still play better. The Ravens had several blown plays in pass coverage. Denver quarterback Kyle Orton threw for 314 yards and touchdowns of 42 and 44 yards to receiver Brandon Lloyd. That will give the coaching staff something to criticize this week despite the relatively easy win.

But the talent is there for Baltimore to have a big year.

"We feel like we've got a pretty special team here, and we just got to continue to work hard to get better each week," Flacco said. "We can't stay the team we are ... We're showing a lot of promise and getting better week to week, and that's the mark of a championship team."

Report: Dennis Dixon out six weeks

September, 24, 2010
It turns out after surgery that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon will be out longer than expected.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting Dixon will be out for six weeks after having his lateral meniscus repaired in his left knee. He was injured this past Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, and early indications were Dixon could miss at least three weeks.

Barring injuries, this likely ends the Dixon experiment as a starter in Pittsburgh this season. Once he returns, franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be back in the fold and backup Byron Leftwich, who also has a knee injury, will be healthy as well.

On Sunday quarterback Charlie Batch will start for Pittsburgh (2-0) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0) in a battle of undefeated teams.