AFC North: Three and out
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
Three quick hits on the Baltimore Ravens:
1. Although it’s just the preseason, the Ravens allowed an average of just 9.75 points in four preseason games. Not only is that a testament to the starters, but it’s also a statement of the depth the Ravens have on defense this year as backups received a lot of playing time in the preseason. Baltimore lost several key people this offseason such as linebacker Bart Scott, safety Jim Leonard and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who all went to the New York Jets. But the Ravens still look solid defensively and appear ready for their season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
2. Starting quarterback Joe Flacco looks like the real deal. He had a great preseason, completing 40 of 61 passes (65.6 percent) for 470 yards and one touchdown in limited playing time. Flacco is looking to avoid the sophomore slump, and it’s so far so good. Even without the team giving him any significant upgrades at receiver, the offense has a good chance to take the next step with Flacco continuing his upward ascension.
3. If you’re looking for a breakout player with the Ravens, look no further than defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. He’s generated a nice buzz in Baltimore for several years. But his name isn’t known nationally on a league-wide scale just yet. Ngata is big enough and strong enough to dominate the point of attack and surprisingly nimble to drop in pass coverage. Many in Baltimore believe Ngata’s fourth season could be a Pro Bowl year.
Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
It’s the AFC North’s turn for the ongoing "Three and out" series.
Here are some quick hits on the Cleveland Browns:
1. In terms of the preseason evaluation, the long, drawn out quarterback competition between Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson is over. But as of Sunday, Browns coach Eric Mangini has yet to name a starter. The competition was very close up until recently when Quinn began to provide separation. Therefore, most observers expect Quinn to be the starter. But with Mangini, you never know as he likes to keep people guessing. He didn't play either quarterback in the preseason finale, further adding to the mystery. Cleveland opens the regular season at home Sept. 13 against the Minnesota Vikings.
2. Can the Browns compete defensively? Outside of Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers, there is not a lot of big-name talent on that side of the football. Cleveland hired new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to spark the defense. Ryan has a good resume with success in past stops such as Oakland. During the preseason the unit looks more aggressive and discipline. The AFC North had three defenses in the top 12 in 2008. There is a chance the division can repeat that feat, which means the Browns need to step up their game defensively or get left behind once again.
3. The Browns desperately need a fast start. Mangini has completely changed the culture from the previous regime of former coach Romeo Crennel and former general manager Phil Savage. There has been some early butting of heads and uncertainty this offseason. But wins and losses ultimately will determine if this team sticks together. If the Browns can win their home opener, which would be a rare feat in Cleveland, that would go a long way. But a 0-2 or 0-3 start could easily snowball into a long season for the Browns.
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