AFC North: TJ Ward

AFC North Stock Watch

October, 4, 2011
10/04/11
1:00
PM ET
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FALLING

1. Bengals attendance: The team followed up the smallest crowd for a home opener at Paul Brown Stadium with the smallest crowd (41,142) in the 12-year history of the place. That's over 20,000 empty seats in each of the first two home games of the season. Sure, this is the fans' way of protesting owner Mike Brown and the constant losing. But all this young team can see is a lack of support.

2. Steelers run defense: The NFL's top run defense from a year ago has plummeted to No. 22. In the Steelers' two losses, the defense has given up 170 yards rushing to the Ravens and 180 yards on the ground to the Texans. After allowing just one 100-yard rusher in a 50-game stretch, Pittsburgh has allowed two in the past four games. Has anyone seen inside linebackers James Farrior or Lawrence Timmons lately?

3. Browns secondary: This vastly improved group flopped in its first test against a proven quarterback. Cleveland gave up 194 yards passing and three touchdown passes to Matt Hasselbeck -- and that was in the first half alone. Safety T.J. Ward didn't cover Titans tight end Craig Stevens on a 12-yard touchdown, and safety Usama Young took a bad angle at tight end Jared Cook on an 80-yard touchdown catch-and-run. To make matters worse, cornerback Joe Haden has a sprained knee.

RISING

[+] EnlargeCincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green
AP Photo/Tony TribbleCincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green already has 312 yards receiving this season.
1. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green: The fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft is already making an impact, recording two 100-yard performances in the past three games. Watching him leap up for catches -- like the 58-yard one on Sunday -- is like seeing flashes of a younger Calvin Johnson (even though Johnson is still young). He has six catches over 20 yards, which is tied for ninth in the NFL. And Green is doing all of this while learning on the job with rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.

2. Ravens pass rush: Baltimore has recorded 21 quarterback hits over the past two games because of its creative and risky blitzes. This pressure on quarterbacks has led to four defensive touchdowns the past two weeks, including a team-record three Sunday night against the Jets. This is a drastic turnaround from last season, when the Ravens had a franchise-low 27 sacks.


3.Bengals defense: For the first time since 1983, the Bengals' defense sits atop the NFL rankings. Cincinnati has six new starters from a defense that finished 15th in 2010. The Bengals held the NFL's highest-scoring offense to 13 points (one touchdown was scored off an interception return) on Sunday and kept the Bills 158 yards below their season average.

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