Monday, September 9, 2013
Breaking down the AFC North's breakdown
By Jamison Hensley
The AFC North built a reputation on physically beating up on other divisions. In Week 1 of the 2013 season, they beat themselves up.
The division teams allowed too many hits on their quarterbacks, made too many costly penalties and turned the ball over too many times. The result: the first winless Week 1 for all of the AFC North teams since 2002, the division's first year of existence. According to ESPN Stats & Information, this is the first time the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers all lost in the same week since Week 10 of the 2010 season.
Cleveland's Brandon Weeden and the rest of the AFC North quarterbacks took their lumps in Week 1.
This has been regarded as one of the best divisions in football recently. Three teams made the playoffs in 2011, and two returned in 2012. But no one in the AFC North made a championship-caliber first impression in 2013.
The Steelers had the most devastating defeat, losing three players (Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, inside linebacker Larry Foote and backup running back LaRod Stephens-Howling) to season-ending injuries in a 16-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The Ravens had the most embarrassing defeat, falling by 22 points on the road against the Denver Broncos on national television -- the worst season-opening loss for a defending Super Bowl champion. The Bengals had the most frustrating loss, failing to hold an 11-point lead in Chicago with 23 minutes left to play. And the Browns had, well, another season-opening loss (their 14th in the past 15 seasons).
Here are the common themes in the losses for the AFC North teams:
Too many hits on the quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, Brandon Weeden and Joe Flacco combined to get sacked a total of 15 times. It's no wonder they also combined to throw six interceptions. Weeden was hit 16 times by Miami. Has he ever been hit that much before? "I don't think so," he said. Defenses could tee off on the quarterbacks because there was no threat of a running game. All four teams averaged less than 3.7 yards per carry. The days of Jerome Bettis, Jamal Lewis and Corey Dillon are long gone.
Too many penalties: The Bengals, Browns and Ravens were flagged 24 times for 194 yards. This is a reflection of a lack of poise. Browns guard Oniel Cousins' holding penalty in the fourth quarter negated a touchdown. The Ravens were called for three personal fouls. The biggest blunder was committed by Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga, who has been on the hot seat with fans for more than a year now. His unnecessary roughness penalty with 1:06 to play gave the Bears an automatic first down when they were looking at having to punt. The Bengals lost by a field goal. “We had a lot of guys lose their composure today," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.
Too many turnovers: The AFC North teams collectively turned the ball over 10 times. Weeden threw three interceptions in the first half. Flacco was picked off twice, including one that should have been returned for a touchdown. Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu fumbled at the Bears' 19 in the fourth quarter with Cincinnati ahead by four points. And Steelers running back Isaac Redman fumbled into the end zone on the opening series. "It was kind of slow coming from center -- we were working with a new center," Redman said after the game. "It's a quick-hitting play, a bang-bang, and we messed up the quarterback-running back exchange. I never felt like I had it."
It will be a better week for half of the teams in Week 2, and I can guarantee it. The Ravens play host to the Browns on Sunday, and the Steelers play at the Bengals next Monday night.