Tuesday, October 20, 2009
How I See It: AFC North Stock Watch
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Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
1. Steve Hauschka, Ravens kicker
It’s hard to pin a loss on a kicker when there were more than 100 offensive and defensive plays leading up to the final play. But the inexperienced Hauschka needs to make the clutch field goals if he wants to have a long career in the NFL.
Baltimore’s offense put Hauschka in a great position to be the hero but he sailed a 44-yard attempt wide left. Now the Ravens (3-3) are in the midst of a three-game losing streak while entering the bye. A 4-2 record would have been a much better feeling for Baltimore.
2. Jamal Lewis, Browns running back
A week after Lewis gained 117 yards on 31 carries in a win over the Buffalo Bills, the veteran tailback gained just 21 yards on 11 carries in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It was somewhat surprising the Browns ignored Lewis in the running game, because the contest with Pittsburgh was competitive for about three quarters.
Lewis has been battling a hamstring injury but just appeared to be gaining momentum against Buffalo. It will be interesting to see how the Browns use Lewis going forward.
3. Frank Walker, Ravens cornerback
For a non-starter, Walker gives up a high percentage of penalties and big plays in the passing game.
Opponents seem to identify Walker, who plays in sub packages, and immediately go after him. He was the victim two big plays that led to 10 fourth-quarter points in the loss to Minnesota.
Walker was flagged for pass interference in the final period that led to a touchdown three plays later, in addition to allowing a 58-yard catch by Sidney Rice to set up the Vikings’ game-winning field goal. Walker also was called for pass interference on the play against Rice, who still made the catch.
1. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers quarterback
Is it too early to strongly consider Roethlisberger for the MVP race? No, it isn’t.
Pittsburgh’s quarterback is the primary reason the defending champions stayed afloat during numerous injuries and struggles on defense this season. Now the team is getting healthy again, Roethlisberger has taken his game to another level.
Roethlisberger had his second career 400-yard game in a win over Cleveland. He threw for 417 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also hit six different receivers in the victory.
2. Hines Ward, Steelers receiver
One of those six receivers was Ward, who caught eight passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. The veteran continues to put up solid numbers in his 12th year in the NFL.
Perhaps the biggest surprise with Ward is that he’s contributing a lot of big plays to the offense, in addition to the routine. A possession receiver, Ward’s yards per catch average is an impressive 14.6, nearly two yards higher than last season (12.9).
Against Cleveland, Ward had a 52-yard touchdown reception, which was his longest play of the season. He averaged 19.9 yards per catch Sunday against the Browns.
3. Ray Rice, Ravens running back
Rice continues to make the most of every opportunity this season. He recorded 194 total yards in a 33-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Rice rushed for 77 yards on 10 carries (7.7 yard average) but the Ravens couldn’t stick with the running game after falling behind. So Rice dominated the passing game with 10 receptions for 117 yards and nearly led Baltimore to a fourth-quarter comeback on the road.
Despite limited carries and sharing a backfield with Willis McGahee and La’Ron McClain, Rice is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season.