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Tuesday, November 24, 2009
How I See It: AFC North Stock Watch

By James Walker

NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

1. Ravens' red zone offense: Let’s be clear: There is nothing wrong with putting up 354 yards of total offense. But there is something wrong with going 0 for 4 in the red zone and just getting only 15 points in return.

The Ravens were solid offensively in between the 20s Sunday in a 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. They moved the football consistently and kept Colts quarterback Peyton Manning off the field better than most teams.

But when you have chances to score touchdowns against a Manning-led team, you have to capitalize. The Ravens couldn’t as the Colts tightened up and were more physical than Baltimore near the goal line. Eventually Manning was able to put up just enough points, and thus put another dent in the playoff hopes of the Ravens (5-5).

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Caldwell
2. Andre Caldwell, Bengals receiver: As I mentioned on Monday, it is time for the Caldwell experiment on kickoff returns to end. He lost a fumble on a crucial return in the final seconds in Cincinnati’s 20-17 defeat to the Oakland Raiders.

It is clear at this point that Caldwell is not a natural kick returner, and that’s fine. He is a solid wide receiver, who has made a lot of big catches this season, and that should be enough for the Bengals’ coaching staff.

Cincinnati needs to find someone else, perhaps Bernard Scott or Quan Cosby, to take over the kickoff return duties on a full-time basis.

3. Steelers special teams: Speaking of special teams, Pittsburgh’s kickoff unit needs some help. The Steelers gave up their fourth kickoff return for a touchdown and second in two weeks during a 27-24 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Pittsburgh’s kick coverage has been up and down all year, but recently it has started to cost the team games. When Chiefs tailback Jamaal Charles took the opening kickoff to the house in front of the home fans, you knew right away that the Steelers were in for a tough game.

Expect more teams to try to exploit this weakness down the stretch unless Pittsburgh makes drastic changes.

Rising

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Quinn
1. Brady Quinn, Browns quarterback: See how quickly things can change in one week?

Quinn was the No. 1 player in the "falling" category after another poor outing against the Baltimore Ravens. But Quinn suddenly looked great against the Detroit Lions, throwing for 304 yards and four touchdowns.

It was a career-best performance for Quinn, who is trying to prove that he can be the long-term quarterback in Cleveland. Despite the loss, this was the best thing that could have come out of this weekend for the Browns, because now Quinn at least has some momentum and something to build on.

2. Billy Cundiff, Ravens kicker: The player in Baltimore who received the loudest ovation in Sunday’s 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts was Cundiff. He was nearly lights out, making 5 of 6 field goal attempts and tying a team record.

Cundiff’s missed kick was a combination of a high snap and a rushed follow-through, according to Ravens coach John Harbaugh. Still, seeing the ball consistently sail through the uprights was a welcome sight for Ravens fans who were nervous every time Steve Hauschka had an opportunity.

3. Derrick Mason, Ravens receiver: A major reason Cundiff had all of those opportunities was because of Mason’s performance.

The veteran receiver had season-high nine catches for 142 yards. Unfortunately for Baltimore, Mason couldn’t get in the end zone, which was sorely needed in the close loss to the Colts.

But Indianapolis struggled to cover Mason all game, and Baltimore will need more of these big performances from him down the stretch.