Tuesday, August 12, 2008
AFC North: Seven-step drop
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
The Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers concluded a busy opening week of preseason football on Monday night.
Now, it's a time to reflect.
In our first installment of The Seven-Step Drop, here are seven things that caught my eye during week one of the preseason in the AFC North.
- Browns starting quarterback Derek Anderson got a small monkey off his back with a solid performance last week against the New York Jets. Although it was unspoken leading into the game, it was important for Anderson to put his struggles at the end of the season behind him. He went 4 for 5 for 20 yards and a touchdown in his only series of the game. Anderson's connection with receiver Braylon Edwards was as pretty a touchdown pass as you're going to see in the preseason.
- The depth of the Cleveland Browns' secondary looks as bad as advertised early on. Sure, it was just one game, but giving up two passing touchdowns of 70 yards or more against the Jets were inexcusable. Both big plays involved poor coverage and bad angles taken to the football. Starting corners Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright did fine in limited action with the first team. But as soon as they left the field, the floodgates opened in the passing game.
- Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Rashard Mendenhall had a solid debut at tailback. He had a slow first week of training camp, then gradually improved during the second week. Mendenhall carried that momentum into his first NFL game with 34 yards on seven carries. He also returned a kickoff and will get a look there. Mendenhall still runs a little too upright for our liking. But with additional coaching and several more hits like the one he took on his first carry Friday, Mendenhall will learn to keep his pads lower.
- Charlie Batch's broken collarbone will be a significant loss for Pittsburgh. More than anything, Batch was the calming influence behind the scenes for starter Ben Roethlisberger and rookie Dennis Dixon. The Steelers signed Byron Leftwich on Sunday, but he will not be able to provide the type of leadership, or know the offense as well as Batch, who tutored the other two quarterbacks behind the scenes.
- Baltimore Ravens return specialist Yamon Figurs already looks in mid-season form. He had a punt return of 52 yards and a kickoff return of 48 yards against the New England Patriots last week. With the additions of head coach John Harbaugh, who was once a long-time special teams coach, and assistant Jerry Rosburg, Baltimore expects to be extremely good in the third phase of the game this season.
- After a two-turnover performance by Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller against New England, this is a golden opportunity for Troy Smith to take the lead. Smith will get the start Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings. If Smith proves he can move the offense and, most importantly, take care of the football, it should give Smith some separation in this three-way race with two preseason games remaining.
- The Bengals were a mixed bag. I liked what I saw from tight end Ben Utecht (four catches, 34 yards, one touchdown) and active rookie linebacker Keith Rivers (seven tackles) in their first game as Bengals. But I didn't like what I saw from the first-team defense, which really needs to work on its tackling. Cincinnati's starters had very poor technique, particularly safety Marvin White, and paid the price often by getting trucked several times by the Green Bay Packers in the first quarter. The good news is the Bengals have time to re-teach the fundamentals.