NFL Nation: Kelly Gregg


Had Todd Haley remained the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, the selection of Dontari Poe may not have worked.

But the Chiefs are now Romeo Crennel’s team, and that’s why taking Poe at No. 11 in the NFL draft on Thursday might be a shrewd move for a team that has missed by taking defensive lineman high in the draft in the past decade.

Poe is a classic example of the long NFL draft process. He wasn’t considered a top pick when the massive Memphis defensive tackle entered the NFL draft. However, after he stole headlines at the NFL combine in February, he became a projected top-five pick. That happens when a 6-foot-3, 345-pound man runs a 4.98 40-yard dash and bench presses 225 pounds 44 times. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Poe is the only player over 330 pounds to run a sub-five second time since 2006.

However, after Poe put himself in the spotlight, teams closely dissected him and saw a player with immense ability that didn’t always show on the field against marginal competition. It was alarming and it still is.

“I’m still waiting for Poe to unleash the fury,” ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said moments after the Chiefs made him the pick.

This is what ESPN analyst Todd McShay had about Poe last week:

“I see the workout numbers, and I found myself wanting and waiting and wishing and hoping is what I keep saying. Every single play I watched from Memphis just hoping that he would make a big play. He will disrupt and he'll be involved in some plays, but for a guy that you're talking about potential top 10, top 12 pick, I just didn't see the production, and I just didn't see a guy who understands and has a great feel for the game, and that's not to say he won't develop, and he very well may, and one day he may be a junior Haloti Ngata. But Haloti Ngata coming out was a much better football player than Dontari Poe is right now, and that scares me, and that's why I've dropped him to where he is as the third best defensive tackle, somewhere in kind of the middle range … I've got him at 19 overall in the class.”

In the days leading up to the draft, there was talk that Poe’s lack of consistent game film would override his off-the-charts ability, and he’d be picked in the 20-25 range. However, the Chiefs took another swipe at a defensive lineman early in the draft. Bypassing a safe pick such as Stanford guard David DeCastro, the Chiefs went boom or bust with Poe.

[+] EnlargeDontari Poe
Brian Spurlock/US PRESSWIREDontari Poe became the only player over 330 pounds to run a sub-five second time at the combine, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
The decision to take Poe is understandable. The Chiefs, who had an outstanding free-agency period, do not have many holes. If Poe fills the nose tackle position as the team hopes he does, the Chiefs will be one of the most talented teams in the NFL and a real playoff threat. According to ESPN Stats and Information, last season Kansas City had one sack, two batted passes and three tackles for loss by its nose tackle -- and that was from the aging Kelly Gregg, a free agent.

The Chiefs hope to get better production out of Poe than they have from other defensive linemen they've taken in the first round of recent years. The team took Ryan Sims at No. 6 in the 2002 draft and he was a terrible bust. In 2008, they took defensive end Glenn Dorsey at No. 5 and in 2009 they took Tyson Jackson at No. 3. Both Dorsey and Jackson remain in Kansas City, but they have not been impact players.

Yet, they have improved in the past two years under Crennel, who became the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator in 2010 before taking over for Haley. I think Crennel is a key to the Poe pick.

Crennel is known as one of the best defensive line coaches in NFL history and he is known for getting questionable motors to start.

Poe may have a new best friend in Crennel. He is nurturer and he believes in his players. We saw the impact Crennel had on the entire Kansas City roster. The players loved the difference between the impatient and often caustic Haley and the calm, encouraging Crennel.

If think Crennel will motivate and teach Poe. Haley would have berated him and goaded him. I have a feeling Poe may respond more positively to Crennel’s approach. Crennel will teach him to become an NFL player and use his natural ability. Remember, this kid started high school as a drummer in the band. He is still raw.

Crennel has the patience and expertise to make Poe a good player and get the most out of this pick. If not, it will go down as another swing and miss on the defensive line in Kansas City.

AFC West: Free-agency primer

March, 7, 2012
3/07/12
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AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Denver Broncos

Key free agents: K Matt Prater (franchised), DT Brodrick Bunkley, S Brian Dawkins, TE Daniel Fells, FB Spencer Larsen, WR Eddie Royal, QB Brady Quinn, DT Marcus Thomas, LB Wesley Woodyard, P Britton Colquitt (restricted).

Where they stand: The Broncos will have plenty of salary-cap room. For a team that went from 4-12 with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft to winning the AFC West and a playoff game in John Fox’s first season as coach, the Broncos are in position to improve through free agency. With Prater franchised, the team’s only priority unrestricted free agent is Bunkley.

What to expect: Don’t expect a huge spending spree. The Broncos are cash conscious and I think the franchise is still recovering from some undisciplined spending during the Mike Shanahan era that ended in 2008. We will see the Broncos try to add several pieces at lower prices. Denver could address needs at safety, running back, receiver, tight end, linebacker and quarterback. Keep an eye on players such as Washington safety LaRon Landry, Seattle tight end John Carlson, quarterbacks Chad Henne (Miami), Dennis Dixon (Pittsburgh) or Josh Johnson (Tampa), running backs Michael Bush (Oakland) and Mike Tolbert (San Diego), and defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene Cincinnati.

Kansas City Chiefs

Key free agents: WR Dwayne Bowe (franchised), CB Brandon Carr, QB Kyle Orton, RB Jackie Battle, LB Jovan Belcher, S Jon McGraw, C Casey Wiegmann, RB Thomas Jones, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Kelly Gregg

Where they stand: The Chiefs are in great shape on cap space even after signing cornerback Stanford Routt and franchising Bowe. They have already done a nice job in free agency with these two moves and have a good, young roster. Kansas City can become a serious playoff contender with the right moves. It is likely Carr will leave in free agency, but the Chiefs should be able to re-sign most of their other free agents if they wish.

What to expect: I’m not sure we will see the Chiefs break the bank for any of the super-hot free agents, but I expect them to do some significant shopping. I think we could see Kansas City look for help at nose tackle, linebacker, safety, tackle, running back and quarterback. Of course, the intrigue could start if the team gets in on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes. But they could also look at several other quarterbacks, including Orton, Henne, Jason Campbell (Oakland) or even Quinn. They could also be in the mix for Miami nose tackle Paul Soliai, Saints guard Carl Nicks and running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis (New England), Bush and Tolbert.

Oakland Raiders

Key free agents: S Tyvon Branch (franchised), RB Michael Bush, QB Jason Campbell, LB Quentin Groves, C Samson Satele, WR Chaz Schilens, DE Trevor Scott, FB Marcel Reece (restricted).

Where they stand: The Raiders are one of the few teams that must get under the salary cap. Oakland coach Dennis Allen recently acknowledged the team has work to do. The Raiders have some contracts that can be easily restructured, but they also may have to cut some players, particularly on defense. Linebacker Kamerion Wimbley and defensive tackle John Henderson are among the top candidates.

What to expect: The Raiders likely face some limitations once they get under the cap, but they can add two or three starting-quality players under the right circumstances. Their primary needs are on defense, starting at cornerback and linebacker. The offensive line could be upgraded as well. I think they can be in on the second wave of cornerbacks. A player to watch is New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter, who previously played for Allen. There are some solid second-tier cornerbacks Oakland could be interested in other than Porter. There will be some good players available on both sides of the ball after the initial wave of free agency for short-term deals. Expect the Raiders to do some bargain picking during that time. I think Oakland will be interested in signing several of its free agents, but I expect Bush and Campbell will leave.

San Diego Chargers

Key free agents: WR Vincent Jackson, C Nick Hardwick, RB Tolbert, DT Antonio Garay, OT Jared Gaither, FB Jacob Hester.

Where they stand: The Chargers will be in decent shape and they are getting even better after cutting Luis Castillo, the retirement of guard Kris Dielman and the expected release of tackle Marcus McNeill. But San Diego still has a lot of work to do. They have the most priority free agents of any team in the division. Signing Jackson, Hardwick, Gaither, Tolbert and Garay will be a challenge.

What to expect: The Chargers will likely stick to their usual plan and concentrate first on their own free agents. But they also have other needs and they will likely spend more in free agency than they have done before under general manager A.J. Smith. I get the sense from some agents that the Chargers may spend wildy in an attempt to win back the fan base’s trust after the unpopular contract extensions for Smith and coach Norv Turner. The pair were brought back even after missing the playoffs for a second consecutive season. I also get the sense from inside the organization, however, that the Chargers will not act out of desperation. Look for the team to consider pass-rushers, nose tackles, safeties and offensive linemen if Hardwick and Gaither aren’t brought back. A receiver will also become a major need if Jackson goes. The Colts' Reggie Wayne could be an option in that case. A running back such as Cadillac Williams (St. Louis) reportedly will be in the mix if Tolbert walks. Soliai could interest the team as well. Chicago special teams ace Corey Graham may also be a target. If the Chargers want to make a huge splash, they could try to get in on Houston pass-rusher Mario Williams, who is widely considered the best player on the market.

Breaking down the Chiefs-Ravens

August, 20, 2011
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Random thoughts from the Chiefs’ 31-13 loss at Baltimore on Friday night:

Kansas City was more interested in playing football than it was in a 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay last week. The Chiefs have been taking it slow in training camp because of the lockout and Kansas City coach Todd Haley treated the first preseason game like a training-camp day. Friday night, the Chiefs’ competed like they were actually in a game.

The score didn’t get out of hand until late when the Ravens -- who knocked Kansas City out of the playoffs then saw coach Jim Zorn and players Kelly Gregg, Le'Ron McClain and Jared Gaither join Kansas City this offseason -- scored three touchdowns in the final 7 minutes, 15 seconds of the game.

After the game, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said Haley was not pleased.

“I want to apologize to the Chiefs if they feel like we were not doing the right thing at the end of the game,” Harbaugh said. “That wasn’t the mindset, OK? The mindset was -- this is the preseason. If this had been the regular season, we would’ve been on a knee. The idea in that situation is to give those young guys who work hard and who are trying to make a football team -- this football team or another football team -- to play the whole 60 minutes and give them a chance to show what they can do. Offensive line, running backs, everybody.”

My thoughts? Do what you want, coach Harbaugh. Get your team ready the way you see fit. My solution for coaches who think the score is being run up on them has always been this: Stop the opponent from running up the score and the score won’t be run up on you.

Haley indicated he wasn’t bothered by the Ravens’ late scoring flurry.

“I just control what we do,” Haley said. “There are probably guys out on the field that may have had limited opportunity. Coaches get very limited opportunity to evaluate (players) so their coach has to do what he has to do to get his team ready just like I’m trying to do what we have to do to get ours ready.”

Anyway, Haley appeared pleased with his team’s overall effort.

“There were bright spots across the board with our team,” Haley said. “Defensively, it appeared we made progress in some areas. Offensively, I want to be fair to all the guys. We’re really working hard on the fundamentals of football. We’re not over-exotic right now. We’re not scheming to make plays. Sometimes that’s frustrating for all of us.”

Backup quarterback Tyler Palko played well. He executed a nice two-minute drill at the end of the first half, which resulted in a touchdown. If Palko keeps this up, the Chiefs might not look for a veteran to backup Matt Cassel.

For those expecting the Chiefs to bring clarity to the Jon Baldwin situation, think again. Haley only referred to it as “family business.” Baldwin reportedly got into a fight with veteran Thomas Jones and Baldwin hurt is wrist, putting him out for the preseason. There was a report that his thumb is a bigger issue than the wrist, but since the Chiefs aren’t talking, that can’t be confirmed at this point.

Cassel was 6-of-14 passing for 73 yards. Yet, he threw some nice passes and looked solid overall. He didn’t throw a pass in last week’s game.

Running back/receiver Dexter McCluster accounted for 71 yards of total offense on seven touches. He showed what a dynamic role player he can be.

Top receiver Dwayne Bowe had a nice game with three catches for 43 yards.

The Chiefs' offensive line needs to tighten up. Baltimore had five sacks.

Rookie pass-rusher Justin Houston had a nice game. He had two sacks and forced a fumble on special teams. This guy can play.

Camp Confidential: Chiefs

August, 19, 2011
8/19/11
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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Been looking for post-lockout, smash-mouth NFL action?

Hope you didn’t come to Chiefs camp during the past three weeks.

Kansas City's training camp wasn’t the most excfiting place in the NFL. The Chiefs started very slowly, only going to pads last Sunday. The team’s starters did virtually nothing in a 25-0 loss to Tampa Bay last Friday night. Coach Todd Haley said he may take the same approach this Friday at Baltimore.

It’s a lockout-caused plan by Haley as the Chiefs take the big-picture approach and begin their AFC West title defense.

Haley was concerned about the length of the lockout and he didn’t want to rush his team into action because of the lost time. He wants this team to be fresh for the season. Other teams have crammed in as much physical play as possible. Haley, known for his physical camps in his first two years in Kansas City, is taking a much different approach.

At this point, he said, getting his team conditioned to make up for lost time is more important to him than practicing hard. Haley said he will concentrate on heavy football drills toward the end of the preseason to ensure the team stays as healthy as possible heading into the regular season.

The coach is taking some heat for taking the cautious approach. Many fans are concerned the Chiefs will not be ready when they open the regular season against visiting Buffalo on Sept. 11.

“I’m sticking to my convictions,” Haley said. “This is what is best for this team. I believe we will be ready for the season.”

The Chiefs picked up the intensity in practice this week, but they will not turn their starters loose until the third preseason game. There is even a chance the starters will play in the final preseason game, which routinely doesn’t happen around the league.

“This is the approach coach Haley wants us to take,” Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel. “We are fully behind him.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Work with the quarterback: Cassel’s development is still the No.1 priority for this team and camp time is essential. There is no doubt Cassel progressed last season, but he fell off at the end of the season and now has to get used to working with new quarterback coach Jim Zorn after a one-year stint with Charlie Weis as a his offensive coordinator. Weis now has the same job at the University of Florida. Cassel and Zorn lost valuable time due to the lockout. However, they are said to have built a good relationship and gotten comfortable working together this summer.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
Kirby Lee/US PresswireChiefs quarterback Matt Cassel will have plenty of options when distributing the ball this season.
2. Spread the ball around: The Chiefs are spending this camp getting their varied passing-game weapons in order. This can be a dangerous passing offense and this camp is being spent on how to best utilize it. Cassel has many directions to look. It starts with No.1 receiver Dwayne Bowe, but the Chiefs have given him help by drafting Jon Baldwin in the first round and signing slot receiver Steve Breaston, who played for Haley in Arizona and caught 77 passes in 2008 under Haley’s guidance. Add tight end Tony Moeaki and running back/receiver Dexter McCluster and there are a lot of options. Figuring out the best ways to utilize all of them is what camp is for.

3. Figuring what’s best for Charles: It has driven many Kansas City fans crazy that the Chiefs don’t give Jamaal Charles more carries. Thomas Jones had 245 rushing attempts last season while Charles had 230 carries. Jones fell off toward the end of the season, but Charles was spectacular. He had 1,467 rushing yards rushing, which was second in the league. The Chiefs want to increase Charles’ numbers but also want him to stay fresh and healthy, so don’t expect his workload to fly through the roof. To help both Charles and Jones, who will likely get 8-10 carries per game, the Chiefs signed former Baltimore fullback Le'Ron McClain, who runs the ball more than the average fullback. The Chiefs are working all three backs during this camp to figure out the most advantageous carry distribution.

ARE THEY GOING TO JARED?

The Chiefs’ camp got interesting last week when the team picked up former Baltimore left tackle Jared Gaither. Known as an above-average left tackle, Gaither missed all of last season with a back injury. The Raiders considered signing him early in camp, but they passed because of his back.

The Chiefs signed Gaither during camp and he is now practicing with the second team. If his back holds up, there is a strong chance Gaither could move into the starting lineup and send Branden Albert to right tackle. Albert, a first-round pick in 2008, has been a decent-but-not-great left tackle. The Chiefs have long considered making him a right tackle, where many scouts think he’d flourish. If he moves to right tackle, Albert would replace Barry Richardson. If the massive (6-foot-9, 340 pounds) Gaither is healthy and motivated, this could be a significant move for Kansas City.

CHIEFS MAY NEED TO BACK IT UP AT QB

The Chiefs are keeping a close eye on backup quarterbacks Tyler Palko and rookie Ricky Stanzi during camp. The two struggled in the preseason opener last week. If they continue to struggle, Kansas City could potentially consider bringing in a veteran backup such as Jake Delhomme to be the No. 2 quarterback. Still, Stanzi, a fifth-round pick from Iowa, should be a lock to make the team. Palko will have to increase his production to survive the final cuts.

OBSERVATION DECK
  • The team loves the addition of nose tackle Kelly Gregg. He has been a leader and he has been working hard in camp. He has been a positive influence on young players, including draft pick Jerrell Powe.
  • The Chiefs are working on increasing their turnover numbers on defense. They had the eighth-fewest takeaways in the NFL last season.
    [+] EnlargeKansas City's Jon Baldwin
    Denny Medley/US PRESSWIREFirst-round draft pick Jon Baldwin, along with new acquisition Steve Breaston, are expected to make an impact this season.
  • Baldwin was hampered by some minor issues. Camp observers said he struggled early in camp getting off the line of scrimmage, but the coaching staff is confident the No. 26 overall pick in the 2011 draft will catch up quickly. Baldwin had a reputation for being difficult in college, but the Chiefs haven’t seen any of indications of that and are more than satisfied with his attitude.
UPDATE: ESPN’s Adam Schefter confirmed that Baldwin is doubtful for the rest of training camp after a locker-room fight with Jones. Baldwin’s incident occurred after the Chiefs’ brass praised his attitude. This event has to be alarming for the team.
  • Veteran backup Jerheme Urban has been running with the first team with Bowe as Baldwin and Breaston get acclimated. Don’t expect that to last. Baldwin and Breaston were brought in to play a lot of snaps.
  • Haley has paired veterans with rookies to help the younger players through camp. The players room together, and Haley often matches up players from opposite sides of the ball to help team continuity.
  • Veteran Andy Studebaker has been working with first team at outside linebacker opposite star pass rusher Tamba Hali. The Chiefs are going to use several players to pressure the quarterback, but Studebaker has a chance to have a key role while rookie Justin Houston learns the team’s system.
  • McCluster has been working mostly out of the backfield as Haley suggested he would in May. Still, expect McCluster to line up at receiver some as well. The Chiefs are looking to create as many matchup problems as they can with McCluster, especially on third downs.
  • Rookie DE Allen Bailey has a chance to contribute right away as a pass rusher. He has been working in that area diligently in camp.
  • Rookie offensive lineman Rodney Hudson has been looking good. The second-round pick could play at guard and at center.
  • The team also likes the progress of second-year guard Jon Asamoah, who has a chance to shine in the aftermath of the release of Brian Waters.
  • Former San Diego inside linebacker Brandon Siler is making a push for major playing time. He is a solid talent who also helps on special teams.
  • Linebacker Cameron Sheffield has played well. And he could be a contributor. He missed all of last season after suffering a neck injury in the preseason.
  • One undrafted free agent to watch is Temple linebacker Amara Kamara. He has caught on to the defensive scheme very quickly.
  • Cornerback Jalil Brown, a fourth-round pick out of Colorado, has been impressive and he has a chance to be contributor in some packages and on special teams.
The Kansas City Chiefs continue to make under-the-radar moves. Yet, the defending AFC West champions continue to improve their team.

The Chiefs’ latest move was signing former Baltimore fullback Le'Ron McClain for a one-year deal. This is an interesting signing.

McClain has value as both as a runner and a blocker, so he isn’t a typical fullback although his weight is usually in the 250 -270 range. He had 920 rushing yards in 2008. His carries went down in the past two seasons.

In Kansas City, he gives bulk behind star Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. Charles is expected to get more carries than Jones this season, so I can see a situation in which Jones and McClain split Jones’ carries from last season. In 2010, Jones had 245 carries and Charles had 230 carries. I could see Charles getting a few more carries than last year, although the Chiefs like to keep him fresh. Jones’ production slipped at the end of the season. With McClain in the mix, it could refresh all three players.

The Chiefs have been selective in free agency. They know they have a good, young roster. Yet, they have cherry picked valuable veterans when they see a good fit. McClain joins receiver Steve Breaston, nose tackle Kelly Gregg and linebacker Brandon Siler as new Chiefs.

Again, there are no headlines stars in the group, but they should make Kansas City a better team.
It is an AFC West race for Ty Warren.

The Denver Post is reporting that the former New England defensive lineman will visit the Kansas City Chiefs this week. He has already visited the Broncos. He is currently visiting the Texans.

It make sense that the Chiefs are pursuing Warren. He played for Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli and Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel in New England. Warren is a quiet professional who could help a growing defense like the Chiefs. The Chiefs have added former Baltimore nose tackle Kelly Gregg, and Warren would give further beef to the unit.
The Kansas City Chiefs signing of nose tackle Kelly Gregg might not get much attention or hoopla.

That’s fine. That’s what Gregg is all about.

This is a dirty-work player who was an underappreciated part of the Baltimore Ravens’ vicious defense. This guy was the constant space eater in the Ravens’ defense who made life much easier for linebackers. Now, he will be doing it in Kansas City. Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson will love this guy. The Chiefs signed Gregg to a one-year deal. He was just cut by the Ravens.

Gregg will turn 35 this year, so this a short-term fix, but it will help. He will make the Chiefs better at the position and serve as a terrific mentor to rookie Jerrell Powe. For a defense that lost Mike Vrabel to retirement, the addition of Gregg will only help in the leadership department.

I know many Chiefs fans wanted them to sign San Francisco big-dollar free agent Aubrayo Franklin, and he would be better for the long term, but Gregg solves the problem now. The Chiefs have wanted a nose tackle since the end of the season and tried to sign Shaun Rogers before the lockout.

In Gregg they get a proven nose tackle that has been a part of a great defense. While it might not be splashy or long-term, the 2011 Chiefs just got better.
The Baltimore Ravens desperately need a pass-rusher.

Osi Umenyiora wants a raise and potentially a change of scenery.

Are Osi and the Ravens a great match? I think so.

With few pass-rushers available in free agency, the Ravens would be wise to make their best possible pitch to the New York Giants for Umenyiora, who is unhappy. He had 11.5 sacks last season, which is only 15.5 fewer than the Ravens had as a team.

Baltimore plans to be more aggressive getting to the quarterback this year. But for the most part, the talent along the front seven is the same, with linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs being the only natural pass-rusher of that group. Umenyiora and Suggs could be the dynamic one-two punch new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and head coach John Harbaugh are looking for.

The Ravens recently cleared cap space by getting rid of veterans Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg and Willis McGahee. Using some of that room to acquire a player the caliber of Umenyiora and giving him a new contract would make for a successful offseason.

Baltimore already upgraded their coverage by adding cornerback Jimmy Smith. But someone needs to get to the quarterback. Suggs can't do it all by himself for a second year in a row.
Well, that didn't take long.

On the same day the NFL lockout came to an end, the Baltimore Ravens got right to work by preparing to make four significant roster cuts this week. The goal is to create enough cap space for the Ravens to be players in free agency.

According to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post, Baltimore has informed receiver Derrick Mason, tailback Willis McGahee, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg and tight end Todd Heap that they will be released this week. The moves will save Baltimore millions on the cap while also helping the Ravens get younger.

Heap and Mason are be the biggest surprises of this group, because both are coming off productive seasons. But Heap and Mason are aging players who were making at least $4 million this season, and the Ravens have drafted youngster at the position in recent years, including receiver Torrey Smith (2011) and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta (2010).

There is a good chance Baltimore will try to re-sign some combination of Mason, Heap, McGahee and Gregg later at a discounted rate. But the four veterans will become unrestricted free agents and may get better contract offers elsewhere.
PITTSBURGH -- Regardless of what team you root for, I encourage Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers fans to savor every moment of Saturday's divisional playoff game. This might be the last time you see important veterans from both teams compete in this rivalry with so much at stake.

Accomplished players such as Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, Ed Reed, James Farrior, Derrick Mason, Casey Hampton, Kelly Gregg and Brett Keisel will not play forever. Ward, 34, said this week that he only has "one or two years" left of football. The other aforementioned veterans, all 32 or older, are probably not far behind.

There are eight current Pro Bowlers in this game, several future Hall of Famers and a few more who will go down as some of the best players of this era. And today they will all compete with everything on the line.

Games like this don't happen often, AFC North fans. Who knows? We might not see this again for another two ... five ... or 10 years.

Rest assured, the Ravens-Steelers rivalry will go on and remain strong. Several seasons from now we'll be talking about Haloti Ngata versus Maurkice Pouncey, LaMarr Woodley versus Michael Oher, and Mike Wallace, Joe Flacco, Lawrence Timmons, Ray Rice and Rashard Mendenhall. The next generation of Steelers and Ravens will do a great job of carrying the mantle.

But battle-tested vets like Lewis, Ward, Reed, Farrior, Mason, Hampton, etc. ... will always be remembered as part of that first generation who started the Steelers-Ravens rivalry and made it what it is today. Most will be back for the 2011 regular season, but there's no guarantee any will hang around long enough to meet again in the playoffs.

So enjoy today's events, Ravens and Steelers fans. Win or lose, do not take this game for granted.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
4:02
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

[+] EnlargeAnquan Boldin
AP Photo/Gail BurtonThe Steelers will probably focus on stopping hot Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin.
Baltimore Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin is off to a fast start. He's fourth in the AFC in receptions (20) and yards (280) after torching the Cleveland Browns last week for 142 yards and three touchdowns. But do not expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to allow Boldin to beat them. Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau specializes in taking away an opponent's best weapon. Boldin should see plenty of double-teams and extra coverage rolled in his direction. Therefore, other receivers such as Derrick Mason or T.J. Houshmandzadeh will have to step up for Baltimore to have offensive success.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is 1-4 in his career against the Steelers. A major reason is because of the pressure Pittsburgh brings. According to ESPN's Stats and Information, Flacco has been sacked on 12 percent of his dropbacks against the Steelers, compared to only 5.5 percent against the rest of the NFL. Expect Pittsburgh to continue bringing the heat. The Cincinnati Bengals also proved in Week 2 that with pressure, Flacco is prone to mistakes.

Keep a close eye on Steelers first-round pick Maurkice Pouncey. The rookie center is facing the biggest test of his career in what is his first taste of this nasty rivalry. Pouncey, who has been stellar so far, will get a steady dose of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, veteran Kelly Gregg and rookie Terrence Cody, whom Pouncey faced in college in the SEC. If Pouncey passes this test Sunday, he is more than prepared for the rest of the NFL.

Browns running back Peyton Hillis will try to run over another AFC North defense when he faces Cincinnati. Hillis is coming off a career-high 144 yards and a touchdown against Baltimore. The Bengals are No. 13 against the run and allow 4.5 yards per carry. If the Browns want to pull off the upset at home, Hillis will need another big game to control the tempo.

Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is getting plenty of heat for their struggling offense. But Cincinnati's running game isn't producing, either. The Bengals are No. 27 in the NFL with 3.2 yards per carry. So far the running game hasn't resembled last season's power attack led by Cedric Benson, who is averaging 3.1 yards per attempt. Many of Cincinnati's inside runs have been stuffed early in drives, which sets up long down and distances for the offense.

Scouts Inc.: Ravens third in AFC North

September, 2, 2010
9/02/10
11:04
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It's that popular time of year again when football analysts from around the country make NFL predictions.

Last week, frequent AFC North blog contributor Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. raised some eyebrows when he predicted the Baltimore Ravens would finish third in the division during our podcast to preview the 2010 season. The Ravens are considered Super Bowl contenders in the AFC. But Williamson believes the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals, in that order, will finish ahead of Baltimore.

The AFC North blog checked in with Williamson this week to get an in-depth explanation.

Matt, why third place for the Ravens?

Matt Williamson: Two months ago or a month ago, the Ravens were going to be my Super Bowl pick in the AFC. But there is one big knock to me, and that's their secondary. I just don't trust it, and I think it's something that's easy to exploit. When you look at their pass defense, the general public tends to think Baltimore is a great pass-rushing team, and that really isn't true. The Ravens are middle of the road, and they're not what they used to be in terms of getting to the quarterback. So that obviously puts more stress on the secondary. Their two top corners are coming off ACL injuries, they lost Domonique Foxworth, who's a very solid player. Ed Reed, I don't know exactly his situation, but to count on him to be [the usual] Ed Reed again seems like a liability. If I'm playing the Ravens the first thing I do -- instead of beating my head against the wall running against Terrence Cody, Kelly Gregg, Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata in the middle -- is come out with three or four wide [receivers] and make them bring their nickel and dime personnel on the field and put their star players on the sideline. It's not a knock on the team. They can still win it all. But I had to pick, and that was the biggest negative of the three teams.

What are your thoughts on the Steelers' quarterback situation and the Bengals' history of inconsistency? Are those concerns?

Williamson: They absolutely are, there's no question about it. But looking at the Steelers' schedule, the worst I can see them without Ben Roethlisberger is being 2-2, and I don't think 3-1 is out of the question. With Roethlisberger, I don't think it's even close that he's the best quarterback in the division. He's only out for four games. That's not insurmountable odds, especially with a stud quarterback. They can tread water for a month and Ben comes in on his white horse and saves the day. With the Bengals, there are some organizations that are hard to trust and they are one of them. I'm also not sold on the quarterback [Carson Palmer] to be the guy he once was. I'm not saying he isn't, but I'm just not sure that he is.

It's hard to get three playoff teams from the same division. Therefore, will the Ravens make the postseason in 2010?

Williamson: I would say no. If they do come in third, they're probably beating each other up. The AFC East looks the same way to me. They probably have three playoff-caliber teams but I don't see three getting in. I feel the same way about the AFC North. I tend to think there will be two from each division.
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Baltimore Ravens defensive line: Two key free-agent losses in the past week have drastically hurt depth on Baltimore's defensive line. Justin Bannan and Dwan Edwards signed deals recently with the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills, respectively. The two were key reserves in the rotation with Baltimore's stout unit. Without them, the Ravens are currently looking very thin behind starters Trevor Pryce, Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata. Look for Baltimore to replenish its depth via the NFL draft, where there are a lot of quality prospects on the defensive line who can fill the roles Bannan and Edwards left.

Rising

Pittsburgh Steelers special teams: Pittsburgh went on an unusual signing spree last week in free agency and most of it was aimed at improving special teams. The Steelers' return and coverage teams were below average last season, and it was an under-the-radar reason the team fell to 9-7. Enter receiver Arnaz Battle, safety Will Allen and receiver Antwaan Randle El. This trio should help Pittsburgh's special teams in 2010. Battle and Allen were solid in coverage and Randle El, a former Steeler, may help with punt returns. With a top-five defense and an explosive offense, improving special teams would patch one of Pittsburgh's few glaring weaknesses.

AFC North all-decade team

January, 28, 2010
1/28/10
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Jamal Lewis/Jerome BettisMatthew Emmons/US PresswireRunning backs Jamal Lewis and Jerome Bettis combined to rush for 15,806 yards during the 2000s.
The AFC North earned three Super Bowl titles this past decade, which means there were plenty of great players in the division over that span.

Here is our AFC North all-decade team.

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Analysis: You can really start and stop this argument with Roethlisberger's two Super Bowls wins in the decade. In terms of starting quarterbacks, Roethlisberger trails only the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, who won three titles in the decade. Outside of Carson Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, no one was even remotely close for consideration, unless you wanted to reach for quarterbacks who had one or two good seasons in the decade, such as Kordell Stewart, Joe Flacco or Derek Anderson.

Other considerations: Palmer (Bengals)

Running backs: Jamal Lewis (Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens) and Jerome Bettis (Steelers)

Analysis: Typical of the AFC North, our all-decade backfield is as physical and heavy duty as it gets. Lewis, who retired after the 2009 season, registered 10,607 total rushing yards as a member of the Browns and Ravens. He had a 2,000-yard season with Baltimore in 2003. Bettis played six seasons (2000-05) in the decade with the Steelers and rushed for 5,199 yards in that span. Both players won Super Bowls and will be considered for the Hall of Fame. Although we don't have a traditional fullback, Bettis is versatile and big enough for the position.

Other considerations: Willie Parker (Steelers), Rudi Johnson (Bengals)

[+] EnlargeOchocinco
Frank Victores/US PresswireChad Ochocinco is just 48 yards short of reaching 10,000 career receiving yards.
Receivers: Chad Ochocinco (Bengals) and Hines Ward (Steelers)

Analysis: We have a good mix at receiver. Ochocinco came to Cincinnati as a raw second-round pick who worked his way to become a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the biggest personalities in the NFL. Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler in the decade, was a former college quarterback who now is one of the toughest and smartest players in the league.

Other considerations: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Bengals), Derrick Mason (Ravens)

Tight End: Todd Heap (Ravens)

Analysis: When you look at the total numbers over the past decade, Heap was the clear choice as the top tight end in the division. Heap caught 427 passes over that span and made two Pro Bowls. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, who has 244 receptions, is two years younger and may eventually match Heap's production. But Heap has the better numbers to date. Former Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. also put up impressive numbers in just three full seasons with Cleveland.

Other considerations: Miller (Steelers), Winslow Jr. (Browns)

Offensive line: OT Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), OT Willie Anderson (Bengals/Ravens), G Eric Steinbach (Browns/Bengals), G Alan Faneca (Steelers), C Jeff Hartings (Steelers)

Analysis: Besides leaving off three-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, putting the offensive line together was easier than I thought. Anderson of the Bengals got the edge over Thomas for two reasons: He's a natural right tackle and played nine years last decade at a high level. Thomas, with just three years, doesn't have the same longevity.

Other considerations: OT Thomas (Browns), OT Levi Jones (Bengals), C Rich Braham (Bengals)

Specialists: K Matt Stover (Ravens), P Chris Gardocki (Steelers/Browns), KR Josh Cribbs (Browns), LS Ryan Pontbriand (Browns)

Analysis: Stover made the Pro Bowl in 2000, and his 93.3 field goal percentage in 2006 led the NFL. He's been consistent for a very long time, which is all you ask from kickers. Gardocki and Dave Zastudil is a toss up. But Gardocki led the NFL in punts two years in a row (2000 and 2001) as well as punting yards in 2000. Zastudil cannot boast those claims. Cribbs was a no-brainer, and teammate Pontbriand made two Pro Bowls as Cleveland's long-snapper.

Other considerations: K Phil Dawson (Browns), K Jeff Reed (Steelers), P Zastudil (Ravens/Browns), B.J. Sams (Ravens)

Defense line: Casey Hampton (Steelers), Aaron Smith (Steelers), Justin Smith (Bengals)

Analysis: It's only fair that the AFC North all-decade defense runs a 3-4 scheme. Since 2001, Hampton has embodied what a 3-4 nose tackle looks like and plays like. He has five Pro Bowls in the decade, including this past season. Aaron Smith also is a prototype for 3-4 defensive ends. He's always put personal numbers aside so other defenders in Pittsburgh could flourish. Justin Smith of Cincinnati never quite lived up to his lofty draft status. But he was a consistent player for the Bengals.

Other considerations: DT Kelly Gregg (Ravens), DE Kimo von Oelhoffen (Steelers), DE Trevor Pryce (Ravens)

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireRay Lewis was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 2003.
Linebackers: ILB Ray Lewis (Ravens), ILB James Farrior (Steelers), OLB Joey Porter (Steelers), OLB Terrell Suggs (Ravens)

Analysis: You can win a lot of games with this group. You have intelligence and physicality in the middle, and plenty of pass-rush ability on the outside. Lewis, a future Hall of Famer, is the captain and emotional leader of the all-decade defense. Farrior also has the smarts to keep everyone in line, while Suggs and Porter can fly around and wreak havoc on the quarterback. There were several very good candidates at outside linebacker. But Porter and Suggs were dominant forces in the AFC North for a longer period.

Other considerations: OLB James Harrison (Steelers), OLB Adalius Thomas (Ravens)

Defensive backs: CB Chris McAlister (Ravens), CB Ike Taylor (Steelers), S Troy Polamalu (Steelers), S Ed Reed (Ravens)

Analysis: Polamalu and Reed are two of the all-time great safeties, so there is no debate there. Also, fans may recently remember the aging and injured McAlister who was cut by the Ravens last year. But at one point "C-Mac" was the most physically dominant cornerback in the division. Taylor won two Super Bowls with the Steelers and is the best of what's left at cornerback. I also considered Anthony Henry, who played in Cleveland for four years during the decade and had one stellar season when he led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2001.

Other considerations: CB Henry (Browns), S Rod Woodson (Ravens)

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