NFL Nation: La\'Ron McClain
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Let's see who's hot and who's not in the AFC North:
A player who performs well for one quarter rarely makes it to the top of our "Who's hot" list, but Roethlisberger has earned a rare exception this week. His fourth quarter drive against the Baltimore Ravens with the division title and a No. 2 seed on the line was as clutch as it gets for a regular season game. He completed 7 of 11 for 89 yards and a touchdown pass to receiver Santonio Holmes on the game-winning drive. Although the last play will be disputed, Roethlisberger's ability to march the Steelers downfield in a hostile environment cannot be argued.
2. Ed Reed, S, Baltimore Ravens
Roethlisberger said it best after Sunday's game, calling Reed an "animal." Reed was all over the field, recording eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery against Pittsburgh. If not for a clutch tackle by Pittsburgh tackle Max Starks, Reed also may have reached the end zone for the fourth time this season and changed the course of Sunday's game.
3. Hines Ward, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
1. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Another loss Monday to the Philadelphia Eagles solidified Cleveland's seventh double-digit losing season since the team returned to the NFL in 1999. Despite providing hope in 2007, there is a sense of dreadfulness in Northeast Ohio once again that the Browns are a long way from contending in the division. A case could be made otherwise, but regardless, Cleveland cannot hide from its 4-10 record.
3. Willis McGahee, RB, Baltimore RavensMcGahee's play has tailed off this season. He is officially in a slump and on Sunday was reduced to just six carries for 18 yards. He also had two receptions but doesn't look sharp catching passes or hitting the hole. The Ravens are planning to stick with the "three-headed monster" but right now La'Ron McClain is running harder and seeing more playing time.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
|Geoff Burke/US Presswire|
|Ed Reed created three turnovers in Sunday's 24-10 win over the Redskins.|
It was an exciting weekend of games in the AFC North.
Here are seven observations from Week 14:
- This could be the finest season to date for Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. He had another great game, often with help over the top, in holding Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowler Terrell Owens to just three catches for 32 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's 20-13 victory for Pittsburgh. Even on the touchdown Taylor allowed to Owens, Taylor covered well until quarterback Tony Romo bought a lot of time and made a terrific throw on the run to beat the coverage.
- The biggest concern for Pittsburgh right now has to be the team's struggles to find a consistent running game. That was something the Steelers always could rely on in the past. But now tailbacks Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell are joining the rest of the offense as hot-and-cold players. Against Dallas, all three tailbacks combined for just 53 yards on 21 carries. It was particularly uncharacteristic to see Pittsburgh not punch it in on third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal from Dallas' 1-yard line. This is something to monitor closely as the Steelers attempt to make a deep postseason run.
- With the physical ailments Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed (shoulder, neck) is dealing with this year, he is making it up twofold in mental ability. Reed is arguably the smartest defensive player in the NFL and known as a gambler in the secondary. This year, Reed seems to guess right on most chances he takes. Reed single-handedly created three turnovers in a 24-10 win over the Washington Redskins by going in for a strip, which caused a fumble, and picking off two passes by reading the eyes of Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell.
- Despite its offensive turnaround this year, Baltimore is not running the ball as effectively as it would like. The three-headed monster of Willis McGahee, Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice has had breakout games, but as a team the Ravens are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Only Rice (4.1) is above four yards per carry this season, which is ideal for a running back.
- After one start this year, it is clear that Cleveland Browns starting quarterback Ken Dorsey's lack of arm strength is his biggest weakness. Dorsey is a smart quarterback who knows the offense as well as any player on the team. He knows the play and where to go with the football. But there were so many occasions in Sunday's 28-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans where Dorsey didn't have the physical ability to make the proper throws that Cleveland needed to score points. The Browns had short fields on several occasions against Tennessee and settled for field goals.
- Speaking of field goals, in our estimation Browns head coach Romeo Crennel showed another lapse in game-management Sunday. The Browns were down 15 points in the fourth quarter, which makes it a two-possession game. They were on Tennessee's 22-yard line on fourth down and elected to kick a field goal to make the score 21-9. This essentially makes a two-possession game a three-possession game because the Browns still need two scores. In fact, Cleveland needed a pair of touchdowns whether the team kicked the field goal or not. So why not go for the touchdown while deep in Titans territory?
- The Bengals are clearly outmanned, but in the NFL it is difficult to be outscored 69-6 in two games. You wonder if there is any fight left in this team? There are other basement teams around the league like the Seattle Seahawks (2-11), Kansas City Chiefs (2-11) and Detroit Lions (0-13) that are still fighting week to week. But Cincinnati appears to be the most disinterested team in the league down the stretch.
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Here are the most interesting story lines in the AFC North:
- Coming off the season-ending shoulder injury to rookie tailback Rashard Mendenhall, the Pittsburgh Steelers reacted quickly Tuesday and signed Najeh Davenport.
Morning take: Not a bad move, considering the circumstances. Davenport knows the offense so he shouldn't have much of a learning curve. He just needs to hold the fort for another week or two before starter Willie Parker returns.
- The Cincinnati Bengals added another running back off the street Tuesday, signing former Chicago Bears tailback Cedric Benson.
Morning take: Unlike the Steelers' move, this signing didn't make as much sense. Benson's had some character concerns and there's a hometown product from nearby Kentucky in Shaun Alexander who has a better resume and would have been a better public relations move.
- Continuing Tuesday's theme of AFC North running backs, Willis McGahee's ribs are a concern this week for the Baltimore Ravens.
Morning take: Baltimore could really use McGahee this week against the Tennessee Titans. But fullback La'Ron McClain also is quietly developing into a nice find when needed to carry the football.