Category Archives: Steelers

AFC North: Quarter Poll Evaluation

Chris Schisler
Presented By Yogolaada

Week 4 is in the books and one quarter of the season is completed. We will start our quarter poll evaluations with the AFC North.

Overview:
The pundits spent the offseason debating whether Cincinnati or Baltimore would be crowned AFC North Champion. While no team is out of it this early, it looks like a 2 team race. The Bengals opened the season with a gritty win in Baltimore. For the moment this gives them the advantage. The Ravens have really played well since then.

Pittsburgh is (to steal a line from Denny Green) who we thought they were. They are an average team with Ben Roethlisberger as their only extraordinary component. The Browns are much improved, but at 1-2 sit in last place.

Team Evaluations
1.) Bengals: 3-0
The Bengals are playing good football all the way around. The key for the Bengals is that Dalton plays mistake free football. Dalton has done just that. The Bengals have plenty of talent everything depends on Andy Dalton. So far, Dalton is delivering.

Defensively the Bengals are truly impressive. The thing that I am so wowed by is their ability to get pass rush without sending a bunch of blitzers. They have guys who can win one on one battles with offensive lineman all over the front 7. Spreading them out only allows them to show their freakish athleticism in their linebacking group. The secondary is good but when the front 7 is so dominant it can look great.

2.) Baltimore Ravens: 3-1
The beautiful thing about the Ravens is that they are getting better every week. After stumbling in the opener the Ravens have won three straight. The purple and black dominated the Steelers 26-6. It was an impressive win during a short week and the Ray Rice video aftermath. The Ravens then traveled to Cleveland and squeaked out a win against a reborn Browns team. The Ravens last game was a 38-10 pulverization of the Panthers.

There is a sense that the Ravens are just beginning to take flight. The creative offense is behooving Joe Flacco, who looks like a new quarterback. The Ravens running game has been sensational. Steve Smith Sr., Owen Daniels and Kyle Juszczyk have provided Joe Flacco a much better set of weapons. The Ravens have a top 10 offense after week 4, in a brand new offense.

The defense is a work in progress. It has at moments looked great, awful and everything in between. The positive though is that its not allowing a lot of points. With the Ravens offense putting up the points, and a defense that gives up touchdowns seldom, it’s all good in Baltimore.

3.) Pittsburgh Steelers 2-2
The Steelers blew a huge lead against Cleveland, to win their opener in dramatic fashion. The Steelers were then crushed by Baltimore 26-6. They bounced back by steamrolling over Carolina. The lowly Bucs beat them, after that. The 2-2 start is indicative of the average team that they are.

The Steelers are not bad but they are not great. Ben Roethlisberger is still a dangerous quarterback. Antonio Brown continues to be a star; Le’Veon Bell has become one. The offensive line is still a concern (at least in pass protection) and Ben needs mire weapons.

The defense is far from the dominant group they used to be. The Steelers are starting a youth movement on defense, slowly replacing older players. The secondary is laughable and the front 7 can be run on.

4.) Cleveland Browns: 1-2
Close but no cigar is a phrase Cleveland can relate to. The Browns nearly bested the Steelers. They then beat the New Orleans Saints in the dog-pound. The Ravens slipped past them on a last second field goal and then it was their bye week. The Browns could easily be 3-0 but are in typical Browns fashion, 1-2.

After all the Johnny Football hype, it has been Brian Hoyer, who has impressed under center. Hoyer has exceeded expectations and the Browns have played tough in every game. The defense is strong. If the Browns learn to finish, they will be a tough out in the AFC North.

Early Predictions: AFC North

Chris Schisler

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens: 12-4
Reasons: I think the Ravens will have a dominant defense. The Ravens have a now fairly youthful and loaded defensive roster. I also think Gary Kubiak will help Joe Flacco better than ever. The Ravens have more offensive talent around Joe than he has had in his whole career.

Cincinnati Bengals: 10-6
Reasons: This is a very good team. The Bengals however have their flaws. 10-6 will not win the AFC North for a second consecutive season. The Bengals have beaten lesser competition but have struggled against playoff teams.

Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-8
Reasons: Its hard to imagine a bad Steelers team but very easy to see an average one. Big Ben gives them some legitimacy however I don’t see a great team around him. The offensive line is still a major concern. The secondary is still a major concern as well.

Cleveland Browns: 6-10
Reasons: Without Gordon, the offense could struggle. Brian Hoyer is capable but nothing special. Johhny Manziel could be special but it will not happen right away. The Browns will be competitive but will lack the firepower needed offensively.

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Fatal Flaws AFC North

When the regular season begins the hunt for playoff spots begins. When the playoffs begin the strongest 12 remain to fight for the Lombardi Trophy. Only one team walks away from the football season a champion. 31 teams will fail to reach their goal of a championship. Every team has a fatal flaw, a weakness that gets them eliminated somewhere along the way. Every team is flawed, and any flaw can be fatal to their season. The Super Bowl champion overcomes their flaws to win it all because they are most suited win their playoff match ups. Lets examine the fatal flaws each team has, that may prevent their Super Bowl glory.

We continue this examination of every NFL team with the AFC North

Baltimore Ravens
Fatal Flaw: Putting It All Together
Explanation: There are a lot of new pieces to the Ravens construction for the upcoming season. The entire offensive coaching staff has been changed, with the exception of Juan Castillo as the line coach. The Ravens have a few new offensive players in Steve Smith, Owen Daniels and Crockett Gillmore. A handful of expected starters are rookies or are relatively inexperienced Terrence Brooks, CJ Mosley, Timmy Jernigan and Ricky Wagner. On paper the Ravens made a lot of improvements. It may not come together so smoothly in the beginning of the season. If the Ravens gel they will be great. If the Ravens can’t it could be a long season or at least a disappointing end.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Fatal Flaw: Is There Enough Talent Around Big Ben?
Explanation: Ben Roethlisberger gives Pittsburgh a shot in every game they play; he is that good of a quarterback. After missing the playoffs two years in a row you have to wonder if he needs more help. Antonio Brown and Heath Miller are both strong receiving options. However after that the arsenal of pass catchers is questionable at best. Markus Wheaton is now the likely number two receiver after Pittsburgh lost Emmanuel Sanders and Jericho Cotchery to free agency. Wheaton, entering his sophomore season, has 6 receptions as a Steeler. The offensive line is still a huge concern as well. Big Ben has to be great for this team to win; it cannot survive if he does not bring his A game.

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Cincinnati Bengals
Fatal Flaw: Andy Dalton in Crunch Time
Explanation: I am sorry, but I am not filled with confidence in Andy Dalton. Dalton is the single biggest reason a talented Bengals team was embarrassed in the playoffs, at home against the Chargers. Andy Dalton is not a clutch quarterback. He is good, never great and is often bailed out by AJ Green. He has yet to win a playoff game in 3 chances. He has thrown 6 interceptions in the playoffs. Each playoff season is the same story. Dalton can’t get a good team over the hump.

Cleveland Browns
Fatal Flaw: QB Controversy
Explanation: The Browns have a decent roster but are a bit more than a quarterback from being successful. Brian Hoyer gives the Browns the best chance to win now. However if the team struggles with Hoyer the pressure to bring in Johnny Manziel will be ever present. If Manziel is not ready, and they play him it can only go poorly. Manziel could be amazing but it will take time.

Season Preview AFC North

The AFC North is consistently one of the toughest divisions in football. The division is known for its bitter rivalries and hard hitting defense. The Ravens-Steelers rivalry has become one of the most intense rivalries in professional sports. The Baltimore Ravens have won 2 of the last three division championships but missed the playoffs in 2013. Cincinnati won the division but lost an embarrassing home playoff game to San Diego. Pittsburgh was 8-8 last year and Cleveland finished last as usual. It looks to be anyone’s division as 2014 approaches. The Bengals are the division champions until someone knocks them off.

The Baltimore Ravens are primed to become contenders again. Coming out of the draft the Ravens have only one area of real concern, the right tackle position. The Ravens got an upgrade at center, making a trade for Jeremy Zuttah with the Buccaneers. With a healthy Kelechi Osemele at guard it is up to either Ricky Wagner or undrafted free agent James Hurst to step up at right tackle. The Ravens fatal flaw in 2013 was their offensive line. In 2014 it should be greatly improved.

The Ravens signed Steve Smith in free agency. Smith will be a difference maker. Last year teams could take away Torrey Smith and the Ravens were out if options. You can’t double team both Smiths, and you can’t forget about Dennis Pitta. The Ravens look to run a lot of two tight end sets. New offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has a track record of great running games that speaks for itself. Expect bigger and better things offensively for Baltimore.

Defensively the Ravens also have high expectations. Rookies CJ Mosley and Terrance Brooks should make an impact on day 1. Brent Urban and Timmy Jernigan add to a strong defensive line. The Ravens finished 12th in defense last year; I think they are capable of a top 10 performance in 2014.

I expect Baltimore to win the division with a record of 12-4. Joe Flacco has a legitimate offensive coordinator and a good group of weapons. He has no excuses in 2014 and he has won with less.

The Bengals have one of the best rosters in football. Despite losing defensive coordinator, Mike Zimmer, the Bengals defense is strong. They have a great group of playmakers on offense AJ Green, Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert just to name a few. The question is how far can Andy Dalton take them.

The Bengals were practically given their division title last season. Baltimore and Pittsburgh were dysfunctional and the Browns…well they were the Browns. If Baltimore regains the stride that won them the division title in 2011-2012 the Bengals are in trouble. Andy Dalton traditionally plays poorly. Dalton on most days would have given the Ravens the game with 2 interceptions in week 17. The 2013 Ravens were too stubbornly bad to take advantage. The Bengals are a good team that should be respected but not feared. Marvin Lewis’s club is 0-5 in the postseason for a reason. Cincinnati will go 10-6 and be a wild card team, thats my prediction.

The Cleveland Browns got a lot more interesting in the NFL Draft, getting their franchise quarterback, Johnny Manziel. The Browns probably won’t have a lot of patience and Manziel may get on the field early. Its hard to be patient after years of losing. Fans expect Manziel to save them, only time will tell if he can. Terrance West was a good draft pick for Cleveland. He adds a power running game to take pressure off the quarterback. Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron are the main weapons for Cleveland’s passing attack. The offense is the question, we know they have a good defense. I think the Browns will be competitive, they are heading in the right direction. However they are a year or two away from making some real noise.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons and could be looking at a third. They may have a special duo in Ben Roethlisberger and head coach Mike Tomlin but they do not have a special team. Roethlisberger was the only reason Pittsburgh managed 8 wins last season. The defense is not what it once was and neither are some its aging starsThe Steelers may be capable of a decent year, but they are behind Cincinatti and Baltimore.

In the end it comes down to the Ravens and the Bengals. The Ravens will take steps offensively and Joe Flacco will out duel Andy Dalton. The Ravens and Bengals meet week one. Both teams will look to make a statement in the opener.

Draft Grades AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: A-

The Baltimore Ravens drafted all solid players. CJ Mosley was a top 10 talent available at 17. For anyone who says it does not fill a need, may I ask you why he will start day 1? Terrance Brooks was a steal in the third round and he will start as well at free safety. The Ravens 2nd round prospect is a defensive lineman the Ravens seem to be in love with, Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan. You can criticize the Ravens for passing on more pressing needs; a Morgan Moses (OT from Virginia) would have made more sense. But Jernigan is a good player and a good value. The Ravens have been heavily criticized for drafting tight end Crockett Gilmore. This is silly because he is a great player and is a pick geared to the future. The moral of the story is that Baltimore drafted 9 good football players. Can you knock them for that?

Cleveland Browns: C+

The Cleveland Browns got their franchise quarterback in Johnny Manziel, but this does not excuse a bevy of questionable decisions. Their star receiver, Josh Gordon, is facing a possible season long suspension. The Browns needed receiver help before this news broke. The Browns traded away the fourth overall selection to the Bills for a good haul. The Browns however would have been better off taking the superstar receiver the Bills took (Sammy Watkins , Clemson). The Browns moved to the 9th selection but traded 1 spot up to select Justin Gilbert. To trade up for Gilbert at all is an egregious error to me. I had 3 cornerbacks ranked above him; Gilbert has many technical problems despite be a combine/proday hero. Cleveland would have been suited taking Eric Ebron (who Detroit took with the next pick) or Odell Beckham Jr. (Who the Giants took with the 12th selection). The Browns do get credit for a crafty trade up in front of Baltimore to select Towson running back Terrance West. Peirre Desir in the fourth was a high value, but it was surprising they would take another cornerback. The Joel Bitinio pick was a reach. Cleveland took Christian Kirksey, when a better OLB Scott Crichton got drafted immediately after. 3 reaches does not make for a great draft, despite the importance of landing Manziel.

Cincinnati Bengals: B

The Bengals got my highest ranked cornerback in Darqueeze Dennard. Dennard was a phenomenal draft pick and the most technically and fundamentally sound defensive back in this draft class. I did not like the Jeremy Hill pick. There were better backs there, it was a bit of a reach and it did not fit a need. The Bengals did a good job, drafting good players. With one reach I think a B is fair.

Pittsburgh Steelers: C-
In my opinion Ryan Shazier was a reach at 14; its a risk as he is a boom or bust player. The Dri Archer pick was unforgivable they essentially drafted a kick returner with the 97th pick. They did get a great value in Clemson receiver Martaviaus Bryant, and Stephen Tuitt. Jordan Zumwalt was not the best interior linebacker available. Too many reaches, really drive down the Steelers grade. They got a few good players but did not really improve their roster.

Team Needs AFC North, AFC East

Chris Schisler

AFC North
1.) Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens have two major needs. They need a free safety to pair with last years first pick Matt Elam. Baltimore also needs a right tackle. Right tackle is not typically a position drafted. Don’t be surprised if the Ravens try to find the long term solution at wide receiver. With the uncertainty around Ray Rice Baltimore will probably use one of their third round picks on a running back.

2.) Cleveland Browns: The Browns have a good team, they really do. To show the world this they will need a franchise quarterback. They also need a receiver to pair with Josh Gordon. Running back is also a need.

3.) Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers have a handful of needs. They need a free safety and should also look for the aging number 43 as well. The Steelers need a receiver and a cornerback.

4.) Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals biggest need is defensive end. A guy like Kony Ealy would make a lot of sense.

AFC East

1.) New England Patriots: The Patriots need weapons for Tom Brady. I expect them to draft a wide receiver. They could also use help on the defensive line.

2.) Miami Dolphins: I don’t think the dolphins are satisfied at wide receiver. Their biggest need however is help on the offensive line.

3.) New York Jets: With Eric Decker signed in free agency the Jets are less receiver needy. I could still see them drafting one though. I think their biggest need however is cornerback.

4.) Buffalo Bills: The Bills need more explosion offensively. This would be a common sense landing spot for tight end Eric Ebron. The Bills will also look for help at right tackle and in the secondary.

5 Things We Learned Week 3

Its hard to believe we have seen almost a quarter of the NFL season. Week 3 is in the books. Teams are starting to reveal who they really are. Here is what we have learned from week 3.

1.) The Colts are tougher than many thought.

I predicted in the preseason that Indianapolis would win the AFC South. It was going out on a limb as many consider Houston the class of that division. After Indianapolis let a win get away from them at home in week 2; they had a lot to prove in San Francisco.

The game was a grinder but the Colts owned the fourth quarter. Andrew Luck played well but what sticks out was how well the Colts ran the ball. Against one of the toughest defenses in football the Colts were ready fir a heavyweight fight.

The Colts are heavyweights make no mistake about it. Andrew Luck is quickly becoming great, and looks even better than it did last year. We are finally seeing the Chuck Pagano defense come into fruition. With the one two punch of Bradshaw and newly acquired Trent Richardson in the backfield, the Colts have a surplus of young talent. The Colts have a chance to get rolling stronger than mist people thought they would.

2.) The Pittsburgh Steelers are who we thought they were.

The Bears did not let the Steelers off the hook for pathetic offensive line play, and lack of overall talent. Yes the Steelers showed signs of life, but they were bad. Turnovers, sacks and penalties sank the Steelers to a 0-3 start.

Ben Roethlisberger is the worst quarterback to have behind a bad offensive line. He extends plays behind a struggling line which exasperates their problems. If Ben does not get the ball out quicker, the Steelers will continue to struggle. They cannot run the ball. When you get beat up front everything else becomes that much harder.

3.) We cannot trust Michael Vick & the Eagles.

While everyone got crazy ga ga in love with the genius of Chip Kelly, i had some reservations. Many of these reservations were concerns about Michael Vick. Vick has fooled us in the past. He is capable of dominant stretches but always regresses when we fall for it.

Vick quite literally threw the game away last Thursday. Alex Smith did not play great football himself but Vick was awful. Vick is a quarterback that requires structure and a tight leash. When Andy Reid convinced Vick that he needed the structure of his offense, reading progressions and proper mechanics Vick flourished. When Vick got full of himself he regressed into his chaotic ways of being a quarterback slot machine. Kelly’s offense encourages him to go fast, to take thinking out of the game. How’s that turning out? I fell for the glorious Starship 7 act before, i did. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.

4.) The Giants are a disaster.

Here is the good news. The Giants have a 2 time Superbowl champion coach and quarterback, and the receiving talent is spectacular. That is the only good news. The bad news: the offensive line gives Pittsburgh a run for worst line in the league; and the defense is just bad. Eli is throwing way to many interceptions, but is getting no help from the offensive line. The Giants cannot run the ball. The Giants got manhandled by an average Panthers team. There was 0 pass rush, their linebackers are a joke. Their secondary is just sad.

5.) Here Come The Ravens

The defense looks dominant. The Ravens were 2.5 point underdogs at home vs the Houston Texans. They obviously could care less as they kicked but in a 30-9 victory. Baltimore might just have the best front seven in football. We expected that. But did we expect the secondary to play this well? Matt Elam and James Ihedibo played lights out, so far above expectations. Charm City is now Sack City because of the dominant defense.

The offense is a work in progress but took significant steps forward. Once they realized they needed to be aggressive the Ravens offense finally stepped up and had scoring drives. The Ravens are just starting to roll on all cylinders and are growing into a dominate 2013 team.

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