AFC North Week 15 in Review

AFC North Week 15 in Review
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“One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer.” – Franz Kafka

And that is one of the many reasons why we write all of this…stuff.  It provides a means by which we can review, often to our detriment, just how fickle and tumultuous the NFL can be.  This last weekend offered several nail-biting moments for our AFC North teams, and some predictable tragedy in northern Ohio.  But the elation coupled with the depression of each game, often experienced on a play-by-play basis, is enough to drive one to drink…more.

Here’s some captured memories of last weekend’s elation/depression.


Jacksonville Jaguars @ Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm
Final: Ravens 20, Jaguars 12

While not quite the blowout many predicted, the Ravens pulled away late on the strength of a ferocious pass rush coupled with some obvious mistakes by the youthful Jaguars, who showed a lot of potential and a lot of flaws between the starting and closing whistles.

Quarterback Joe Flacco was forced to shoulder a substantial amount of the offensive production, as the Jaguars stacked the line of scrimmage heavily against the run, and made it very obvious that their focus was not to let former Jaguar Justin Forsett add to his career-high rushing totals.  The Jaguars unhearalded front four generated consistent pressure throughout the day, forcing Flacco to move out of the pocket often and deliver some off-balance throws, often on key third downs.  Flacco was still able to deliver almost everywhere but the red zone, completing 20 of 30 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown, although he allowed several drives to stall around midfield, resulting in a couple of long missed field goals that could have clinched the game far sooner.

The Ravens, facing a rookie quarterback in Jaguars starter Blake Bortles, cut loose the pass rush, allowing ends/linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to rush the passer almost exclusively all day, resulting in 3.5 sacks between them.  Rookie defensive end Timmy Jernigan collected two sacks in his second start while pushing the pocket and generally making Bortles uncomfortable all day.  The Ravens’ secondary enjoyed a decent day for a change due in part to recent-signee cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who defended the first two passes thrown his way with textbook technique.

What’s Next:  The Ravens travel to Houston to take on the quarterback-depleted Texans (Sunday, December 21, 1:00pm, CBS) in another must-win for the Ravens.


Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns
Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm
Final: Bengals 30, Browns 0


That seemed to be the collective reaction of most Browns fans as they witnessed rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel’s ill-fated first NFL start.  While there was plenty of blame to spread around for the Browns abysmal showing, Manziel’s oft-publicized bravado and attitude surely took a major blow after a humbling outing…or did they?

Offensively, there’s just not much to say.  Manziel stumbled, often literally, all day, showing none of his trademark escapability and little arm strength, connecting on 10 of 18 passes for just 80 yards with two ghastly interceptions.  The Browns, trailing for the entire game, only ran the ball 17 times for a 3.1 YPC average, thereby taking little pressure off of Manziel, who was sacked three times and hit three others as he struggled to read the field and establish passing lanes.  Manziel will get a couple of more chances to prove himself this season, but to say this was an inauspicious start would be selling it far, far short.

The Bengals, conscious of their offensive successes recently, opted to run the ball heavily with starter Jeremy Hill (25 carries, 148 yards, two TDs) and backup Giovani Bernard (15 carries, 79 yards) to run the clock and limit Cleveland’s possessions.  The strategy worked, to say the least, and it obscured an otherwise ugly day from starting quarterback Andy Dalton, whose numbers – 14 of 24, 117 yards, one INT – weren’t much better than Manziel’s.  While the Bengals found a way to win, they won’t progress unless Dalton finds a way to overcome  his recent poor stretch of play.

Standouts on defense lie almost entirely with the Bengals, as linebacker Vincent Rey continued his recent trend of leading the team in tackles (6).  End Carlos Dunlap notched a sack and three quarterback hits as he pushed into the backfield on almost every Manziel dropback and forced several hurried, ill-advised throws.  Bengals third-year starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick recorded his fourth career interception, while Browns linebacker Craig Robertson logged his first of the year to accompany his 10 tackles.

What’s Next:  The Bengals welcome the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos to Cincinnati (Monday, December 22, 8:30pm, ESPN), while the Browns travel to Charlotte, NC, to take on the Cam Newton-less Panthers (Sunday, December 21, 1:00pm, CBS).


Pittsburgh Steelers @ Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm
Final:  Steelers 27, Falcons 20

Timely defense proved to be the difference on a day when the Steelers and Falcons generated a lot of yardage but few points offensively.  The Steelers managed to find a way to win despite another nail-biting fourth quarter which saw the Falcons close to within a touchdown before running out of steam.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger set a new season-high in yardage with his 360 on this day, including 123 yards from wideout Antonio Brown and 72 from running back Le’Veon Bell, to bring his season total to 4, 415 and putting him in line for over 5,000.  Bell suffered a forgettable day on the ground (2.4 YPC), but was able to offset his lack of yards by adding two timely offensive touchdowns the Steelers sorely needed.

The game’s clincher arrived in the second quarter when cornerback Willie Gay intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for a touchdown return of 52 yards, Gay’s touchdown would prove to be the difference in the final score.   Ryan and Falcons wideout Harry Douglas kept the Pittsburgh secondary busy, as both Gay and fellow corner Antwon Blake logged eight tackles each.  The Steelers’ pass rush didn’t generate a sack, but did manage to make Ryan uncomfortable in the pocket for much of the first half while keeping the Falcons’ running game largely in check, excluding Ryan’s three scrambles for 27 yards.

What’s Next:  The Steelers face off against the playoff-hopeful Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, December 21, 1:00pm, CBS) in a playoff qualifier for both teams.


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