AFC North Week 8 Recap

AFC North Week 8 Recap
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Although injuries were front and center this week, this was the biggest positive play in the AFC North’s marquee game.
Arizona Cardinals @ Cleveland Browns
You can read the detailed recap here. The Browns fast start was nullified by Carson Palmer and 27 unanswered points.
Next up, the Browns head to Cincinnati for a tough Thursday night clash with the 7-0 Bengals.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers

With the return of Ben Roethlisberger and an opening 80 yard touchdown drive, this game had the makings of an exciting offensive shootout in Pittsburgh. By the game’s end however, there were 23 total drives ending in 10 punts, five turnovers, a blocked field goal, 20 penalties, and a season ending injury to the Steelers star running back. The Bengals showed flashes of self-destruction, but in the end it was the Steelers miscues and coaching decisions that helped aid a Bengals victory.
Steelers :
After the Steelers opening drive, it looked like Ben Roethlisberger hadn’t missed a beat. Unfortunately the three drives that followed totaled 11 plays, 14 yards, and three punts before they ended the half by marching quickly into Bengals territory, then stalling before entering field goal range.
This trend continued in the second half with two punts and three interceptions in their first six drives. The one exception was a 78 yard drive ending in a 32 yard field goal. There could have been another exception, but coach Mike Tomlin opted not to kick a 53-yard field goal (after a penalty knocked them back from the Bengals 25), and instead punted. The result was a net 18 yard pooch (or 26 if they missed the FG). The Steelers’ seventh and final drive started with 1:47, a sack, and little promise of marching another 88 yards for a game winning touchdown. In the end, they drove to the Bengals 16 with a shot at a game winning touchdown.
The Bengals had lost eight of 10 to the Steelers coming into Sunday, so any win against them is a good win. Their defense was much more productive that it had been over the previous four games when the opposition averaged 23 points and over 400 yards of offense.
On the offensive side, while Andy Dalton technically threw interceptions in consecutive 4th quarter drives, one was just as good as a 67-yard punt as he heaved a 3rd and 25 pass from his own 9 and the end result was 1st and 10 for the Steelers at their 24. This was actually a huge play with just over seven minutes left in the game. If the defender drops the INT, the Steelers likely start near midfield or better.
The previous Dalton interception was absolutely horrible, occuring on 3rd and goal from the 5, costing his team at least 3 valuable points. However, just as Bengals fans were saying “here we go again”, With 2:57 remaining, Dalton took advantage of a short field following a Big Ben INT for the game winning touchdown. 13 seconds later, struggling kicker Ted Nugent nailed a 44 yarder (following another Ben INT) to force the Steelers to go for a TD rather than a game tying FG.
Next up: The Steelers host a suddenly feisty Oakland Raiders team, and the current 5th seed in the AFC. If you aren’t sure who the Bengals play, shame on you for skipping the elaborate writeup on the Browns.
San Diego Chargers @ Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens squeaked out an uninspiring win against the depleted San Diego Chargers. They are now 2-6 in games decided by one score, whatever that means. It was a game that should have been one-sided if its true that bad offensive lines are the downfall to a team. Lucky for the Chargers, who were reduced to 3rd string fill-ins, they were lined up against a Ravens defensive front seven, a unit that is not equipped to take advantage of such a weakness.
As much criticism as Joe Flacco gets, and frankly deserves much of the time, his effort in this game was not one of those times. What does deserve harsh trolling is the Ravens offensive line who couldn’t dent one of the NFL’s worst rushing defenses until late in the game. The unit that fared even worse than the OL was the defensive front seven. Combine the seven with the weekly of breakdowns in the defensive backfield, and you get nine incompletions on 37 passing attempts and one sack against “NFL linemen”, some of whom couldn’t crack an opening day roster. Ravens injuries did play a part as well, but don’t whine to the Chargers. They started the day thin and 12 additional players left due to injury. Eight did not return.
Joe Flacco was again under pressure often, but this time he managed his risk-taking very well with movement in and out of the pocket, and threw the ball accurately and on time. In the second half, his backup center (famous NFL mathematician John Urschel) couldn’t calculate the correct trajectory and deliver a shotgun snap but Flacco stayed calm and poised when the snaps floated like balloons. This was never more evident than when the Ravens were driving for a late score when they were down 23-19 at the San Diego 13. The bad snap was bobbled, but the reverse pivot screen play that required perfect timing went off without a hitch down to the 1 yard line. Flacco punched it in from there.
Additional props have to go to Justin Tucker for his 5 for 5 FG effort, Punter Sam Koch who booted a 60 and 62 yarder to increase his 2015 average to nearly 50 yards a punt, and 45.6 net, and Jacoby Jones for doing what he does (at least over the past three years). He let a ball drop that was kicked to within five yards of where he was standing. The Result was a 16 yard roll to the 3 yard line where the Chargers couldn’t recover on offense. This led to a big Ravens defensive stand and the go-ahead touchdown mentioned earlier. Speaking of stand, the defense deserves a golf clap for keeping the Chargers pinned after that Jacoby gaff, and for only allowing three points in the 4th.
Next up, the Ravens take the week off and hope a #1 receiver falls in their lap (or cornerback or edge rusher).

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