“The wheel is turning and it can’t slow down…” – Robert Hunter
The AFC North has been referenced in many ways since Sunday. It’s been called the best division in the NFL, the most overrated division in the NFL, the most confusing, the biggest powerhouse, the best-coached, the worst-coached, and the most likely to not have a representative the Super Bowl.
I’d have to agree with all of the above, as there is no clear-cut favorite anymore. Teams that look ready for dead rise up and post improbable victories, while hard-charging teams fall miserably flat against weaker opponents. You may repeat this as many times as is necessary, as it appears to be what our beloved division is doing.
Thank goodness this isn’t a predictions piece, as I’d be bald from scratching my head.
Here’s a recap of last weekend’s AFC North games. Enjoy.
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Thursday, November 6, 8:30pm
Final: Browns 24, Bengals 3
This game’s score represented the action on the field accurately, as the Browns were efficient and timely offensively, while their defense was stifling and opportunistic. Of course, the biggest factor for both teams was the – to be kind – subpar outing from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who registered career lows in every measurable passing category, including a QB rating of 2.0; good for the lowest registered in the NFL this season. It’s becoming apparent that Dalton (and the rest of the Bengals, for that matter) has real issues with performing well in prime time appearances, as this sort of outing is nothing new for them after the lights go on. The Browns took control from almost the opening snap, harassing Dalton into the first of his three interceptions on his first pass, which they converted into the first Browns touchdown of the game.
There’s just not much to say about the Bengals right now, who clearly are having trouble stopping the run, and are having trouble mustering any offense. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill averaged 4.6 YPC, but also committed a costly, momentum-killing turnover early in the second quarter when it appeared the game was still salvageable.
Offensively for the Browns, quarterback Brian Hoyer played an even (if unremarkable) game, completing 15 of 23 passes for 198 yards, with no scores, but no turnovers. Hoyer was certainly buoyed by his running game, which produced 170 yards and three touchdowns, led by rookie running back Terrance West’s 96 yards. No Cleveland receiver totaled more than 48 yards, but given the dominating nature of the defense, more wasn’t required.
Kudos to head coach Mike Pettine, whose defensive game plan resembled that of former coaching brethren and mentor Rex Ryan, with a preponderance of blitzes from all angles and almost constant pressure in the Bengals backfield.
What’s Next: The Browns host the reeling Houston Texans (Sunday, November 16, 1:00pm, CBS), while the Bengals travel to New Orleans to challenge the NFC South-leading Saints (also Sunday, November 16, 1:00pm, CBS).
Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, November 9, 1:00pm
Final: Ravens 21, Titans 7
Hearkening back to previous years, the Ravens used an excellent defensive and ground-based offensive game plans to take down the Titans, who started well, but were largely ineffective in all areas after the first quarter.
Titans rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger looked up for the task early, despite an early fumble from running back Shonn Greene. Mettenberger calmly led the team down the field and completed a swing pass to running back Leon Washington for the first touchdown of the game.
Then it all changed.
The Ravens’ defense proceeded to collect five sacks and force an interception while taking complete control of the game. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil terrorized Tennessee tackle (and former teammate) Michael Oher all day, registering 2.5 sacks. Newly-signed cornerback Danny Gorrer notched the only pick of the day, highlighting a surprisingly solid effort by the maligned (and deservedly so) Baltimore secondary.
The Ravens were able to coast offensively, as running back Justin Forsett maintained a steady pace, rushing for 112 yards on 20 carries (5.6 YPC) and two touchdowns. Quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t provide many highlights, but managed the game well enough, passing for one touchdown and no turnovers. The Ravens were led, somewhat surprisingly, by oft-troubled wideout Torrey Smith’s five catches for 75 yards.
What’s Next: The Ravens enjoy a much-needed bye week.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets
Sunday, November 9, 1:00pm
Final: Jets 20, Steelers 13
The Steelers continued their baffling tradition of losing to inferior competition, as the Jets jumped out to 17-point lead in the first quarter and never relinquished it. Recent record-setting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hit repeatedly and forced out of his comfort zone, as the Jets appeared to make this a focal point of their game plan.
Offensively, the Steelers never seemed to wake up, as half of their drives resulted in punts, turnovers, and a costly missed Shaun Suisham field goal. Roethlisberger, under almost constant duress, threw two interceptions and was hit seemingly every dropback, and wideout Antonio Brown contributed two lost fumbles, including one that led directly to a Jets touchdown. The offensive line, which had been key during the Steelers’ recent offensive surge, looked overpowered most of the afternoon by the Jets’ unheralded pass rush. And the running game, which had provided the perfect counterbalance to the passing game, produced little, as starting running back Le’Veon Bell produced 69 total yards from scrimmage.
The Jets were able to control the game offensively by using short, controlled passes the majority of the game, with the exception of one long TD pass from quarterback Michael Vick to wideout T.J. Graham. Vick kept the Steelers’ defense off-balance by using his feet to control the pass rush, which has been rare in Vick’s career lately. Overall, the Jets amassed 150 yards rushing, using a variety of formations and packages to repeatedly test different areas of the Steelers’ defensive front, which clearly lost steam in the later minutes of the game.
What’s Next: The Steelers travel to Tennessee to take on the youthful Titans (Monday, November 17, 8:30pm) in a suddenly meaningful contest.