Four Downs
Offseason analysis of the NFL, division by division

Four Downs: AFC North

Four Downs: AFC North
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Mike Tanier

Baltimore Ravens

The Ray-Ray Trio

Question: Are the Ravens in deep trouble if they lose their three top linebackers to free agency?

Answer: Think "Marianas Trench." That deep.

Few teams could absorb the loss of three starting linebackers, and no team has a trio as good as Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Bart Scott. If all three leave Baltimore, the Ravens will lose more than Lewis' leadership, Suggs' sacks, and Scott's steadiness.

At Football Outsiders, we classify tackles in a variety of ways. A "stop" is a tackle for a short gain. A "defeat" is a tackle for no gain or a loss, or a tackle that prevents a conversion on third down. Stops are good plays, defeats are great plays, and the Lewis-Suggs-Scott trio made more than its share of both in 2008.

Lewis finished 14th in the league in stops, Suggs finished 18th, and Scott finished 30th. Suggs led the NFL with 36 defeats; Lewis was 11th with 27. The average linebacker records between 12 and 18 defeats per year, so those numbers are extraordinary. Scott didn't record many defeats on passing plays, but he and Lewis each earned 12 defeats against the run (tied for 11th in the NFL), while Suggs was second in the league with 17 run defeats. Add them up, and all of those "quiet" big plays were as important to the Ravens defense as Ed Reed's highlight-reel interception returns.

Replace Suggs, Lewis, and Scott with ordinary linebackers, and the Ravens will lose much more than some sacks and pregame speeches. They would lose about 25 defeats, which would translate into almost as many first downs for opposing offenses. Their stops would also drop to league averages, turning two-yard gains into five-yarders. Opponents' drives would be longer, and because the Ravens would force fewer third-and-long situations, they would also generate fewer sacks, fumbles, and interceptions. Ironically, the tackle totals of the replacement linebackers might actually go up; with teams driving down the field, there would be more opponents to tackle!

The Ravens will try to keep as much of their linebacker corps intact as possible, but they have multiple free agents to satisfy and only so many cap dollars. Given their options, they should take care of Lewis and company first. Keep Ray Lewis happy: Now that's always good advice.

Who Could Leave?

The term "hometown discount" is rapidly entering the national consciousness. Terrell Suggs is amenable to giving the Ravens a break in free agency so he can stay in Baltimore. Lewis disagrees, at least outwardly. The whole Ravens organization is working hard to keep Lewis satisfied. Both Ozzie Newsome and Jim Harbaugh have stressed Lewis' importance in the last two weeks, and Newsome said that he would outbid just about any offer. One likely scenario: Lewis and Suggs stay, every other key free agent walks.

Those other free agents include Jim Leonhard, who had a fine season at safety but looks like a system guy, and Corey Ivy, a replaceable third cornerback. Chris McAlister will probably retire. Jason Brown had a great season at center, but the Ravens probably won't be able to keep him if they break the bank at linebacker.

Both kicker Matt Stover and punter Sam Koch are free agents. Stover is a 20-year vet, and the Ravens may opt to get younger on special teams. Role players like tight end Dan Wilcox and Lorenzo Neal will only return if the price is really right. Kyle Boller may sell you your next insurance policy.

Who Should They Sign?

Internal signings will be the Ravens' top priority. They'll look to fill their biggest needs, starting at wide receiver, through the draft. If they splurge, the Ravens could seek a younger veteran kicker like Shayne Graham or add a depth-type receiver. Brandon Lloyd is a lousy fit in most NFL offenses, but imagine him streaking down the field a few times per game, then leaping for a Joe Flacco bomb. As a third or fourth option in this offense, he could be a productive fire-and-forget weapon.

Cincinnati Bengals

Dink and Dunked

Question: What part of the Bengals offense needs immediate repair?

Answer: Fix the screen. Bugs are getting in.

The 2008 Bengals were the Roger Bannister of dink-and-dunk attacks, averaging just 8.8 yards per completion, becoming the first offense in league history to dip below nine yards per catch. The former record was 9.2, held by the 2006 Texans and another squad hailing from the Queen City, the 1934 Cincinnati Reds. Last season, the Bengals were nearly three yards below the league average of 11.4 and almost five yards below the league-leading Panthers, who averaged 13.4 yards per completion.

There's nothing wrong with building an offense around short passes, but those passes must be productive. The Bengals completed 77 passes that netted less than five yards. Five of those plays resulted in first downs and touchdowns, so we'll consider them successful. That leaves 72 junk passes, or 23.8 percent of the team's completions. No other team had such a high percentage of its passes go nowhere.

Ryan Fitzpatrick only deserves part of the blame. Carson Palmer averaged just 8.9 yards per completion before getting injured, still well below league average. Play-calling was a larger issue. T.J. Houshmandzadeh's statistics reflect the team's low-calorie, high-filler passing diet. Fourteen of his 92 receptions netted four yards or less. Eight of them occurred on first-and-10, when the team was hoping for more than a two-yard plunge. Coordinator Bob Bratkowski dialed up lots of screens to get Hooch involved, but far too many of those plays were barely more productive than an incomplete pass.

Chris Perry, prime suspect for most of the Bengals offensive woes in 2008, was also culpable in the short passing game. He averaged just 3.6 yards per catch. Perry's misadventures include two 5-yard losses, a 4-yard loss, a 3-yard loss, and three no-gainers. Every running back gets stuffed on a screen once in a while, but Perry did it on 35 percent of his receptions.

Bratkowski won't have to worry about Perry or Fitzpatrick next year, but he will probably also be without Houshmandzadeh, a great player who averaged 11.8 yards per catch before last season. Bratkowski will have to get the short passing game on track by improving the blocking on screens and by cultivating a running back who can do damage in the open field. He'll also have to pick his spots better. Too many tunnel screens on first down can kill an offense, especially when the tunnel doesn't lead anywhere.

Who Could Leave?

Chad Johnson thinks Houshmadzadeh wants to return to the Bengals. As reliable sources go, Ocho Cinco is right up there with the boy who cried wolf. The Bengals reportedly made Hooch an offer recently, but it was rejected. The franchise tag is still an option. Defensive tackle John Thornton is optimistic about the Bengals' chances of making the playoffs next year but pessimistic about his chances of staying in Cincy. Thornton is on the downside of his career but will get some offers.

Kicker Shayne Graham could cash in with another team if the Bengals focus their efforts on signing second-tier free agents like linebacker Richard Jeanty. Tackle Stacy Andrews, last year's franchise player, should be back. He's recovering from major knee injuries and is working on a new deal.

Who Should They Sign?

The Bengals need help on defense, and there are impact defenders on the market. If they cannot land a blue chip like Terrell Suggs or Julius Peppers, the Bengals should be able to upgrade the defense by signing Karlos Dansby or LeRoy Hill. With Keith Rivers expected back next year, one good signing could turn the linebacker corps from a weakness to a strength.

Cedric Benson is a free agent, and the Bengals might bring him back after his passable-at-times performance in the second half of last season. Making Benson a full-time back would be a big mistake. There are plenty of change-up backs on the market, including Derrick Ward and Darren Sproles, who could handle a 15-carry, 10-target workload. That would allow Benson to work between the tackles and in short yardage.

If Hooch leaves, the Bengals will need depth at wide receiver. Unless they work some Anquan Boldin miracle, they won't get a player in Hooch's class. If they want a possession receiver to tide them over for a year, they could grab an old-timer like Bobby Engram or a career slot player like Shaun McDonald.

Cleveland Browns

ManGenius by the Lake

Question: How will the Browns offense be different under Eric Mangini?

Answer: The future is wide open.

Eric Mangini likes to spread the field and spread the ball around. His Jets lined up in shotgun on 38 percent of their offensive snaps last year, 10th in the NFL. Brett Favre attempted 522 passes, many of them from empty backfield sets that made the running game an empty threat. The Jets line up with four or more wide receivers about 25 percent of the time, even though running back Leon Washington and tight end Dustin Keller are split out as wide receivers.

The Browns will certainly be more shotgun-oriented in 2009. They used the formation just 30 percent of the time last year, and they would have used it far less if they weren't playing from behind in so many games. Mangini's shotgun-spread tendencies will be obvious in certain situations. The Browns, like most teams, usually ran the ball on third-and-short in 2008: 23 runs versus 15 passes on third-and-less than two yards. Mangini likes to pass in short yardage situations, throwing 31 times versus 14 runs. The coach may change his tune a little when he sees the Browns quarterback situation, but look for him to spread the field and ask Brady Quinn (or someone) throw short to get the tough yards.

That quarterback will need more receivers to target. Braylon Edwards will get his opportunities, and Kellen Winslow will fit the offense perfectly if he's healthy. The Jets threw to their tight ends 119 times last year, and Mangini will increase that number to get the ball to one of his best weapons. But Mangini likes to get the running backs involved in the passing game. Thomas Jones and Leon Washington combined for 83 receptions on 103 attempts last year. The Browns' top three running backs caught just 57 passes in 87 attempts. Mangini will have to cultivate someone to take Washington's role as the flat pass and draw play threat on third down.

Shotgun sets, passes on third-and-short, and dump-offs to the running back. Mangini football frustrated Jets fans, but Browns fans may find the aerial attack to be a breath of fresh air.

Who Could Leave?

New General Manager George Kokinis is still settling in and taking care of housecleaning matters: hanging photos, stocking his desk, cutting Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski. Kokinis also released journeyman cornerback Terry Cousin and injury case Antwaan Peek, signaling the start of yet another new era.

It's not clear what Kokinis plans to do with safety Sean Jones or linebacker Andra Davis. Jones missed several games with injuries last season, but he's got good range and ball skills. He wants to stay in Cleveland, and the team should accommodate him. Davis is a productive run defender who doesn't offer much in the passing game anymore. He's expendable.

Most of the remaining Browns free agents are old-timers like Willie McGinest or roster fillers. Look for most of them to walk as Mangini and Kokinis put their stamp on the roster.

Who Should They Sign?

Imagine Kurt Warner mentoring Brady Quinn. Mangini probably has. Prying Warner loose would be a tall order for the Browns, but a Warner-Quinn combination would be a perfect match of skills and personalities. If Warner isn't available, Mangini should look for another veteran placeholder, like Kerry Collins or (seriously) Joey Harrington. Harrington could be effective for a year or two in Mangini's short passing offense. Now that the entire front office is different, Jeff Garcia might even consider a return to Cleveland.

The Browns need to get younger and better on the offensive line, and center is a good place to start. Hank Fraley is getting old, and the Ravens' Jason Brown is on the market. The Browns won't be able to pursue both Brown and a top veteran quarterback, but if they opt to enter the season with Quinn, Derek Anderson, and a can-do spirit, they can afford a top-shelf lineman.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Hero, Just for One Day

Question: Was Santonio Holmes' Super Bowl performance a sign of things to come?

Answer: Steelers fans better hope not.

Santanio Holmes has never caught more than six passes in a regular season game, so his heroic nine-catch, 131-yard Super Bowl performance was a surprise. Holmes has been somewhat disappointing since the Steelers took him 25th overall in 2006: He is yet to record a 1,000-yard or 60-catch season. Perhaps the Super Bowl was Holmes' belated coming out party.

The Steelers targeted Holmes 13 times in the Super Bowl, not counting the reception that was called back because of intentional grounding. The Steelers rarely call Holmes' number that often. He was thrown to 13 times just once in 2008: in Week 9 against the Redskins. He was targeted for 10 passes once, nine passes three times, eight passes four times, and seven passes four times. It's hard to catch nine passes when you are only thrown to eight times, so it's easy to see why Holmes' regular-season numbers are low.

Holmes only caught 48 percent of the balls thrown to him in the regular season, but his rate in the Super Bowl was 69 percent. A couple of first-quarter screens helped beef up Holmes' numbers. Those short screens may bolster his future numbers: Seventy percent of the passes thrown to Holmes in the regular season were short passes. In the Super Bowl, he was only targeted deep twice. Get Holmes the ball in the perimeter, and he'll produce.

The problem is that Steelers don't want Holmes to produce that much. Holmes caught four passes on five attempts for 73 yards in the Steelers' final drive. The Steelers usually don't throw many passes late in the game; they are often sitting on a lead and trying to burn the clock. Holmes had three games in which he wasn't targeted at all in the fourth quarter and six others in which only one fourth quarter pass came his way. If the Cardinals had not come back, Holmes would have spent the final minutes of the Super Bowl blocking for Willie Parker, and his 5-catch, 58-yard performance would have fit right into his career averages.

The Super Bowl told us that Holmes can be a game-changer. It didn't tell us that a 90-catch season is in the works in 2009. Steelers fans should be satisfied: If Holmes catches more passes, it could be because the Steelers are struggling to win games instead of kneeling on leads.

Who Could Leave?

Five Steelers offensive linemen are free agents, and the team won't be able to keep all of them. Team executive Kevin Colbert said early in the week that he is still formulating strategy, but that he will definitely try to lock up either Max Starks or Marvel Smith. Starks was the team's franchise player last year, and while the team might tag him again, there's a chance that Colbert may make a major offer to keep him. Smith has battled injuries the last two seasons but will get a lot of attention on the open market. The team will try to keep both Starks and Smith; if that happens, the Steelers probably won't be able to keep starting guard Chris Kemoeatu or role player Trai Essex. Tackle Willie Colon is a restricted free agent.

Nate Washington is the biggest name free agent among the Steelers non-linemen. He will get some attention, and the Steelers won't break the bank to keep him. Cornerback Bryant McFadden will also get some offers from teams that are strapped in the secondary. The Steelers will let him walk in the name of solidifying the offensive line.

Who Should They Sign?

Colbert indicated that the team would like to get younger on the defensive line. That means the Steelers may prioritize the line in the draft, but don't rule out a minor free agent signing. A player like Gabe Watson (Cardinals) or Dwan Edwards (Ravens) would arrive with youth and an ability to play in a 3-4 system. For a little more money, the Steelers could make a run at Igor Olshansky.

The Steelers appear satisfied with Byron Leftwich at backup quarterback, but both Leftwich and Charlie Batch are free agents. If Leftwich leaves in search of a starting opportunity, the Steelers might pursue a young backup with experience in the Dan Orlavsky/Ryan Fitzpatrick mold. Beyond that, the Steelers will, as usual, be very conservative in free agency.


36 comments, Last at 17 Feb 2009, 3:48pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Thanks for posting this.

"the reception that was called back because of intentional grounding"? Quite a catch!

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

They knew his catch percentage was way higher than normal, and they figured he had literally no chance of catching that particular pass, so they just determined that he was not technically a receiver on that play since he had no chance of catching the ball, and so they called intentional grounding. Unfortunately he actually caught it and then the whole thing went to hell.

8 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

One assumes Tanier is referring to the third-down completion turned into a safety by the holding penalty on Hartwig, since that was to Holmes.

Why he wrote "intentional grounding" is a bit of a mystery, but from experience of having written AFCN Four Downs last year my brain was generally fairly fried by the time I got to Pittsburgh, so I can understand it.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"Five Steelers offensive linemen are free agents, and the team won't be able to keep all of them."

I hope to God they don't. I'd like to see BRoeth behind a competent line sometime soon.

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Seriously. If they keep those linemen and let Bryant McFadden go, somebody needs to be fired. A starting-caliber CB is way, way better than any number of underperforming OLs.

4 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Browns in 2009? Maybe? Maybe? As long as Braylon puts on some sticky gloves or SOMETHING! Geeze...

Jerry Jones will sign Scott, Lewis, and Suggs. He'll call it "The Revenge of Jerry after the Ravens ruined my Stadium's final game."

Is there ANY hope for the Bengals in 09? I just can't see them doing anything positive (now that they aren't facing the NFC East anymore, who will they play competitively against?).

Steelers will not repeat. Harrison will fall back to his perennial non-double-digit sack numbers. Ravens will beat them at least once next year, count on it. Browns too. I say they pull a Giants and make the Playoffs, but then lose their first game.

9 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"Harrison will fall back to his perennial non-double-digit sack numbers"

Perennial?...he only has been a started for 2 years, and been a monster on both. The one thing that makes me nervous is the depth of the D-line, we are a couple of injuries away from chaos. Still, I like the chances for a repeat.

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I believe one double-digit season out of a six year career does indeed make him fall under the "perennial non-double-digit sack number" category. Yes, he has not had much of an opportunity until recently. However, in his first five seasons (aka every year except last year), he averaged very close to .5 sacks per game started. In 2007, when he started 16 games, he almost exactly matched that rate, accounting for 8.5 sacks. Now, last year, he goes up to just over 1 sack per game started. Now, I'm not a GM or anything like that, but if I have a guy who has had one good season out of six, I'm not exactly gung-ho about giving him the richest defensive contract in the history of the NFL (like some think he'll get). I'm not saying he'll have 8 sacks next year, but I don't think he'll have 16. I'll take the middle and say 12, with a +/- 1 range of error. Is that good enough for the richest defensive contract in NFL history? I don't know. But it sounds like he's gonna get it.

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Right, because we all know that sacks are the best measure of performance for a defensive player. That makes sense. You know he's forced 7 fumbles in each of the two seasons that he's started. Those are pretty important too. I also have not heard people saying Harrison will get the richest defensive contract in history. In fact when I google for James Harrison richest defensive contract I get a lot of results that put Ray Ray or Haynesworth as in line for richest. But whatever, way to try and change he subject from calling Harrison a perennial single digit sack count to not being worth the richest contract in history. Are you bitter Demarcus Ware wasn't Defensive POY??

19 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"Is that good enough for the richest defensive contract in NFL history? I don't know. But it sounds like he's gonna get it."

Harrison, isn't a free agent this year, and I've never heard any talk of him getting a huge contract down the road. Are you confusing him with Ray Lewis? (Plus, the way the Steelers operate, particularly with linebackers, I highly doubt that they'd be willing to give Harrison a massive contract.)

20 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Maybe I'm wrong, but everything I've seen has talked about how he should be getting a boatload of money. Like more than Jared Allen and Dwight Freeney. Since Freeney was once the biggest D contract, and Allen now is (or is in the top 3 at least), that would put him in the "near top D contract" range. But once again, maybe I AM confusing him with someone else.

And no, I don't think D-Ware should've been DPotY. My vote went to Ed Reed. D-Ware did not play well enough in big games. The only thing D-Ware had going for him was that he led the league in sacks and was on a significantly worse defense than Reed, Harrison, and Polamalu. Ed Reed however came up big in nearly every big game. Yes, Harrison forces fumbles. But I honestly didn't think of him as a true DPotY. He had the best supporting cast in the NFL and still finished 4th in sacks. I'm not knocking 4th place for sacks, because that's very good (as 16 sacks in itself is), but Ed Reed had 9 picks, 2 TDs, 1 FF, and 1 sack. That's a complete player and a game-changer (and a DPotY in my opinion). Also, aside from his own TD in the Super Bowl, James Harrison was pretty quiet in the Playoffs. Ed Reed got 2 more picks and another TD in one less game than Harrison. LaMar Woodley had 6 sacks in the postseason. I know he got less attention than Harrison (and to be fair Harrison does get a lot of uncalled holds), but when defenses took Harrison away, other guys were able to fill in just as well. You can't take Ed Reed away.

I stand behind my initial idea though. Harrison will likely come back down to earth a bit next season. I think the Steelers would be wise to wait until after next season before signing him to a huge long-term deal. Let's see if he can have more than one exceptional season before paying him top 5 (or even top 10) money.

25 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Could you provide references to some of these things you've seen about making Harrison a top 5 paid player? Are they reliable at all? I really haven't seen that kind of talk - but I also haven't been looking, and I'd like to know. I wouldn't be surprised if the Steelers gave him a new contract with a nice bonus. But I doubt, based on their usual MO, that they would sign him to anything close to top 5 money.

As for the playoffs - Reed played the same number of games as the Steelers did. The Steelers had a bye when the Ravens played Miami. And while you can't "take away" Reed, since you can't assign a blocker to him, he didn't do much of anything in the AFC championship. Still, you can't always judge these players just by INT, TD, and sack numbers...there's so much more to it.

In any case, playoff performance doesn't count in all of the "otY" voting, so it's moot. Reed would have been a fine choice as DPotY, as Harrison was.

35 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I see that Harrison's contract its under review, and surely will get a well deserved raised, I do not think that they will break the bank for him, and you can be sure that the contract will be friendly enough for the Steelers, so that 3 years down the road, he can be a Salary Cap as usual...but to infer that he is just another guy...c'mon...that won't fly...

32 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

ummmmm I am pretty sure that the two years James Harrison has started as an OLB he has been a fantastic asset.

If you mean to quote statistics before Harrison was a starter (when he was a special teams player) that was the back-up of Joey Porter, a pro bowler, than I think I am going to have to call your argument BS.

I know you are a Browns fan and are pulling for straws considering the ineptitude of your organization but come on. In 2007 Harrison was named Steelers MVP and in '08 he was named Defensive player of the year.

Maybe you are just mad bc Harrison body slammed a Browns fan which is more passion than any player on your expansion team has ever shown.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

How is it possible that there was no discussion of the Browns' defense, apart from a Sean Jones mention? Is the worst part of this team the Center or QB?

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

@Key19- What perennial #s are those? Harrison has only started for two years.

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Just wondering if you have any thoughts on some of the Ravens back-up LBs who I personally think very highly of... I think they are above replacement level, and as we have seen a lot of lb's can go into our system and produce very well...

We will resign Brown, Lewis, Suggs...

12 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

The Steelers targeted Holmes 13 times in the Super Bowl, not counting the reception that was called back because of intentional grounding.

How does he get credited with a reception (called back or otherwise) when intentional grounding is called?

When does the FO deal with ESPN expire? I'm expecting to see FO use "BOOYA" in tag lines any day.

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

In reply to by Anonymous* (not verified)

It wasn't intentional grounding. It was a reception nullified by a roughing the passer penalty, penalty yielded more yardage.

27 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

What? No, just... no.

A roughing the passer penalty is an unsportsmanlike penalty, and thus gets added to the end of the play (with an automatic first-down thrown in for good meassure), so it never nullifies a play.

the play in question was the holding penalty in the end-zone that gave Arizona the safety.

- Alvaro

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Ok, I can see the Ravens wanting Lewis and Suggs back, but is Bart Scott good, or a system player? In in the DC area, I never watched many Ravens games, but it would seem to me that he's the one to let go, with a younger, already signed player getting the starting gig. As for Leonhard, are he and Reed a better tandem than Reed and Landry? I'd rather see Tommy Z or one of the other safeties get a shot, but if Leonhard was amenable to staying at a decent price, the Ravens should keep him. It's not like he's Brian Russell.

21 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Brian Leohnard I think is a big part of their spec teams. He was pretty impressive I thought in what few Ravens games I saw. All safeties I feel should be able to contribute to special teams, but he was the guy returning punts for them in the playoffs.

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

The Steelers would like to get younger in the defensive line, but not because they're unhappy with their starters. It's just that five of the top six linemen are over thirty, so it's unlikely that they'd go after an Olshansky unless he was anxious to take a lesser role (and lesser paycheck) for the defending champions.

If Leftwich moves on to try to start elsewhere, they'll be happy with Batch, who is content to be a backup across the river from his hometown.

18 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Holmes as been "somewhat of a disappointment"? Because he hasn't had a 1000 yards yet? Um, this was the first year since 2003 that Ward has had a 1000 yards. Is Ward somewhat of a disappointment?

Steelers fans love both Holmes and Hines. Their numbers may look low compared to some other offenses but both of them produce when the ball comes their way. I don't buy that Holmes has been disappointing. Quite the contrary.

Also, the Steelers are prioritizing signing McFadden. I don't see them offering much to Washington until after they see what the market will bear.

As for their o-line... well, I haven't a clue what they should do. Luckily, Colbert usually seems to.

36 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I am with you regarding McFadden, he should be on the top of the groery list, Deshea wont las forever and every team needs at least 3 good corners nowadays. As for the O-line...god...I think that Marvel Smith gotta go...release Simmons...and bring back the rest...this is not about performance, its about giving some more time to the front office and bring some young talented guys to challenge the current less than stellar members of the unit...

22 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Steelers need to keep Nate Washington. He was great this year and he stretches the field vertically. Limas Sweed is not the answer.

23 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"Replace Suggs, Lewis, and Scott with ordinary linebackers, and the Ravens will lose much more than some sacks and pregame speeches. They would lose about 25 defeats, which would translate into almost as many first downs for opposing offenses"

you're making the assumption that the LBs are entirely responsible for their own stops. Judging by the play of Ray Lewis during NT changes, I'd guess that the assumption isn't even close to being true.

24 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Eric DeCosta, the Ravens' college scouting director, has said that he predict whether a college LB will be a success in the NFL 85% of the time. It has the proof to back that statement up too.

When the Ravens won the Super Bowl, they were mainly running a 4-3 defense and the starting LBs were Jamie Sharper, Peter Boulware, and Ray Lewis. All of them have made the Pro Bowl. Since that time, they've replaced with guys like Adalius Thomas (also a Pro Bowler).

As a result, I really don't have that many worries about the Ravens losing the LBs. DeCosta and Ozzie Newsome will find replacements. Those replacements probably won't be on the same level as Lewis or Suggs, but I really do think they could find three Bart Scotts almost immediately. In fact, those guys could be on the team right now.

26 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

If that's in any way true he is selling himself short by being a scout for the Ravens. He should be selling a list of all NFL caliber LBs in the draft to any team willing to pay out the ass for it.

33 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I think you underestimate GMs' egos. Also, linebacker seems like a position that doesn't bust very often, so if they are already being correctly assessed 75% of the time, would it be worth paying a boatload of money for the extra 10%?

28 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I haven't been keeping formal count, but I think this is about the fourth time I've seen FO refer to John Harbaugh as Jim Harbaugh.

29 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

re Eric De Costa,
If he sells his list, then that makes it much easier for someone to reverse engineer his evaluation system. Instead the Ravens draft 1 maybe 2 linebackers a year and the sample size is too small to do any type of study. Unless someone really wants to take 20 years to complete a study where the sample size will still be too small.

That comment piqued my interest because I have been studying the jump from college basketball to pro basketball. I have a good system going but no way to market it without giving it away. Instead I'm stuck trolling message boards. I would love to be in De Costa's situation. He'll probably parlay it into a GM job someday.

30 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Ravens will definitely keep Lewis and Suggs. Scott, I think, is gone. He is a fine player, but clearly benefitted from being about the 7th guy on the Ravens' D that opposing offenses game planned for. Baltimore drafted his replacement in the third round last year (Tavares Gooden from the U); he lost the 08 season to injury. Ravens would love to keep Jason Brown, but won't overpay for him and are prepared to plug in Chris Chester at Center. Chester, a 2nd round pick in 06, played his way from "bust" to "reach" this season by filling in adequately at LG when Marshall Yanda went down for the season.

31 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Anyone here even care about the Bengals besides me?

34 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

First off, no. No one cares about the Bengals.

I think it is fair to suggest that Steelers fans may have been shading towards veiwing Holmes as a bust. I believe you need to give WR's 3 full seasons before judging them but around mid-season when Holmes was dropping passes, fumbling punts, and getting busted for weed, I was involved in several "is Holmes a bust" conversations. But, I remember people calling Polamalu Bustamalu in his first year. So, I guess early rounds picks are a bust until they are not.

Ed Reed is a great player but as far as the contention he always shows up in big games, I'm not so sure. The 3 games against the Steelers have to be considered 3 of the Ravens biggest games and I don't remember him doing anything. I even remember him missing tackles on long catch and runs by Miller and Ward. The Steelers strategy appeared to be based on forcing the Ravens offense to beat them and not letting the defense do it for them.

Every year, I'm pretty sure this is the season the Ravens defense stops being so dominate. This year is as good as any but I'll believe it when I see it. Just like I'll believe the Pats defense is too old when it lets them down in the post season.