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

Biggest Hole: Special Teams

The Ravens don't need much, but they could use a good swift kick. And maybe a punt.

The team released kicker Matt Stover at the beginning of March. They made a second-round tender offer to restricted free agent punter Sam Koch. If Koch gets an offer elsewhere, the Ravens could start next season with untested Steven Hauschka as their kicker and a gaping void at punter.

Koch's net average of 39.9 yards per punt ranked fifth in the NFL, but that doesn't tell the whole story. At Football Outsiders, we adjust the net average based on field position, so a player who often punts from midfield isn't penalized for hanging "short" 35-yard punts inside the 20. With adjustments, Koch had the best net punting average in the NFL, topping even Oakland's Shane Lechler, whose numbers are inflated by lots of punts from deep in his own territory. Thanks in part to Koch, Ravens opponents started their average drive at the 28.34-yard line, the seventh worst field position in the NFL.

Assuming Koch re-signs, the Ravens still have a decision to make at kicker. Hauschka had a fine year in 2008 as a kickoff specialist. His average kickoff (65.9 yards) sailed further than Stover's (62.5), giving the Ravens another field position boost. Hauschka has the credentials to replace Stover: He was 16-of-18 on field goals at North Carolina State in 2007, made all four of his preseason field goals for the Vikings last year, and booted a 54-yarder in relief of Stover during the regular season. Still, he lacks experience, and the defense-minded Ravens need a kicker capable of picking up the slack when the offense stalls.

The Ravens must retain Koch, and they would be wise to generate some camp competition for Hauschka. A player like Utah's Louie Sakoda (22-of-24 field goals last year) would provide insurance in exchange for a seventh-round pick. It would be a wise investment. No one wants to dumpster dive for kickers in late August.

Free Agency Recap

One day after re-signing Ray Lewis, the Ravens filled a huge hole at center by signing Matt Birk. Birk replaces Jason Brown (now with the Rams), and he'll provide stability to an otherwise youthful offensive line. Birk is 33 but still has a year or two left.

The Ravens may not be done acquiring 33-year-old geezer linemen. Orlando Pace visited the team last week. It's a long shot, but the Ravens may make a run at him to provide insurance at tackle if he passes a physical. The Ravens signed Willie Anderson to fill a hole on the line in 2008, so they have a precedent for signing last-legs linemen.

Cornerback Domonique Foxworth is coming off a good half-year starting for Atlanta, but he had never been more than a nickel defender before that. His game charting numbers are good -- 63 percent Success Rate, 5.9 yards allowed per pass, roughly the same as Asante Samuel and Antoine Winfield -- but that's still just one season. Before that, teams were talking about switching him to safety. The Baltimore pass rush will help him prove he's starting corner quality, of course.

L.J. Smith could be useful as a move tight end or flex player if he can find a way to catch Joe Flacco fastballs before they ricochet off his chest. He can be a minor asset if the Ravens keep Todd Heap. If Heap is released, Smith will be a disaster as a starter. Coordinator Cam Cameron liked to use unbalanced formations last year, with Heap or another tight end acting as the de facto right tackle. If Smith is playing right tackle, Flacco will taste turf a half-second after the snap.

Cincinnati Bengals

Biggest hole: Offensive Line

If you don't recognize the Bengals offensive line when camp opens, don't worry. They probably won't even recognize one another.

Right tackle Stacy Andrews signed with the Eagles. Left tackle Levi Jones missed the final six games of last season and may be a cap casualty. Center Eric Ghiaciuc is an unrestricted free agent who probably won't return.

This year's draft is full of quality linemen, so this is a good time for the Bengals to reload. They could take Baylor's Jason Smith in Round One and Louisville center Eric Wood in Round Two, and they would be set at two key positions for the next six years. In the long term, that strategy might pay off. In the short term, the Bengals risk creating too much turnover on the offensive line.

For all of their problems last season, the Bengals enjoyed offensive line stability. The starting line of Jones, Andrew Whitworth, Ghiaciuc, Bobbie Williams, and Andrews stayed together for the first 10 games of 2008. The Bengals used just three different line combinations and eight different linemen last year. At Football Outsiders, we use these statistics to create Continuity Scores for offensive lines. The Bengals earned a Continuity Score of 34, well above the league average.

Continuity matters on the offensive line. Teams with excellent continuity (Continuity Scores over 41) average 1.87 points per drive and commit about 21 false starts in a season. Teams with average continuity score 1.70 points per drive and commit about 23 false starts. Once teams start shuffling linemen (Continuity Scores below 26), those values drop to 1.49 points and 26 false starts. It's easy to confuse cause and effect in this situation -- poor play leads to personnel changes as much as personnel changes lead to poor play -- but the numbers suggest that teams should be wary of changing linemen just for change's sake.

The Bengals committed just 14 false starts, but they scored just 1.02 points per drive last year, dead last in the league. Things could get even worse if they're forced to throw rookies into the lineup. The Bengals may not want to part with their veteran linemen so quickly. A little extra stability could go a long way.

Free Agency Recap

The Bengals lose little by swapping T.J. Houshmandzadeh for Laveranues Coles. The players were targeted about the same number of times (137 for Houshmandzadeh, 115 for Coles) and produced similar numbers for DYAR (163 to 144) and DVOA (2.4% to 2.0%). Coles is two inches shorter and just three months younger; he's more of a deep threat, but Carson Palmer will miss Houshmandzadeh's size over the middle. There's no telling how the chemistry will change in the Bengals locker room, but Coles has always been a 1B-type of receiver, so he shouldn't threaten the resident egomaniac any more than Houshmandzadeh did.

J.T. O'Sullivan was miscast as a starter with the 49ers, but he's a better fit as Palmer's backup than Ryan Fitzpatrick was. O'Sullivan is a better pocket passer, and the offense shouldn't bog down if he's forced to start a game or two. The Bengals re-signed Cedric Benson, whose overall numbers only looked good because they were next to Chris Perry's on the stat sheet. Benson isn't an awful choice as a backup/change-up runner, but the Bengals must add a featured back to their wish list.

Cleveland Browns

Biggest Hole: Offensive Playmakers

The Browns traded Kellen Winslow. Reserve running back Jason Wright signed with the Cardinals. Donte Stallworth's future is in doubt because of legal problems. Joe Jurevicius, who missed all of last season, was released. The Browns lost a lot of offensive firepower in recent weeks, and tight end Robert Royal was their only significant skill position acquisition.

Braylon Edwards is already bracing for triple coverage.

If they don't find more playmakers, the Browns will be hard-pressed to move the ball. Jamal Lewis only had three runs of 20 or more yards last year, none of them after Week 10. Change-up back Jerome Harrison had runs of 72 and 33 yards, but his third-longest run gained just 16 yards. Josh Cribbs is a dangerous return man, but he generated just one play from scrimmage longer than 20 yards. Winslow and Stallworth didn't set highlight reels ablaze either last season, but they had the speed and talent to take heat off Edwards.

Royal won't provide much help. He does have some seam-splitting ability: He caught seven passes of 20 or more yards, five of them over the deep middle of the field. But Football Outsiders rated him as the second-worst starting tight end last season with -85 DYAR. Royal caught just 58 percent of the passes thrown to him, more than Winslow (52 percent) but less than the top tight ends, who usually catch 65 to 70 percent of targeted passes. At best, Royal is a drop in the offensive bucket.

Eric Mangini likes to spread the field and create space for receivers to get open, but Edwards is the only player on the roster who scares defenders more than 15 yards downfield. Receiver Michael Crabtree may be available when the Browns pick sixth overall, but if he's gone, the Browns may need to address other needs instead of reaching for Rutgers' Kenny Britt or Mizzou's Jeremy Macklin. If they wait until later rounds, they'll have to settle for players like Brandon Tate (North Carolina) or Mohamed Massaquoi (Georgia). A running back like Mike Goodson of Texas A&M could also add some quick-strike capability.

With Edwards and another deep threat stretching the defense, players like Cribbs and Harrison should be able to use their quickness to make things happen underneath. If the Browns don't get faster, scoring points may be a Royal pain.

Free Agency Recap

The Browns are treading water. Acquisitions like Royal, guard Pork Chop Womack, and tackle John St. Clair won't make the team appreciably better. St. Clair will probably replace Kevin Shaffer at right tackle; it's a case of the new regime trying to erase the personnel mistakes of the past by making a few of its own. On defense, the Browns are taking every former Jet on the market: end David Bowens, defensive back Hank Poteat, tackle C.J. Mosely, linebacker Eric Barton. Again, these moves have more to do with bringing in "Mangini Guys" then making real improvements. All of the players mentioned above will be 31 or 32 years old when the season starts except Moseley (he'll be 26), and none were impact players in their prime.

Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain Dealer believes that the Browns still have some big personnel moves in the works; he wrote this week that the only untouchable players on the roster are tackle Joe Thomas and linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. You can't log onto the Internet without reading a Braylon Edwards rumor, and the Kellen Winslow trade proved that the Browns aren't shy about making controversial deals. If Edwards leaves, the Browns will have almost nothing to show for the Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel era, and the on-field product will be very hard to watch in 2009.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Biggest Hole: Seventh Shelf in Lombardi Trophy Display Case

The Steelers need players who can make a big impact. In 2011.

The Steelers usually hibernate through free agency, and this winter was no exception. They did light housekeeping, re-signing tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon and guard Chris Kemoeatu to stabilize the line. With no major holes in the lineup, the Steelers will do what they do best: draft for the future. The far-flung future.

Of the Steelers' 11 defensive starters last year, nine were drafted by the team. Only one of those players, nose tackle Casey Hampton, was a starter in his rookie season. The others served at least a one-season apprenticeship:

Steelers' drafted starters
Name Rookie Starts Years on Bench
Aaron Smith 0 1
Casey Hampton 11 0
Brett Keisel 0 4
LaMarr Woodley 0 1
Larry Foote 3 2
James Harrison 0 4
Troy Polamalu 0 1
Ike Taylor 1 2
Bryant McFadden 1 3

The average Steelers starter (not counting Ryan Clark and James Farrior, who arrived as free agents) spent two seasons as a situational player before cracking the lineup. By the time they took on full-time roles, these players had developed into ready-to-win veterans.

On offense, the story is the same. Key players like Colon, Starks, Kemoeatu, Willie Parker, Hines Ward, and Santonio Holmes all spent at least a year on the bench before earning a promotion. That's how the Steelers organization works: They draft players who fit their system, mold those players to fit the system, and plug them when they are ready. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the high-profile exception to the rule.

The Steelers pipeline is still humming. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons has spent two years on the bench and is ready for a bigger role. William Gay now has the experience to replace McFadden, who left for Arizona. Running back Rashard Mendenhall and wideout Limas Sweed didn't do much as rookies, but they will play bigger roles in 2009.

After the draft, pundits will give the Steelers bad grades for selecting a bunch of no-names who aren't ready to play. The Steelers will have the last laugh in three years.

Free Agency Recap

The Steelers signed Starks, Colon, and Kemoeatu, but they released tackle Marvel Smith and guard Kendall Simmons. Smith and Simmons both have long injury histories, and the Steelers have the depth to replace them. All-purpose backup Trai Essex re-signed with the team; he'll either start in place of Darnell Stapleton at guard or become the first lineman off the bench.

Unless you're a big fan of fullback Carey Davis or cornerback Fernando Bryant, the Steelers haven't done much to get your pulse racing since the Super Bowl. Defensive line coach John Mitchell summarized the team's philosophy while talking about Julius Peppers in the Rocky Mount Telegram. Mitchell said that Peppers would make a fine 3-4 linebacker, but that the Steelers wouldn't make a move to acquire him. "A lot of teams go out and get these free agents for an exorbitant amount of money. They don't fit in the locker room. They're not the type of player you thought they were. If you get in the free agent market you better know 'em because if you don't, its not one of these things where you can get a refund."


45 comments, Last at 28 Mar 2009, 9:19am

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"...tight end Robert Royal was [the Browns'] only significant skill position acquisition."

Ouch. I say again, ouch.

"That's how the Steelers organization works: They draft players who fit their system, mold those players to fit the system, and plug them when they are ready."

I shake my fist at the sky and curse the Football Gods that such a wise approach has not taken root in the front offices of my favorite teams. GAH! Curse you, Football Gods! Why are you so cruel?

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I hear ya, but when your favorite team changes their system every two or three years, it is hard to do. There are something like 3 coaches who have more than a few years at their current team right now: Belicheck, Fisher, and Steelers Coach (Tomlin only has a few years, but the system didn't change.)

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Umm, Andy Reid's been in Philadelphia since 1999 (longer than Belichick's been in New England). John Fox started in Carolina in 2002, Marvin Lewis started in Cincinnati in 2003, and Coughlin and Lovie Smith started in 2004. Plus the system in Indy isn't going to change with Caldwell.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Now I want Football Outsiders to post these "Continuity Scores" some place. Don't know if it's posted anywhere, but I suppose I can wait for PFP.

21 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

How about we see a system/coaching continuity, as well? New England, Indy, Philly, Steelers, Tennessee all have good continuity and do fairly well (cause vs. effect). How long have the OC and OL coach been at Indy now?

26 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Roughly forever. Howard Mudd, the OL coach goes back at least to 98 (I'm going from memory here) and Tom Moore, the OC, same thing. Notice what else happened in 98? A kid named Manning arrived. Sweet, sweet continuity at most key spots both on-field and off. Gene Huey, the RB coach goes back about 5 more years--he worked with Marshall Faulk. If Edge ever makes it to Canton (not as a paying visitor) that will be a couple nice feathers in the cap of Huey and Mudd for their generally unheralded contributions.

Agreed on continuity and I suspect it is the product of the environment created by owner and GM. Looking at your list, I'd take the Rooneys, Kraft, and Irsay as owners any day. I know less about the other teams' GMs, but Polian's track record of consistent success over a couple decades is mighty impressive. When you look at the "coaching carousel" in Pitt it is just ridiculous... what have they had, 3 HCs in the last 40 years? How is that possible? Compare that to Al Davis's and Dan Snyder's last decade.

44 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Another issue that, I think, is over looked is that Pittsburg, Baltimore and New England all use an outside scouting firm, rather than the one that scouts for the league, to rate prospects. It isn't a surprise then that these are almost always the teams that find the late round, undrafted guys that become starters and contributors to their teams while all the rest of the teams fight over the same players because they are all using the same ranking system from the same scouting service.

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I think the Steelers have resigned their O-line starters (but no depth) because they plan on taking the best o-lineman available in the 1st round. That's the working theory anyway. Last year, I thought they would take a impact 3-4 D-end in the first round and then build depth at O-line, so what do I know?

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I really don't think they are targeting a position or even a group of positions. I think they take the best player by their board that is not a RB, QB, or TE. The point of re-signing the OL was not going into the draft neededing to fill any position. This would let everyone know what you're going to do and could make you pass on superior talent.

Once you get past the top 4 I don't think there is a need to go OL early. There's not a huge gap between Eben Britton and Cadogan or between Mack and Luigs. Both the latter players are projected to go in the third or so.

20 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

In reply to by Anonymous Coward (not verified)

I agree, Best Player Available, all the way...that could had been different if that additional 3rd from Faneca had not been robbed by the league...that costed good ammo for Draft Day trades and top notch as long as BPA does not turns into an RB, TE or QB, I am cool with the way, what was the Continuity Score for the Steelers??...did you saw any trend on ALY???..would it be all on PFP 09???...can't wait!...

40 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Well, not quite. The last picks of the third round normally do not produce top notch players, and you can't trade compensatory picks. But I suppose you would feel more comfortable trading another pick if you had that one.

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

4 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Has Mangini really had enough success to justify bringing in "Mangini Guys"? Has he even had enough success to justify having "guys" at all?

Hail Hydra!

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC North


The Browns drafting a WR with their first pick would be a huge mistake. They need defensive help badly. If he's available, I can't see the Browns passing on Orakpo.

And on their RB situation : Wasn't Harrison the one who said that he was going to be the best RB of his draft class (Can't find any link on the web) ?

8 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I admit I am still ambivalant over the Steelers' resigning of their OL. I thought going into last year that their biggest need areas were OL, DL, and CB and despite the Super Bowl win I don't see that has changed. I really want help on the OL because that can solve three areas; keep Ben upright more often, reestablish a consistent ground game, and make us better on 3rd/4th and Short. I am excited to see what Mendenhall can do because I saw some good things in his short time last year.

That being said, I can't complain about anything for the next season because I'm still amazed we ran that guantlet of a schedule and took advantage of all the breaks that came our way.

24 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

You mean breaks like Miami beating the Jets, knocking the Pats out of the playoffs, so the Steelers didn't have to face them in the AFC CG? :-)

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Robert Royal may not be a great NFL tight end, but he's a great guy. I met him and I was very impressed.

I like the way the Steelers operate in building through the draft. When the Giants won the SB in 07' all the pundits ever talked about was how they brought no free agents in ( they had a fantastic rookie class), and how they lost potential HOF RB Tikie Barber, and their starting LT. Promoting Jacobs from within, drafting Ross, Smith, Alford, Johnson, Bradshaw etc. proved to be an upgraded roster while the rest of the young team matured.

Baltimore's defense lost talent and their DC, but I think for some reason they will still have a high end defense barring major injuries.

Call me crazy, but I think Cincinatti could have a big improvement next year. With their head coach on the hot seat, there is more expected Beta in W's and L's, their offense should be good again with Carson back, the defense at least looked a little better last year, and Vegas is still projecting them to be one of the worst teams in the league next year. I believe it was Bill Cower who said he thinks they will sneak in the playoffs with a wildcard spot next year.

If they can bring in some guys on defense, pick up a RB that doesn't always fumble in the mid rounds, having one of the best QB's in the league and a coach that could be fired after any game could keep this team motivated and hungry enough to claw into the playoffs.

18 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Well if they again lose most of their starting lineup to injury like they did last year, they could have a difficult time.

Of course, so would the Steelers, Ravens, or Browns.

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Carson Palmer has the same problem Ken Anderson did. He is on a Cinci team when Pitt is riding a very good roster.

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

If Edwards leaves, the Browns will have almost nothing to show for the Phil Savage-Romeo Crennel era, and the on-field product will be very hard to watch in 2009.

It's amusing (to those of us who aren't Browns fans) to see how the Browns have gone from the conventional pick to win the division last year to "very hard to watch". Even if Edwards stays, he'll drop enough balls to frustrate the Cleveland faithful.

28 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I think Edwards (if he avoids injury) is likely to have a much improved year in 2009. His play at the beginning of last year was terrible, but he was actually pretty good beginning near the midpoint of the season. Then when Anderson got hurt (with Quinn already out) there was nobody to get him the ball over the last 4+ games. From weeks 6-12 (7 games) he had 29 catches for 566 yards. I don't have specific info on drops, but I'm confident having seen most of these games that they declined dramatically after the start of the season.

Net, I'd look for Edwards to have a solid year in 2009 wherever he ends up.

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

The Ravens signed LJ Smith as pure depth, nothing else. They gave him a one-year deal for $1.5 million, hardly starter's money. I don't think they'll cut Heap this year, but things could change if they draft Pettigrew in the first round. Even if they do, I think the Ravens would keep Heap for another year.

While the Ravens could go into the season without any holes in their starting lineup, they need a speedy WR to run under Flacco's deep balls. They also need another quality CB and a RT, although neither need is as pressing as the deep threat WR.

It should be interesting between the Ravens and the Steelers next year. Although the Ravens lost to the Steelers three times last year, they were in two of those games to the very end and competitive in the AFC Championship Game. As a Ravens fan, I'm hoping that the maturation process of Flacco alone will be sufficient to put them atop of the AFC North. We'll see.

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

I'm a bit confused about the possibility of Ravens losing Koch. Are teams going to give him a big contract that the Ravens can't match, and then give up a 2nd round pick for a punter? I doubt it.

I hope the Ravens spend their picks on CB and WR: they are definitely thin on the edges. Part of the reason they used the unbalanced line with 6 OL so much is because they only have 2 viable WRs in Clayton and Mason. Demetrius Williams can't stay healthy (was on IR for most last season). Since WR is fairly deep this year, I can definitely see the Ravens grabbing a WR in the 1st round, there should be plenty of options at 26.

23 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Yeah. I'm pretty sure, despite the fact that Koch is a very good punter, that the Ravens would trade him for a second round pick without thinking twice about it.

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

As a Utah fan and watching him since he was a Freshman, I'd love to see Louie Sakoda get a job as a team's kicker. Although he was a hybrid kicker/punter for Utah and I always thought his punting was a little better than his kicking. Not that an NFL team nowadays wouldn't have a specialist in each position.

Also, it's great that Tanier got the opportunity to right about L.J. Smith. Man I miss Chad Lewis.

19 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

The words "L.J. Smith could be useful" appearing (non-ironically) in a Tanier column: sign of the apocalypse, right?

22 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

That's most definitely what I thought. I actually feel bad for Mike here. He's flat out said at this point that his second favorite team is the Ravens. Seeing LJ go from one to the other. That must have hurt.

27 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Not when they're followed by the thoughts that ... if he starts he's a disaster... and if he's asked to block, Flacco will be tasting turf.

I think Tanier tried successfully to be objective and didn't have to gag on his cheese steak to write that. Twice as many catastrophe phrases as "competent" comments. I mean, come on, "could be useful"??? That's called being damned by faint praise. Here's a test: I'll tell my wife she "could be useful" in the kitchen, or bedroom, or both and see what happens. If I end up hospitalized, then Tanier hit the nail on the head for LJ. If she takes it as a compliment, then it truly is a sign of the apocalypse.

35 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Smith's actually going back to the kind of situation he's shown success at- he was VERY effective as the second guy behind Chad Lewis at the start of his career, and the assumption back then was that he would blossom as a No. 1. That didn't work out (causing a major frustration for Philly fans in the process) and you can argue that the Eagles gave him about two years' grace too long, but I think he's found his level. The only thing that might be threat to his job security is a younger guy who's good with playing Special Teams, but then you could say that for most non-superstar veterans his age.

29 Re: Is Palmer Healthy?

If I were a Bengals fan, I would be fairly nervous about Palmer this year. From what I recall he never did have anything surgical done to repair the problem with his elbow(?). From the outside, it looked like he was just sorta crossing his fingers and hoping that time would take care of the problem. Is there any recent precedent for a QB missing this much time with an arm injury and not having surgury on it?

30 Continuity Score Typo

"Continuity matters on the offensive line. Teams with excellent continuity (Continuity Scores over 41) average 1.87 points per drive and commit about 21 false starts in a season. Teams with average continuity score 1.70 points per drive and commit about 23 false starts."

So what is an average Continuity Score?

31 Continuity Score Typo

"Continuity matters on the offensive line. Teams with excellent continuity (Continuity Scores over 41) average 1.87 points per drive and commit about 21 false starts in a season. Teams with average continuity score 1.70 points per drive and commit about 23 false starts."

So what is an average Continuity Score?

33 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

"Benson isn't an awful choice as a backup/change-up runner, but the Bengals must add a featured back to their wish list."

Please inform someone in Cincinnati about this, because nobody here will believe me when I point it out."

34 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

James Harrison was not drafted by the Steelers; or by any team at all.

36 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

While you cite Big Ben as an exception to the Steelers' rule about not starting a rookie immediately, it should be noted that it was not by their choice - IIRC Ben was slated for a spell on the bench just like everyone else, then Maddox was injured...

37 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

They did decide to go with Ben as the No. 2 instead of getting someone else when Charlie Batch was injured. Though if anything that strengthens the point -- it took two injuries to QBs in the preseason/second week for them to start a rookie, they don't draft someone they're looking to start.

The real exception is Heath Miller, who started 14 games as a rookie.

38 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Regarding the Bengals:

-cutting Levi Jones would only free up $0.5 million in cap space, so if he did get cut it probably wouldn't (or, at least, shouldn't) be cap-related

-how significant is continuity on the O-line when a team ranked 32 in offense, allowed 51 sacks and rushed the ball for 3.6 yds per carry? Seems to just cry out for NOT continuing as before.

39 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Thanks Mike for a great article - of course I say that after only reading the part about my team the Steelers - almost snorted my drink of Pepsi over the "In 2011" comment.

43 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

Aside from FA dealings, I would expect the Ravens to be better this season simply because of the number of injuries to key players that occurred last season. Would be unlikely to experience the same extent-breadth of injuries two years in a row. Add in a year of maturity for the offense to get comfortable with Cameron's scheme, another year to have the o-line gel, getting players like Kelly Gregg back on defense, getting younger legs in the secondary, and Ngata playing for responct (shoulda made the Pro Bowl last year) AND a big contract, could be a good year for the Ravens.


45 Re: Four Downs: AFC North

This is an awfully rosy assesment of the PIT OL. The fact that they don't start rookies and the absence of an obvious solution on the bench just makes their OL situation more urgent.