Nearing the halfway point of this season, it’s becoming apparent who the “haves” are in the AFC North.
Two games separate the top two teams, at 4-3, from the bottom two at 2-5. While a 57% winning percentage may not be an indicator of greatness, it’ll have to do, as much more carnage will ensue to change all that.
The weekend’s happenings:
Browns 20, Ravens 23
For once, the Ravens didn’t (fully) trip over their own defective fourth-quarter feet in managing to outlast the more mistake-prone Browns. Welcoming back RB Gus Edwards from his 14-month sojourn to IR, the Ravens ran the ball a lot – 44 total carries for 160 yards and two TDs, both by Edwards – while cobbling together a few timely defensive stops and overcoming a potentially disastrous fourth quarter fumble by RB Justice Hill. ILB Patrick Queen played arguably his best game to date with 11 tackles (7 solo), a sack and three tackles for loss, effectively killing a key third quarter Browns drive all by himself. While the offense didn’t do much overall, it’s notable that for once, it didn’t really have to.
The Browns and head coach Kevin Stefanski have fallen into a curious pattern of not using their stellar rushing attack late in games. This time, they certainly did, unleashing battering ram RB Nick Chubb in the fourth quarter, who proceeded to rumble for 46 yards on three carries on the Browns last TD drive, scored by RB Kareem Hunt with 2:24 remaining. A few gaffes and a questionable false start penalty later, and the Browns were again trudging off to their locker room, grumbling about missed opportunities…again. Defensively, the Browns were aggressive, sacking Ravens QB Lamar Jackson three times and hurrying him countless others, all of which contributed to Jackson’s lowest output through the air this season (120 yards).
Falcons 17, Bengals 35
The Bengals are starting to resemble the bunch that made it to the 2021 Super Bowl. Sunday’s rout of the Falcons showcased some familiar names on offense, including 100-yard receiving days by WRs Ja’Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd. If the offense has any concern, it has to be the middling production of the running game, as lead RB Joe Mixon has yet to get on a consistent track to provide the sort of ground support he showed in 2021. The defense played efficiently and cleanly, holding the Falcons to 13 total first downs on the day, and allowing only a 40% third down conversion rate. In a rare sight this season, neither team committed a turnover, and both teams combined for eight penalties – a shockingly clean experience for an NFL game.
Steelers 10, Dolphins 16
It seems defense isn’t the problem in Pittsburgh this season. It definitely appears the offense is. Despite holding the Dolphins to a scoreless second half, the Steelers seemed determined to supply one of their own, as rookie QB Kenny Pickett threw two late interceptions to seal the at-time ugly loss. The Steelers showed some fortitude in clawing back from a 13-0 first quarter deficit, but this offense simply isn’t providing enough protection for Pickett to be effective or for the rushing attack to take hold. The Steelers have to be salivating at the prospect of reigning DPoY T.J. Watt’s return, as they recorded no sacks, no interceptions and only four QB pressures on Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa; this must improve if the Steelers have any hope of a winning record this season.
It’s a week. Do something with it.