Speaking of which…

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    The AFC North is at a crossroads.

    Once hailed as the “hardest-hitting, old school” football conference in the NFL, recent years have dimmed that perspective, as the Ravens, Steelers,  Browns and Bengals have all had their moments of excessive violence between the referee’s whistles.  Some of the activity, such as former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter attempting to board the Ravens’ team bus to accost former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, has been a little nutty.  That’s due to an established football rivalry, which generally produces great-if-unsightly games and carefully-timed quotes specifically designed to get under the skin of opponents.  It’s usually great theater; even in down years for one or more AFC North franchises, the old colloquialisms rang true – to quote the late Keith Jackson, “Throw out the record books, folks!  We got us a barnburner heah!”

    Except this year.  This year, many things have seemingly changed.  The Steelers have been reduced to trotting out their stable of backup quarterbacks in the wake of starter Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury, forcing them to continually rely on their defense to win games.  The Bengals simply don’t have the personnel to effectively compete with anyone, while the Browns have yet to establish an offensive or defensive identity or continuity.  The Ravens may be winning, but they’re doing it in decidedly “un-Ravenlike” fashion, relying primarily on their offense and on defensive speed as opposed to size and intimidation.  Gone are the days of the 10-6, kick-to-the-groin slugfests we’ve witnessed for the last 15 years.  There’s still the occasional player, though, that transcends all that and chooses to take matters into his own hands and create his own storyline.   Speaking of which…

    The actions of Browns’ defensive end Myles Garrett last Thursday have been well-documented, but what’s been skimmed over is the outlook for the Browns in the wake of losing their best defensive player for the season.  Obvious deficiencies will center around the pass rush, but given Garrett’s relative lack of presence in the run defense, he may not be as hard to replace as many think.  Backup DE Chad Thomas has logged three sacks in limited time this season, so in terms of pure pass rush ability, he appears to be capable of covering for Garrett for the rest of the season (assuming Garrett’s punishment won’t be reduced – an unlikely scenario at best).  Speaking of which…

    The Steelers are witnessing, through necessity or experience, a very good stretch of games from 2015 first-round OLB Alvin “Bud” Dupree, whose career had previously been marked by disappointment and poor performances.  If he continues to play at his current pace, Dupree will post career highs in sacks (10) and tackles (50) and will be well-positioned to test the 2020 free agent market unless the Steelers uncharacteristically pony up for one of their own draftees (a rare scenario usually reserved for cornerstone players, which Dupree is decidedly not).  Still, for a guy recently written off as a bust, the Steelers have to be encouraged, even as his improvement comes in a difficult season.  Speaking of which…

    Bengals fans are exiting en masse after the team recorded its tenth loss in Oakland Sunday, and while the prospect of a winless season usually carries compensation with the next draft’s #1 selection, it seems no one trusts the Bengals to do much with it.  One suggestion that probably won’t be observed – trade down for more desperately-needed picks.  Traditional wisdom holds that the Bengals should take a quarterback as early as possible, but there’s so many lacking areas with this talent-bereft roster, one player simply won’t change their fortunes.  Best to amass as many picks as possible – the team already squandered an opportunity to do so by failing to trade its veterans – and hope some depth emerges from them.  Speaking of which…

    The Ravens may have a lot to do this offseason from a personnel standpoint, as their list of pending free agents is extensive.  Much has been made over the potential loss of both their offensive and defensive coordinators, but on-field continuity is generally key to sustaining franchise success.  Given his price tag, it’s almost certain CB Jimmy Smith will depart, as will several of the fill-in free agents the team has employed this season.  The team is certainly enjoying the ride, so to speak, and has earned a lot of accolades for their maneuvers to fix a broken defense midseason, but the defensive issues haven’t gone away, and once the season ends for the Ravens, they’ll have a wealth of decisions to make.  This will truly be a test for second-year GM Eric DeCosta, who won’t have the luxury of a somewhat-complete roster to fall back on.

     

    Enjoy the week!

    AUTHOR

    Ravenous128

    All stories by: Ravenous128

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