August 25, 2008 2:00 PM
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
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Here are seven notes and observations from this weekend's preseason games in the AFC North:
* Although it's never good to put too much value on the preseason, based on Saturday's performance the Cincinnati Bengals are in trouble. The team doesn't look in synch in any phase of the game right now, as evident in Saturday's 13-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The offense is banged up and playing below expectations thus far and the defense, which is implementing a new system, is not showing much improvement week to week after giving up 458 yards to the Saints.
"It wasn't a good feeling [Saturday]. We know that," Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton said. "We have some time before the first game, so we have some time to fix it. It hasn't been a good last two weeks, so we have to find out why we're not performing."
* The offense keeps springing leaks, with the latest being the line. Quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked three times, hit a few more times, and suffered a broken nose and cut lip in the first half. But what people didn't see was that the communication from everyone was poor, including the backs and tight ends. In addition to the offensive line, tight end Ben Utecht and running back Chris Perry also missed several assignments.
"It's a team sport and we weren't all on the same page," Cincinnati offensive tackle Levi Jones described the game.
* The learning curve for Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall has been impressive. Mendenhall struggled during his first week of training camp. By the second week he was running harder and beginning to show flashes. But in the third and fourth weeks, Mendenhall was looking like a capable NFL tailback, which is what he showed in rushing for 79 yards on 15 carries against the Minnesota Vikings. Mendenhall is getting coached well in Pittsburgh and proving that he's an attentive student. If he continues to improve at this rate, Mendenhall will be a force in the regular season. He did fumble twice this weekend, showing he's still prone to rookie mistakes.
* The Steelers' first-team defense showed a little more against Minnesota. It's not the Pittsburgh way to do much defensively in the preseason, but after two mediocre preseason performances defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau turned up the dial against Minnesota. The unit held Vikings Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson to 21 yards on 12 carries, and also created two turnovers and four sacks Saturday. That should quiet the grumblings from Steelers fans that last year's top-ranked unit cannot return to form.
* We noticed something with the Cleveland Browns last week. The interesting thing about training camp and the preseason is that the media gets to watch a team practice in its entirety, and there was strikingly little intensity in the two practices we attended last week. And guess what the Browns showed in their 26-6 loss to the Detroit Lions? That's right, little intensity. Cleveland played how it practiced Saturday, and there is a sense around the team that it just wants to get to the regular season without any more significant injuries. Whether that's a good or bad approach remains to be seen.
* Although quarterback Brady Quinn was disappointed with his first NFL start, the performance was average -- not too good but not awful. Quinn completed 14 of 24 passes for 106 yards. He went short on a lot of throws because it's always been his mentality to take what the defense gives him. But Quinn didn't do anything overly impressive to make the coaching staff second-guess their decision to make Derek Anderson the starter, which is likely what disappointed Quinn the most.
* With Troy Smith coming down with a viral infection and Kyle Boller nursing a shoulder injury, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco got the start against the St. Louis Rams and played well. Flacco finished 18 for 37 with 152 yards and a touchdown. Flacco has improved with each start and now has entered the quarterback derby once again. It should be an interesting final week of the preseason in Baltim