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Thread: Reason for concerns: AFC North

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    Reason for concerns: AFC North

    Reason for concerns: AFC North

    SportingNews Sep 3, 2:37 pm EDT
    [url=";_ylt=Aukwhn7uo3wY_nFWSOGnsRNDubYF?slug=tsn-166825"];_ylt=A ... tsn-166825[/url]

    A capsule look at reasons for concern among teams in the AFC North:

    Baltimore Ravens

    1. An offensive line in flux. There is no timeframe when RT Jared Gaither(notes) will return from a back injury. The top backup, Oniel Cousins(notes), has missed substantial practice time with a concussion and was inconsistent when healthy. The coaches probably will move RG Marshal Yanda(notes) to tackle and insert backup C Chris Chester(notes) at right guard. That leaves this unit with little depth. Also, LT Michael Oher(notes) has struggled to pass block speed rushers. It might take him until midseason to get a grip on the position.

    2. A banged-up secondary. CB Domonique Foxworth(notes) is out for the season with a torn ACL, and the coaches don't know when S Ed Reed(notes) (hip) or CB Lardarius Webb(notes) (knee) will return. The Ravens have speed on the outside with Fabian Washington(notes) and Chris Carr(notes) but don't have a physical, man-to-man specialist. The team did trade a conditional '11 fifth-round pick to Seattle on Wednesday for CB Josh Wilson(notes), who is expected to take the nickel role. The Ravens will get solid play at safety, but they don't have a game changer like Reed.

    3. Pass rush. The Ravens must get more pressure on the quarterback from the front four. With the exception of OLB/DE Terrell Suggs(notes), the Ravens don't have another pass-rush threat or a tackle who can collapse the pocket. The coaches will try to compensate with a lot of blitzing, but that would leave the cornerbacks exposed.—Mike Preston

    Cincinnati Bengals

    1. Backup QB. Starter Carson Palmer(notes) must remain healthy for the club to win a second consecutive AFC North title. With Palmer on the field, the offense swaggers. Without him, the unit staggers. Backups J.T. O'Sullivan(notes) and Jordan Palmer(notes) grasp of the offense, but neither has moved the offense with any consistency. If Carson Palmer goes down, the squad is in deep trouble.

    2. Offensive line depth. The team can't afford many, if any, injuries along the line. Starter Dennis Roland(notes) and backup Andre Smith(notes) fortify right tackle, but the backup talent level drops significantly at the other positions, especially with rookies Reggie Stephens(notes) and Otis Hudson(notes) backing up C Kyle Cook(notes) and RG Bobbie Williams(notes). The line's strength is run-blocking. It must continue to work on its combination blocks to protect Carson Palmer.

    3. Locker room harmony. Massive egos are everywhere with the likes of diva WRs Chad Ochocinco(notes) and Terrell Owens(notes), plus RB Cedric Benson(notes), CB/PR Adam “Pacman” Jones and DT Tank Johnson(notes). Winning should keep everyone happy, but how will all the lightning-rod personalities react when adversity strikes? Coach Marvin Lewis and the team leaders (Carson Palmer, Williams, LT Andrew Whitworth(notes), MLB Dhani Jones(notes) and SS Kyries Hebert(notes)) must serve as the glue, making sure everyone sticks together.—Chick Ludwig

    Cleveland Browns

    1. Quarterback play. An issue that never has come close to resolution in 11 years of the expansion era remains a concern. Jake Delhomme(notes), 35, must prove his strong preseason means his miserable '09 in Carolina was a mirage. Seneca Wallace(notes) was 3-5 in his busiest season as a Seattle starter. Rookie Colt McCoy's(notes) arm strength is suspect, and he clearly isn't ready to function at NFL game speed. A creative Delhomme/Wallace platoon might be worth a try.

    2. Pass rush. OLB Kamerion Wimbley(notes), the '09 sacks leader, was traded to Oakland and there is no proven replacement. Coordinator Rob Ryan will be forced to blitz liberally and hope his gambles pay off. That approach worked to an extent last year (40 sacks), but the team ranked No. 31 in total defense. Offseason pickup Chris Gocong(notes) could beef up the inside rush. Second-year pro Marcus Benard(notes) must blossom as an edge rusher.

    3. Running game. Questions remain about how carries will be divvied up among scatback Jerome Harrison(notes), big back Peyton Hillis(notes) and rookie all-around threat Montario Hardesty(notes). None projects as a true feature back for '10, meaning coordinator Brian Daboll must push the right buttons to keep opponents off-balance. New RT Tony Pashos(notes) must be an upgrade, and rookie RG Shaun Lauvao must grow up fast.—Steve Doerschuk

    Pittsburgh Steelers

    1. Life without Ben. How the team responds without suspended QB Ben Roethlisberger(notes) for four-plus games remains the biggest concern, even though the team brought back veteran Byron Leftwich(notes) to handle the situation. However, Leftwich was injured in the final preseason game, and there are questions about whether he or third-year Dennis Dixon(notes) will starter the Sept. 12 opener.

    2. Right tackle. The season-ending injury to RT Willie Colon(notes) forced the team to sign veteran Flozell Adams(notes) just before camp. Adams, though, is 35 and learning a new position after playing left tackle for 13 seasons with Dallas. If Adams slows down during the season, the team would have to turn to newcomer Jonathan Scott(notes), a part-time Bills starter in '09.

    3. Backup running back. The decision to not re-sign former two-time Pro Bowl RB Willie Parker(notes) left the team without a proven No. 2 back behind starter Rashard Mendenhall(notes). Veteran Mewelde Moore(notes) could handle the role in an emergency, but the team is counting on Isaac Redman(notes), a '09 practice-squad player, to fill the role. Redman is a tough inside runner with a good burst but is untested.—Gerry Dulac

    Molon labe

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. George Orwell

    American metal pimped by asiansteel
    Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you 1. Jesus Christ, 2.The American G.I., One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.

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    Re: Reason for concerns: AFC North

    It makes me happy to see the Ratbirds have a weakened D.

    Carson Palmer is nothing special IMO.

    The Stains are the Stains.

    We win the AFC North.
    Steel City Mafia
    So Cal Boss (Ret)

    My son's first Kansas Turkey!

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    Re: Reason for concerns: AFC North

    N.F.L. Preview: A.F.C. North

    [url=""] ... f-c-north/[/url]

    Ben Roethlisberger can return from his suspension in Week 5. Either Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch will fill in until then.Justin Edmonds/Getty Images Ben Roethlisberger can return from his suspension in Week 5. Either Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch will fill in until then.
    AFC - American Footbal Conference

    The Ravens spent the off-season shoring up their offense, handing quarterback Joe Flacco the best receiving corps he has had by adding Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth, who recently broke his foot but is expected to return in October. Combine them with running back Ray Rice’s explosiveness, and the Ravens have real scoring potential — a good thing after they managed only 3 points against the Colts in the playoffs last season. That would usually be enough to make the Ravens a Super Bowl favorite without reservation.

    But their reliable defense has some problems, particularly in the secondary. Safety Ed Reed (neck) is on the physically unable to perform list, so he will miss at least six weeks. At cornerback, Domonique Foxworth is out for the season and Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb are returning from serious knee injuries. Maybe the rest of the defense — with Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, the 35-year-old Ray Lewis and a slimmed-down and quicker Terrell Suggs — is still special enough that it will not matter.

    But the best news for Baltimore is the schedule. The Ravens will not face Jets receiver Santonio Holmes, and perhaps cornerback Darrelle Revis, in the opener and they will not see quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when they play Pittsburgh in Week 4. Week 2’s game against Cincinnati, which swept Baltimore last year, may be the best barometer for the secondary. The Ravens’ offense may have to score more than usual this season, but they have enough to win the division and perhaps a first-round bye.

    What did Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis do in a previous life to have to run the N.F.L.’s version of a halfway house for unwanted players? With Terrell Owens added to Chad Ochocinco and the rookies Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham, quarterback Carson Palmer should have plenty of weapons. Cincinnati’s defense was the bedrock of last season’s run to the playoffs, though, and it will need to be again against a brutal schedule that includes only two home games in the first six weeks and a final six-game stretch that includes four games against 2009 playoff teams, and the Steelers. Eek.

    It is hard to say if the Steelers will be more intriguing in the first month, when Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch is filling in for Roethlisberger, or after Roethlisberger returns from his suspension in Week 5. Either way, Pittsburgh was committed to returning to a more physical style — read: run the ball more — even before Roethlisberger got into trouble. One problem: the Steelers’ offensive line has not been so good, and the passing game will not be able to bail them out as much because Holmes was sent to the Jets. So it is back to old reliable for the Steelers, winning with defense, which should be a lot easier this year now that safety Troy Polamalu is healthy again. Still, the cornerbacks are a weakness, which could be an issue against the Bengals and the Ravens. The Steelers have a relatively easy schedule, and if Dixon or Batch can hold them together for the first month, they could bump the Bengals and sneak into a wild-card spot.

    All you need to know about the Browns is that their bright spot is a special-teams player, Joshua Cribbs. Mike Holmgren, the team president, is counting on quarterback Jake Delhomme to turn back the clock to 2008, before a playoff meltdown sent him into a tailspin. The most interesting theater in Cleveland could be whether Coach Eric Mangini, who unexpectedly kept his job when Holmgren arrived, can hold it after this season.

    PLAYER TO WATCH Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. We will not know for years if he has really changed his behavior. But for now, the question is whether his suspension will diminish his play, and whether the Steelers’ season will be too far gone by the time he returns.

    GAME TO WATCH Baltimore at New England, Oct. 17. The Ravens destroyed the Patriots in the playoffs last season, and both teams think they have improved. This is the chance to prove it.

    Molon labe

    People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. George Orwell

    American metal pimped by asiansteel
    Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you 1. Jesus Christ, 2.The American G.I., One died for your soul, the other for your freedom.


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