AFC North: Tough Week Ahead for Joe Flacco

This week's AFC North Roundup looks at the bad luck staring down Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, the latest on Ben Roethlisberger's return for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the masterful first quarter had by the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton.

The Baltimore Ravens play host to the Cleveland Browns in Week 5, but it may not be the easy-out it typically is. Not only is Cleveland’s offense playing better as the season progresses, but the Ravens are dealing with a number of key injuries on offense that could make Sunday a difficult one for Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco.

In last week’s overtime defeat of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Flacco was already without Round 1 draft pick, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, whose ongoing knee problems could sideline him for the entire season. He also didn’t have tight end Crockett Gillmore, who was dealing with a calf injury, and left tackle Eugene Monroe, who has been battling his way back from a concussion. This is in addition to tight end Dennis Pitta, whose consecutive hip injuries could cost him not just the 2015 season but potentially his football career.

But things got worse for Flacco as the game wore on, with receivers Steve Smith. and Michael Campanaro both suffering back injuries against the Steelers. Campanaro has since been placed on injured reserve and Smith Sr., who has multiple microfractures in his back, is considered week-to-week and while not officially ruled out for Sunday, won’t likely be available.

As ESPN’s Jameson Hensley notes, Flacco could again be without Gillmore and Monroe on Sunday, in addition to Campanaro, Smith and Pitta. That leaves Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken his top two receivers, along with rookie tight end Maxx Williams. So far this season, Aiken has caught 11 passes for 165 yards and a score, Brown has eight receptions for 75 yards and Williams, seven for 84 yards. 

This could make it an easier go for the Browns’ defense on Sunday, especially given how much the pass-rush and secondary has struggled in the previous four games. Because of these numerous injuries and the Ravens’ depleted receiving corps, the Browns have the best chance of pulling off a win in Baltimore that they’ve had in a long, long time.

Pittsburgh Steelers: No Timetable for Roethlisberger Return Yet

On Sunday, CBS Sports’ Jason LaCanfora reported that the Pittsburgh Steelers are hopeful that injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could return in time for the team’s Week 7 meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs, scheduled for October 25. Initially, Roethlisberger was given a four to six week timeframe to heal from the MCL strain and deep bone bruise he suffered in his team’s Week 3 win over the St. Louis Rams. 

But according to Roethlisberger (via 93.7 The Fan and Sports Illustrated), there is no set date for his return to the field, saying, “What we’re trying not to do is put a time on it and just go week-by-week. Basically say, ‘I’m out this week, we’ll reevaluate it next week and see if and what I can do.’ To me, that’s the better way and maybe the more optimistic way to look at it. Rather than put a number on it, lets just take it one week at a time.”

That’s not to say that LaCanfora’s report will prove untrue. It’s obvious that both Roethlisberger and the Steelers would like to have the quarterback back on the field sooner than later, but there will be no rush given the severity of the injury, the bone bruise in particular. As Roethlisberger said, he’s still in “quite a bit of pain,” and the management of said pain will be the major factor in when he returns. Until then, the quarterback duties in Pittsburgh will fall to Michael Vick.

Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton Putting Together His Best Season Yet

There were signs last year that seemed to point toward Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton taking a step back in his development. Of course, he wasn’t helped by the season-ending injuries suffered early by receiver Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert, nor the series of nagging injuries that had his top target, A.J. Green, held back at times.

And now, with all of his considerably offensive weaponry healthy, Dalton is already showing signs of having the best season of his five-year career. Currently, Dalton is completing 67.2 percent of his passes, up from his career average of 61.9 percent. He’s thrown nine touchdowns to one interception, and has taken just two sacks. He is posting personal bests in yards per attempt, at 10.2, and yards per completion, at 15.2. It’s no wonder that the Bengals are one of the six teams in the league who remain undefeated at this time.

But Dalton’s struggles have never been during the regular season, especially the early weeks. What matters more is how he handles the latter half of the season, as well as the primetime games and, should the Bengals get there, the postseason. The Seattle Seahawks, coming to town on Sunday, will also prove to be a major test of Dalton and his various weapons. 

If he can handle the pressure, though, it’s possible that Dalton, with the aide of his teammates and coaches, has finally turned a corner, becoming consistent, confident and capable on the field, on an every-snap basis. Should that be the case, Dalton could end the season as one of the NFL’s most productive quarterbacks.

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