AFCN Report Card

Quick notes, quotes and report cards for the Ravens, Bengals, Steelers and Browns.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

The Bengals, already struggling against the run, took another body blow when starting middle linebacker Nate Webster underwent surgery on his right knee and was likely lost for the season.
Coach Marvin Lewis announced the Webster had surgery on his patella tendon and that he would likely be placed on the Injured Reserve list later this week.
At the same time, the Bengals entertained a visit from former Bengals linebacker Adrian Ross. Ross flew in from his home in California to have a tryout and take a physical.
The biggest concern about him is the health of his left knee, which required surgery after Ross suffered a torn ACL in Game 15 at St. Louis last season.
The Bengals terminated Ross' contract July 26, and he signed early in August with the Steelers. The Steelers cut Ross on Sept. 5.
Ross is 245 pounds and started 12 games at strong-side linebacker in 2003. He had a career high 62 tackles and can play the middle.
Asked if the Bengals would sign a linebacker to replace Webster, Lewis said, "Possibly. We're reserving those options as of now."
Webster would be the 10th player to go on IR this year. The Bengals were the last team in the league to place a player on IR in 2003, and they only lost three players.
Webster was one of four players Lewis already has listed as out for the Sunday game at Pittsburgh, joining center Rich Braham (knee), safety Kim Herring (foot) and defensive lineman Carl Powell (knee).
Then they will limp into the bye weekend before heading to Cleveland.
"The positive thing is we are going to get our guys back," Lewis said. "Things should be getting healthier in the near future. The bye week will also help us to heal up."

NOTES, QUOTES
--The Bengals started 0-3 and 1-4 in 2003. After defeating Miami, they are now 6-4 at home in 10 home games under coach Marvin Lewis in one-plus seasons. The Bengals, 1-4 at the bye last year, can be 2-2 if they win at Pittsburgh.
--The Bengals have now gone 30 offensive possessions without scoring an offensive touchdown, a total of eight quarters.
--C Jerry Fontenot will make his third consecutive start at Pittsburgh.
--Baltimore had an average drive start of the 42-yard line Sunday, the Bengals the 22. With 13 possessions, the Bengals started 260 yards behind the Ravens for the game.
"It is difficult to overcome that many yards," coach Marvin Lewis said. "That's why we had to gain so many (398 in total offense) just to be close in the football game. You have a smaller play list on offense when you're starting backed up, and a larger list when you start with better field position."
--WR Peter Warrick (shin) was downgraded to doubtful for Pittsburgh because of continued soreness in the leg. Coach Marvin Lewis said rest should get Warrick back healthy after the bye.
--WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (ribs) is probable for Pittsburgh, coming off a career high game with 116 receiving yards.
--DE Justin Smith confirmed Monday that he was fined $5,000 by the NFL for his block on Miami quarterback A.J. Feeley. Feeley had thrown an interception and was not pursuing the play when Smith blocked him. He was flagged for a 15-yard penalty.
--LB Caleb Miller (ankle) is probable for the Steelers and might start at middle linebacker.
--OL Larry Moore (knee) is doubtful but might be upgraded to questionable.
--SS Rogers Beckett (concussion) is questionable for the Steelers. He has missed the last two games.
--ORT Levi Jones (knee) is questionable for Pittsburgh. He has endured wear and tear, coach Marvin Lewis said, on his surgically repaired knee.

REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Carson Palmer threw for 316 yards, but he also was intercepted three times and sacked four times by Baltimore's defense. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh had good days, but the Bengals could not score an offensive touchdown for the second consecutive game.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Rudi Johnson ran for 98 yards, but the run game was inconsistent. The average per rush was 4.2 yards on the ground.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Bengals allowed Kyle Boller to play a near-perfect game for the Ravens at quarterback. He threw for just 126 yards, 46 coming when cornerback Tory James failed to tackle Jamal Lewis at the line on a screen pass. Instead of no gain, Lewis ran 46 yards. Poor tackling also led to a 38-yard catch and run for a touchdown by Randy Hymes. The Bengals had just two sacks for zero yards.
RUSH DEFENSE: F -- The Ravens ran for 254 yards, the fourth time in the past seven games an opponent has rushed for more than 200 on the Bengals rush defense. The Bengals are 31st in run defense at 166 a game this season. They did better in the second half, but Jamal Lewis got loose for a 75-yard touchdown run after the Bengals had clawed back to within 17-9 in the fourth quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The normally reliable punt coverage team gave up a 63 return to B.J. Sams that set up Baltimore's first touchdown, to make it 10-0. They were the winning points. There was a lack of effort on the play, coach Marvin Lewis said.
COACHING: C -- The Bengals played hard, and they were in better position on defense but failed to make tackles. Bob Bratkowski had a good offensive game plan, good for 398 yards, but the streak of possessions without an offensive touchdown is now 30 (over four entire quarters). The problem on defense doesn't appear to be scheme. It might be talent.


CLEVELAND BROWNS

This year, it was supposed to be different when the inevitable injuries hit the Browns.
This year, Butch Davis and his players said they finally had enough depth to survive.
Based on their performance and their game plan in Sunday's 27-10 loss, that looks like wishful thinking. With seven starters out - it became eight when outside linebacker Ben Taylor was lost early - the Browns were overmatched by the Giants, who are no juggernaut themselves.
The Browns didn't get past midfield until the next-to-last play of the first half and never seriously threatened the Giants in the second half.
After the game, Davis said the coaching staff made a mistake by basing their offensive game plan on containing Giants defensive end Michael Strahan. With seldom-tested Joaquin Gonzalez filling in for the injured Ryan Tucker at right tackle, the Browns were worried Strahan would dominate. So they kept tight ends or running backs in to block, limiting the number of receivers in the pattern.
The Browns changed that strategy in the second half, but it was too late.
Apparently, it wasn't only the coaches who lacked faith the backups could do the job. The message he gave the players Monday was that they had to learn to trust each other.
"What I wanted to clarify to the players is that (quarterback) Jeff Garcia has to trust that the offensive line is going to do the best job they can," Davis said. (Safety) Robert Griffith has to trust that the corners are going to jam and reroute (receivers). The linebackers have to trust that the defensive line is going to keep the alignment as best as possible.
"Everybody has to trust that they are going to play as hard as they can. Everyone is going to make mistakes. It's inevitable. If you make them full speed, we're going to overcome them."

NOTES, QUOTES
--The outcome had already been decided, but eyebrows were raised by quarterback Jeff Garcia's half-hearted effort on Cleveland's final play.
Center Jeff Faine's shotgun snap eluded Garcia, who went back to retrieve the ball. But Garcia paused as the ball neared the goal line, and Giants defensive end Michael Strahan outhustled him to the ball.
The Giants decided not to make the Browns pay. With the ball at the Cleveland 1, they took a knee to run out the clock.
"I didn't want to recover the ball in the end zone and give up more points," Garcia said. "I tried to track the ball down, see where they were coming from and see if I could pick it up. It was already a bad situation at that point in the game, and there was really nothing you could do about it."
Butch Davis made clear his disappointment.
"You'd like for him to have been able to go after the ball and get it," he said.
--LB Ben Taylor's season came to a premature end Sunday when he tore a pectoral tendon attempting to make a tackle.
"Coming from the backside, he was trying to make the tackle and reached out and grabbed the guy," Davis said. "He made a valiant effort to try to get there. He was just so far away that he didn't have a chance to get his head or body (turned), and the ball-carrier cut back."
This is the third straight season Taylor has been hampered by injuries. Taylor played in only seven games as a rookie in 2002 because of hamstring problems. A staph infection in his elbow curtailed his playing time last year.
--RB William Green ran for 91 yards, his highest total since running for 145 against Oakland last Oct. 12. A shoulder injury and then personal problems resulting in a suspension ended his season soon afterward.
--CB Anthony Henry did not play because of a recurrence of vertigo on Friday. He
first showed symptoms early in the week, but it had seemed to clear up.
--CB Daylon McCutcheon was active, but did not play because of a broken middle finger.
--RB Lee Suggs did not play but got the green light to practice without limitations for the first time since suffering a neck stinger Sept. 1.
--KR Richard Alston made his NFL debut. Taking over for the released Dee Brown, Alston averaged 18.2 yards in five returns.

REPORT CARD VS. GIANTS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- After hitting rock bottom in Dallas with a zero passer rating, Jeff Garcia had a respectable game statistically against the Cowboys. But it was misleading. He completed 21 of 31 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown (with a Hail Mary interception). But those stats were padded in the second half when he completed 14 of 17 passes after the Giants played softer coverage once they had a comfortable lead. Garcia still looks out of sync in offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie's offense. He also has been victimized by shaky protection from his linemen and the inability of his receivers to get open. Quincy Morgan and Andre Davis were mostly non-factors. Dennis Northcutt caught nine passes but for only 50 yards. With Kellen Winslow Jr. out, the tight ends contributed little, though Chad Mustard caught a fourth-down pass to keep a drive alive.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- Again, the statistics made the Browns' running game look better than it was. William Green ran 15 times for 91 yards and would have gone for over 100 if a 49-yard touchdown run hadn't been called back because of a holding penalty. But in the first half, Green ran seven times for only 22 yards as the Browns struggled to stay on the field. Green continues to have trouble learning how to use fullback Terrelle Smith, and Smith appeared to exchange heated words with Green on the sideline after one botched play. Green runs hard and he can run through tackles, but he usually doesn't try to be elusive. With Lee Suggs still out with a neck stinger, James Jackson provided a spark in the second quarter.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- Give Kurt Warner time, and he can still pick defenses apart. The Browns gave Warner time, and he threw for 286 yards. With inexperienced cornerbacks Michael Lehan and Leigh Bodden filling in for injured Daylon McCutcheon and Anthony Henry, the Browns needed to step up their pass rush. Kenard Lang and Ebenezer Ekuban each had sacks, but other than that the Browns seldom harassed Warner. The Browns had particular trouble against Amani Toomer, who had five catches for 126 yards. Tight end Jeremy Shockey had only five catches for 41 yards, but the Browns couldn't stop him on third down. Cleveland also had trouble taking advantage of Warner's misfires. Three times, the Browns had chances for interceptions. Three times, they dropped the ball.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- Also not good. The Browns allowed Tiki Barber to run for 106 yards in 23 carries, a 4.6-yard average. Especially early, the Browns had trouble with Barber's cutbacks, as he repeatedly wiggled for extra yardage. The loss of Courtney Brown was felt on plays when Barber outran Browns defenders around the perimeter. Defensive tackle Orpheus Roye remains the most consistent Cleveland defender. He broke through the line to tackle Barber for a 4-yard loss at the New York 1 on one play. But with Brown and Gerard Warren out, Cleveland lacks run-stopping playmakers.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- Kicker Phil Dawson and punter Derrick Frost are probably the team's most valuable players. Dawson made a 49-yard field goal to extend his streak to 17 straight, tops in the NFL. He also has been getting better distance on his kickoffs than at any other time in his six-year Browns career. Frost has been a real find. He entered the game with an NFL-best net average of better than 43 yards per kick. Frost's net was only 39.4 Sunday because of a 21-yard punt return, but it was Frost who made the tackle, and it was a good one at that. The only criticism of the kicking game is that their return game has been ordinary. Dennis Northcutt hasn't had many chances to break a punt return, and Richard Alston's NFL debut as a kickoff returner was nothing special.
COACHING: D- -- Even Butch Davis admitted he got outcoached this week, mainly with the Browns coaches' decision to make containing Giants defensive end Michael Strahan the focus of their offensive game plan. The Browns feared right tackle Joaquin Gonzalez, filling in for the injured Ryan Tucker, would be overmatched by Strahan, so they made sure Gonzalez had plenty of help. But by doing so, the Browns eliminated weapons from their arsenal. With too few receivers in patterns, Garcia had few options when he dropped back to pass. Davis said he'd the Browns would have been better off doing in the first half what they did in the second - let Gonzalez fight his own battle. The other problem is a lack of offensive creativity. Terry Robiskie is a smash-mouth offensive coordinator, but with the Browns depleted by injuries, he needs to show more imagination.


PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Rookie Ben Roethlisberger passed his first test as a starting quarterback, although his raw stats don't necessarily back it up. Pittsburgh's 13-3 victory Sunday night at Miami in the remnants of Hurricane Jeanne had to be seen to appreciate what the rookie quarterback accomplished.
The game was played in a windy downpour and much of the time the Steelers had the ball in the muck that is the baseball infield at Pro Player Stadium. The ball was hard to grip and the backs had trouble running. Yet Roethlisberger kept his poise throughout, even though his first pass was intercepted.
The Steelers did not have another turnover, and with the game on the line and Pittsburgh clinging to a 6-3 lead, Roethlisberger led them on a touchdown drive, throwing a perfect low-and-away fastball to a diving Hines Ward for the 7-yard scoring pass. On that drive, the rookie completed two third-down passes to Ward and Plaxico Burress.
"I thought the quarterback did well, he really did," coach Bill Cowher said. "He made some plays. He never lost his composure. He played like you kind of thought he would play. He missed a couple of throws, he made a great throw there to (Plaxico Burress) in the beginning of the first drive. I thought he played well."
On the touchdown play, Roethlisberger faked a pitchout to Duce Staley to the left, set up in the pocket and then scrambled to his right when he saw Burress was covered and at the last second tossed it to Ward.
"I told Hines that he was lucky because I was about two seconds from throwing it away," Roethlisberger said. "You have to put it near the playmakers and they're going to make plays. I threw the ball in the corner where Hines could make the play and he'll make it every time."

NOTES, QUOTES
--The grounds crew at Pro Player Stadium spread about 80 bags of sand on the baseball infield at halftime of Sunday night's game in an attempt to dry up what was a big mud puddle. They only made it worse, according to Hines Ward.
"They poured some more dirt out there and it really made it muddy," Ward said.
--Olindo Mare scored Miami's only points with a 34-yard field goal, his only try, while Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed was 2-for-4 with a long of 51. Reed does not envy Mare's home field advantage with the muddy baseball infield.
"I've never experienced that before," Reed said of the sloppy Miami field. "Olindo has a tough job here."
--The Steelers flew into Ft. Lauderdale a day early, on Friday evening, because of the pending storm and had to wait until Sunday night to play what was supposed to be a 1 p.m. kickoff. Also, they were without power during the storm Saturday night at their hotel in Ft. Lauderdale.
"We lost power in the middle of films," rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger said. "We all had flashlights and Coach Cowher was trying to come get us to play flashlight tag in the lobby, but I don't think that anyone went. It's just one of those things where you need to be mentally ready all of the time."
--RB Duce Staley averaged 4.6 yards in bad running conditions and had his first 100-yard game as a Steeler, with 22 yards on 101 carries.
--WR Hines Ward remained two yards off the pace for the NFL lead with 346 yards on 22 receptions. Ward caught nine passes for 96 yards against Miami.
--LB Joey Porter finally came alive in the third game of the season. His silent play through the first two games changed abruptly in Miami when he led the team with seven tackles and had his first sack of the season.
--SS Troy Polamalu had the first interception of his career. Their No. 1 pick in 2003 is off to a fast start as their new starter at strong safety. He led them in tackles in game two and tied for second with six Sunday.
--CB Deshea Townsend, who became a starter midway through last season, leads the Steelers with two interceptions and also has a sack.

REPORT CARD VS. DOLPHINS
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- It wasn't pretty on an ugly night, but the conditions accounted for the lower stats. Roethlisberger completed 12 of 22 for 163 yards with one TD, one early interception and one sack. His passer rating was 74.6 and he engineered a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that put the game away. The rookie showed great poise and composure in such less than ideal conditions in his first NFL start. Hines Ward remained hot with 9 catches for 96 yards and the game's only TD. Burress caught two for 60 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- It wasn't a night conducive to gaining 153 yards but that's what the Steelers managed to get, a key stat on such a horrible night when they started a rookie quarterback. Duce Staley had his first 100-yard game with the Steelers, running for 101 yards on 22 carries. They averaged 4.0 yards a carry.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- A.J. Feeley helped them with a terrible performance that produced a 32.5 passer rating. He was 13 of 27 for 137 yards. They sacked him three times and intercepted him twice - by Troy Polamalu and Deshea Townsend.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Again, the Dolphins helped out the Steelers by showing little ability to run the ball. Pittsburgh held them to 52 yards on 29 carries, a 1.8-yard average. A big hit by safety Chris Hope also knocked out starting running back Lamar Gordon early in the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Kicker Jeff Reed missed two field goals, but he also made two from 40 and 51 yards on a bad day. Steelers punt returners let the ball drop, for the most part, rather than risk trying to catch it and losing it on a day in which any mistake could have turned the tide. Chris Gardocki averaged 41.5 yards on six punts, yeoman's work considering the conditions.
COACHING: B -- The worst decision of the day was to have the rookie quarterback throw on their first offensive play and it was picked off. The second worst decision was to attempt a 51-yard field goal in bad weather with a 3-0 lead in the third quarter - but Jeff Reed made Bill Cowher look good by making it. Other than that, they made sound game-day decisions and someone did a great job of getting the rookie quarterback ready to play.


BALTIMORE RAVENS

INSIDE SLANT
The Ravens run defense will get a boost while their pass offense still has to wait.
Nose tackle Kelly Gregg is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing the last two games with a knee injury. He is the top run stopper on the team, using leverage to control the middle while having enough athleticism to penetrate into the backfield.
Without Gregg, the Ravens allowed Cincinnati running back Rudi Johnson to gain 98 yards. With Kansas City's Priest Holmes up next, the Ravens have to be stout inside.
"It's coming around," Gregg said of his knee. "My first goal is to get out there and practice."
The outlook is not as promising for tight end Todd Heap (ankle) or receiver Travis Taylor (groin), both of whom are expected to miss the next two games and return after the Ravens' bye.
Without Heap and Taylor, only Randy Hymes and Devard Darling caught more than one pass.
"I'm not to the point where I'm going to rush it," Heap said. "I can't stand sitting and watching those games. But there's no point going in there and making it worse. I want to make sure it's the right time."

NOTES, QUOTES
--The Ravens' Kyle Boller finished the game with a 100.7 quarterback rating, a touchdown run, a touchdown pass and his second straight win, yet he also left questions.
Boller lost two fumbles, and both could have been costly. The first came as he was headed toward the end zone after scrambling 19 yards to the Bengals' 2. Cincinnati linebacker Nate Webster popped the ball loose while Boller was in full stride, and cornerback Tory James recovered it.
If Boller had scored, the Ravens would have gone up 17-0 early in the second quarter.
"Right as I was extending it, he came and hit me," Boller said. "I was just begging that I was across the line, but I don't think I was."
The second fumble, on a scramble in the fourth quarter, came without Boller even getting hit. "As I was pulling it in to tuck it, my right leg came up and it just bounced right off my thigh and knocked it out," he said.
Were they cause for concern? "It's unfortunate that I got them," Boller said. "The main thing is we got the win. The defense covered for me, but I've got to continue to cover the ball up in those situations," he added.
--Kevin Johnson's streak of 81 consecutive games with a catch ended as he was shut out for the first time in his six-year career. Johnson took it in stride: "This is the motto for winning here," he said. "If this can get us to the Super Bowl, I'm all for it. It's just one of those things."
--Coach Brian Billick admitted he erred in going for a two-point conversion after the Ravens took a 23-9 lead on Jamal Lewis' 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. But in the same breath, Billick took a shot at one of his favorite targets -- the media.
"I started in college as an engineering major and, as you can see, I'm too stupid to add, so I transferred to journalism," Billick said. "I thought it was (a 15-point lead), and it was 14. I screwed up."
The Ravens failed on the conversion as Kyle Boller's fade pass to Randy Hymes was swatted away by Rashad Bauman.
--NT Kelly Gregg is expected to return this week after missing two games with a knee injury. He is considered a vital member of the Ravens' run defense.
--CB Deion Sanders is scheduled to play nickel back after being sidelined with a hamstring injury.
--C Mike Flynn will increase his snaps in practice but probably is another week away from starting. He broke his clavicle in training camp and has yet to play this season.
--TE Todd Heap still has swelling in his ankle and is at least another week from returning to the starting lineup.
--WR Travis Taylor is probably a week away from starting because the team doesn't want to rush him back after he re-injured his groin.

REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Second-year starting quarterback Kyle Boller was again conservative with his passes, going 11-for-18 with 126 yards and no interceptions. Only Randy Hymes provided a presence downfield, making four catches for 61 yards. Kevin Johnson was held without a catch for the first time in 81 games. Boller was sacked just two times.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Jamal Lewis had his fifth-best rushing performance gaining 186 yards on 18 carries. His 75-yard run late in the game sealed the win. Along with Chester Taylor's occasional runs and Boller's scrambles, the Ravens rolled up 254 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Ravens forced Carson Palmer into three interceptions and caused a fumble on a sack by Adalius Thomas. The Ravens' pass rush knocked Palmer down a dozen times. But Palmer threw for 316 yards and picked on Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister and nickel back Ray Walls. The Ravens had several lapses in communication but clamped down in the red zone.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in nine games, tied with Detroit for the longest streak in the NFL. But Cincinnati's Rudi Johnson gashed the Ravens off tackle and gained 98 yards. Ray Lewis missed his most tackles of the season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- B.J. Sams had a 63-yard punt return to set up a touchdown in the first half. Punter Dave Zastudil placed three of his six punts inside the 20-yard line. Matt Stover converted a field goal from 21 yards.
COACHING: B -- The Ravens stuck to their game plan of running the ball and it paid off with a 75-yard touchdown in the second half. The defense, though, didn't adjust well to the Bengals' passing attack. Still, after an upset loss in Cleveland, the Ravens have rebounded to sit atop of the AFC North.

 


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