Baltimore Ravens - Baltimore's surprising early success against good AFC teams is less and less a mystery. The Ravens don't seem to miss coaches Jack Del Rio and Marvin Lewis. Week in and week out, Baltimore continues to put on a tackling clinic. LB Ray Lewis may be more than a great player, he may be a great influence and a successful coach. Ray's fine art of tackling appears to have rubbed off on almost every player on defense AND special teams.
The Ravens do enjoy size and speed in their secondary, but blown coverages are still common. The Jaguars had difficulty exploiting this advantage mostly because this group recovers so well. Yards after the catch are rare against Baltimore and the special teams kick and punt coverage makes one stick after the other. The common rookie mistakes are not compounded by poor tackling, which is something that has been plaguing the Steelers.
The Ravens offensive line continues to get thinner and thinner. This will prove costly against the Steelers, but Baltimore should enjoy a substantial special teams advantage that should provide them with a shorter field to exploit. Still, the Steelers should be able to handle the inexperienced Ravens and Pittsburgh should not struggle with the multiple looks that the Ravens show on defense.
SteelCity Summary: With LB Kendrell Bell back in the Steelers lineup, Pittsburgh should show Baltimore a thing or two about running the 3-4.
p.s. The Steelers could learn a thing or two from the Ravens about tackling.
Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers have trodden where the Ravens have failed to travel. Still, Baltimore can make the same claim with an impressive victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Steelers are still looking for that complete game that will make them the class of the AFC North. The golden ring still eludes them.
For all the Steelers did right on Monday night, they still didn't tackle. The defense made Manning look very average, but the Steelers were hardly the Ravens in terms of defense. The coverage was certainly was better than anything the Ravens have shown thus far in 2002, but Baltimore's defense still has more guts.
On the other hand, the Steelers offense offers so much more with an XFL QB than Chris Redman can ever hope to be. The Ravens are pretenders while the Steelers flirt with being contenders. All questions will be answered next Sunday.
SteelCity Summary: The Steelers repeat their Monday night performance and Baltimore does not have a chance.
p.s. LB Kendrell Bell is no Ray Lewis.
Cleveland Browns - The Browns got more than a sorely needed victory over the Houston Texans. Cleveland finally showed some spirit on defense after a listless first half. Defensive linemen lower on the depth chart, such as DE Mark Word, heeded the call and harassed rookie QB David Carr and effectively squelched the Texans offense. The Browns seemed to rediscover the pass rush and give the crowd in Cleveland some reason to hope for better things in the near future.
Yet, the Browns special teams are really keeping this team alive in the AFC North race. The Texans, after all, are an expansion team. But it was the Browns secondary that did not look quite NFL ready. Furthermore, Couch and the offense continued to look flat. Take away the superlative play of the Browns special teams and Cleveland is probably a solid 1-6.
Cleveland faces the NY Jets next week, a team that looks revitalized by relative newcomer QB Chad Pennington. The way to beat the Jets is to simply run the ball, not exactly the Browns strong suit. This is probably a much closer contest than it looked two or three weeks ago. The Browns will have a chance to demonstrate that they really turned things around against the Texans.
SteelCity Summary: As long as there remains such a substantial difference between the special teams play of the Browns and that of the Steelers, at best Pittsburgh will struggle to beat Cleveland.
p.s. Cleveland did not really turn things around against Houston.
Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals had a bye this week and host the Titans (who also luck into a bye) next Sunday. RB Corey Dillon is shooting off at the mouth again and now threatens to retire. He's freshly minted contract probably prohibits such a move, but is indicative of the obvious dissention among the ranks. Can a change at head coach hope to accomplish anything? The players probably wouldn't buy into it at this point and a change of ownership seems to be the only possible solution to the Bengals woes.
SteelCity Summary: Still better to face the Bengals sooner rather than later. The Steelers get another fresh infusion of Bengal induced confidence in just before Thanksgiving.
p.s. Thank goodness for the Bengals.