AFC North Report: Confidence

<p>The Ravens have it. The Bengals don't know what it is. The Browns have a false sense of it. And the Steelers may have just lost it. In terms of talent and experience, the Pittsburgh would still be in first. But after that, the division goes Cincinnati, Cleveland, and then Baltimore. The Steelers tie with the Falcons makes the North a bit murkier, but the Ravens clearly do more with less while the Steelers do less with more.</p>

Pittsburgh Steelers - What in the name of Greg Lloyd is going on in Pittsburgh? A Bill Cowher team blows a 17-point 4th quarter lead? A Steeler QB throws for 473 yards? This team is not sure of its identity yet. At the very least, the head coach is not sure. Just like a Cower press conference, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a lesson in malapropisms.

Instead of confident at the midpoint of the 2002 season, the Steelers are confused. Cowher's 4th quarter exploit of turtle offense and prevent defense no longer fits his team. There was no Jerome Bettis wearing down the opposing defense. Instead, there was the aerial show of Tommy Maddox and Plaxico Burress. At running back was bug on the rug Amos Zereoue. Instead of pounding the opposition into submission, the Steelers now light up the scoreboard. The offensive dimension of Cowher's tried and true scheme no longer exists.

The offense sets up the defense to win the game in Cowher's world. The defense couldn't do the job against the Falcons. This defense couldn't do the job a number of times this season. If anything, the Steelers defense is better this season than last. But this is a unit built to support a run-first and ball control offense. This is supposed to be complimented by solid special teams play. The Cowher teams of yore are nowhere to be found on the field this year.

Cowher's typically successful 4th quarter strategies simply don't apply to this team and its strengths. The talent level is probably good enough to win the North, but the Steelers will not go far playing Marty Jr. Ball.

  • SteelCity Summary - No offense in the North can keep pace with the Steelers. That's why they will go undefeated in the division.

p.s. Jeff Hartings is a liability at center. He should be one red-zone fumble away from replacement by Chukky Okobi.

Cleveland Browns - The Browns have an extra week to stew about their loss to the Steelers. The Bengals will give the Browns some trouble since losing to Cincinnati now carries with it absolute humiliation. The Bengals, Browns, and Ravens are already thinking about next year. The Browns don't need any more demons going into the off-season. This is a must win game for them.

  • SteelCity Summary - Whatever the Browns do the rest of the way matters little to the Steelers at this point.

p.s. Butch Davis has promised the world a Browns running attack. If the Browns can't run on the Bengals they won't run on anyone.

Baltimore Ravens - The Ravens play with a lot of heart and pride. Sure, the Bengals gave the Ravens all they could handle, but the Ravens still found a way to win (or did the Bengals find a way to lose?). The Ravens have a nose for the big play and they may lead the North pack in getting ready for a playoff run in 2003.

The Ravens draft better than any team in the North. They will get another crack at a good crop of rookies and will fill the necessary holes. The Ravens have a feature running back. The have an opportunistic defense that tackles well. The special teams chips in here and there. They should continue to work on the quarterback situation. Can they get Redman back in there? Should they keep Blake?

The off-season should be interesting. Which team will do a better job of rebuilding its offensive line, Cleveland or Baltimore? Baltimore has the better front office, but what may be the deciding factor is the team that looks like it has the better chance of winning in 2003. Cincinnati still has a free agent force field around it. Baltimore has a recent Super Bowl victory and Ray Lewis. Cleveland has a fading Butch Davis mythology.

  • SteelCity Summary - Baltimore has already circled the final game of the season against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Whether the game has playoff implications or not, Pittsburgh would be wise to send another message to the Ravens.

p.s. The Ravens already have the best all-around safety tandem in the AFC North.

Cincinnati Bengals - The Bengals are still the Bungles. They found a way to lose a very winnable game against the Ravens. The Bengals have talent, but they could get so much more if they could attract quality free agents who bring leadership to the table. Right now, Cincinnati has the reputation of being the Bermuda Triangle of free agency. No player in his right mind would enter for fear of disappearing off the NFL map.

The Bengals need to beat the Ravens and the Browns. They need to show a little something that might signal a change of fortune. The draft is no panacea, the Bengals are the poster child for that. The Bengals should not be playing for another high pick. They should be playing for free agents. They will get another shot at the Ravens, Browns and Steelers. All of these are potential message games. Games against New Orleans and Buffalo also qualify.

The Bengals really don't need to fill a bunch of holes. They need a franchise quarterback. The Bengals should become the resident NFL experts in the Arena League and the CFL. Might they land Kordell Stewart? Do you think Stewart wants to play in Pittsburgh anymore? Says here he goes to Dallas.

  • SteelCity Summary - The Steelers are ripe for the spoiling. The Bengals excel at spoiling the Steelers.

p.s. Keep an eye on Chad Johnson. He's starting to make his mark on the NFL.

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