Wednesday, July 18, 2007

NFL Questions: AFC North

For the last couple of years this division was supposed to be a powerhouse on the verge - the Browns got defensive guru and Bill Belichick disciple Romeo Crennel to run the show and a collection of exciting young players, the Steelers and Ravens were models of consistency, and the Bengals were on the rise. With retirements, age, and other issues that have surfaced, it's now a division with a lot of questions...

Baltimore Ravens - Does Steve McNair have enough in the tank to get this team to the playoffs? Honestly, watching the way McNair ran down at the end of the season, I don't think the question is about Super Bowl chances - I don't think that can even be discussed with this team until they make the post season and McNair shows some life. None of the other questions about this team matter if McNair can't get the job done.

Cincinnati Bengals - There are so many questions here, mostly having to do with suspensions (see Odell Thurman, Chris Henry), but the team proved they could weather those distractions for at least one season, so it stands to reason that they could do it for another (although it could catch up to them). No, the big question here is whether or not they can stop the run.

Like the Indianapolis Colts last year, the Bengals gave up big yardage on the ground. Unlike the Colts, the Bengals couldn't overcome that - nor did they have the player that could come in, when healthy, and stop the run. If they can force teams into shoot-outs and take away the other team's ability to grind out a lead, this could be a big year for them. Otherwise, expect more of the same.

Cleveland Browns - So many questions, but of greatest significance to the Browns - Who's the leader? Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn? Whoever the brain-trust decides is the leader will go a long way to determining whether Romeo Crennel continues as a head coach, or if he returns to a coordinator roll. Either way, Crennel had best hope that the left tackle the team drafted is the dominant left-tackle they're projecting him to be. Otherwise, he better have the resumes ready.

Pittsburgh Steelers - Following their win in one of the worst Super Bowl games ever in regards to the quality of football played, the Steelers picked up where they left off - playing bad football. The first question that pops to mind is whether or not Big Ben can carry the load, but I think the important question is how does a veteran locker room respond when ownership passes on the player's choice for head coach? Steelers players, it was reported, were hoping that one of the incumbent coordinators with whom they were familiar would be offered the job. Instead, it went to Mike Tomlin - a relative youngster in his thirties with a penchant for the 4-3. The Steelers run a 3-4, have for years, and that's the type of personnel that Pittsburgh currently has.

Can they play his brand of football, and, more importantly, are they willing?


Dave said...

The Ravens will make the playoffs because of that nasty defense and that McNair doesn't make a lot of mistakes. The problem is that while that formula won them a title with Dilfer, too many teams in the NFL have better balance than they did back then (Indy, Pats, SD). I don't think McNair can step it up a notch the way he used to. Nor do I think McGahee is the answer the Ravens believe him to be.

Kevin Smith said...

Honestly, after seeing the way McNair wore down at the end of the year, I don't see the offense being much help to the defense come December.

There are so many questions tho for each of these teams, it was hard to choose what I felt to be the most important

Chandra said...

Re: Steve Mcnair
did Manning fade towards the end too? he was horrible 2 and 1/2 games before he found himself.

how about Brady? He looked terrible aginst the Jets and the Chargers.

The truth is that every AFC QB looked horrible in the play-offs because of the caliber of the defenses. The one problem that Ravens O had that others did not was the lack of running game.

But then, this is what happens when you make sweeping generalizations based on one game.

Kevin Smith said...

You're right, other QB's struggled at times come the end of the season. Mc Nair, however, looked old in most of his games - In nine of the fourteen starts where he had at least ten attempts, he passed for fewer than 240 yards. In six of those for fewer than 185 yards. In five games he threw at least as many int's as he did TD's, and in three of thos games he did not throw for a touchdown.

Only twice in his career has he thrown for as few yards per attempt, in spite of the fact that last year included a career long 87 yard completion. And realistically - both Brady and Manning looked better in the playoffs than did McNair. Offhand, I would say that the only AFC QB that looked worse in the playoffs was Trent Green.

Thanks for the sweeping generalizations comment - but I really do some research before I make my comments. I watch games by teams that I'm not even interested in because I love football - and I break down what's going wrong. McNair took too much of a beating over the last couple of years in Tennessee and its showing.

The same is happening for McNabb in Philly.