Around the AFC North: Season Opener Preview

The 2014 NFL season is set to fully kickoff on Sunday. There will be a divisional rivalry flavor to the opener for the AFC North. The week one games will feature head to head match ups between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns along with the Baltimore Ravens taking on the Cincinnati Bengals. This week, Around the AFC North presents the season opener preview.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltmore Ravens  

The Bengals travel to Baltimore with some changes to their coaching staff. Hue Jackson is now the offensive coordinator and Paul Guenther is now the defensive coordinator. Marvin Jones will not be playing due to injury but the Bengals will still have A.J. Green. Green will continue to be the main target for Andy Dalton and is the best offensive player on the Bengals. The Bengals also have two receiving tight ends in Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham that can be a threat in 12 personnel. Hue Jackson is expected to have a run heavy offense this year. Giovanni Bernard is in his second year and will be a focal point in the running game. He’s an explosive running back that is also a threat receiving the ball. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill will serve as the short yardage back.

aj-green-hail-maryThe Ravens defense will have it’s hands full when they go against the Bengals offense. Their starting corners, Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith took part in full practice this week and are expected to play without any limitations. C.J. Mosely and Daryl Smith will benefit from Brandon Williams’ ability to occupy two blockers.

As Warren Sapp says, “the secondary is only as good as the guys on the front line.” Terrell Suggs is still an elite pass rusher and will get pressure on the quarterback. Haloti Ngata slides over from the nose tackle spot and will be a more effective pass rusher this year. They’ll need to get pressure on Dalton and force him to turn the ball over.

Gary Kubiak will debut his zone blocking scheme against the Bengals. The Ravens will be without Ray Rice but backup running back Bernard Pierce is more than capable of stepping in. Lorenzo Taliaferro will also get some carries. The Bengals will benefit from the return of all pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Their run defense will be tested by the Ravens.

Another key addition on offense for the Ravens is Steve Smith Sr. He will give Joe Flacco a reliable option, especially on third downs. Leon Hall and Terrence Newman will get their fare share of chances against the Ravens receivers. They’ll need to stay disciplined as the Ravens will try to get the ball down field to Torrey White via play action. The passing game will be different this year for the most part. Kubiak has worked on Flacco getting the ball out a lot quicker to avoid the sacks that plagued the team last season.

Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The Browns and Steelers will kickoff their season in Pittsburgh. Mike Tomlin has said that he expects the Browns to use Johnny Manziel at some point. The Browns offense is not likely to be a solid unit this year thanks largely in part to the suspension of Josh Gordon. Jordan Cameron will be the biggest receiving threat for Brian Hoyer. Look for the Browns to utilize a combination of Ben Tate and Terrence West in the running game. New offensive coordinator, Norv Turner has always done a very good job of featuring running backs. Many of the running backs and quarterbacks that he has worked with experienced their most productive seasons in his offense.

shazierThe rushing attack will be the Browns best way to gain yardage, even against a traditionally strong Steelers run defense. Ryan Shazier will make his debut in the season opener. New safety Mike Mitchell will also make his debut for the Steelers. Both of these players figure heavily into the Steelers defense.

The Steelers offense will return to it’s old bruising form with two big backs in LaGarette Blount and Le’Veon Bell. Antonio Brown is the best receiver that the Steelers have. Heath Miller also make his return from injury. Karlos Dansby was an off season pickup that will bolster an already strong unit. Donte Whitner has assumed the role of being the team’s leader on defense despite being a new addition.

Defensive coordinator Jim O’neil and head coach Mike Pettine have worked with Rex Ryan in the past and will put their corners on islands. They have two lock down type corners that will allow them to use their mostly man to man scheme. The two will be tested by Brown and Markus Wheaton. Joe Haden will shadow Brown throughout the game.

This game will be a low scoring affair simply because of the Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde traits that the Browns offense and defense has. The offense is anemic and won’t score many points but the defense is one of the best in the league.


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