Around the AFC North: Week Four Standout Stories

The AFC North is challenging the NFC West for divisional supremacy in the NFL. The Cincinnati Bengals are one of three undefeated teams and are atop of various power rankings. The Baltimore Ravens have put together two solid wins within the division against the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers. This week, Around the AFC North takes a look at the week four standout stories.

Baltimore Ravens

steve_smith_49ersThe Ravens will host the Carolina Panthers which means that Steve Smith Sr. will go against his former team. This is a match up that Smith had circled when the NFL released it schedule back in April. The emotion that he plays with will be increased even more during this game. Smith said that he shed a few tears when he found out that the Panthers released him. It was a move that the team felt they had to do because they couldn’t justify keeping Smith and the high salary cap number that he commanded. He feels that he has something to prove and will take advantage of this opportunity to directly show them that they made a mistake. In his words, his enthusiasm will be “out of this world.” Joe Flacco said that he expects Smith to be a maniac on Sunday and jokingly said; “He’s going to want the ball probably every single down.” 

The team is well aware of what they can expect this Sunday after having him become a cornerstone member of their organization for so many years. Cam Newton for one, knew that Smith would have success wherever he went. “I’m not surprised by any means,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. “I know what Steve Smith brings to this game. I’m glad to see his success.” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said; “I expect to see Steve Smith play the way Steve Smith plays, that’s all I’m worried about,” Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera said. “The truth is it’s the Carolina Panthers versus the Baltimore Ravens, and that’s going to be my approach.”

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have a 3-0 record and a large part of that is due to the stellar play of Andy Dalton. He showed his athleticism last week when he caught a pass and made a nice move on the defensive back as he scored an 18 yard touchdown. Dalton has taken on more of a vocal leadership role with the team. This is good to see after a highly publicized dispute with team management over his contract extension. The two teams have worked it out and Dalton has starter to deliver in a way that validates the new deal. 

Dalton has completed 55 of 84 pass attempts for 722 yards and two touchdowns. He has only thrown one interception so far and that’s after three games. The key hurdle for Dalton will be delivering in the playoffs. That is the knock that many, including myself have had on him. The Bengals will get Marvin Jones back soon. That gives Dalton yet another weapon in the passing game. It’s very likely that the Bengals make the playoffs and this could be the year that Dalton finally leads the team on a deep playoff run.

Cleveland Browns

haden_smithThe big story in Cleveland has to be the struggle of cornerback Joe Haden. Haden signed a big time deal recently and is on record saying that he is the best corner in the NFL. Granted, there were quite a few corners saying that but Haden is one of a select three or four that actually have a legitimate argument. Gil Brandt of wrote a great column that pointed out the struggles that Haden has encountered this year. Let’s not forget, it was Joe Haden that Steve Smith Sr. beat for a deep catch that set up the winning field goal for the Ravens.

Here is what Gil Brandt had to say in his post about Haden:

Haden is young and has a proven track record, yet he’s been something of a disappointment in 2014. Through three games, Haden, who also received a huge deal recently, has been targeted 19 times — and he’s yielded catches on 14 of those targets, for a burn rate of 74 percent. This does not compare well to his burn rate of 35 percent through three games last season. Haden also has just one pass defensed this season after recording 20 in 2013. 

I asked Mr. Brandt about his article and he said that it looked to him like Haden is not having the same fun that he normally had on the field and that he seems disinterested. It is surprising that Haden is being targeted as much because he has a rookie corner on the opposite side of him in Justin Gilbert. The season is still young and it’s not too late to see Haden get things back in order. The Browns have a bye this week so maybe the time off can help him.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The thing that stands out in Steeler country to me would be the emergence of running back Le’Veon Bell. LaDainian Tomlinson had some interesting comments about Bell when he presented his weekly top five running back selections this week.

“Let me just say this: Right now, I would take Le’Veon Bell over any running back in the league,” NFL Media’s LaDainian Tomlinson said on Tuesday’s edition of NFL Total Access. “… He can do it all, people. He can run inside, he has the speed to turn the corner, he can catch the football, he’s versatile, he’s athletic. I love Le’Veon Bell.”

Statistically, Bell (315) is second only to DeMarco Murray (385) in rushing yards. Bell also leads all players in yards from scrimmage with 461 yards. There was a time when Bell and LaGarette Blount were considered to be a troublesome duo. This was after their arrest before the preseason game against the Eagles. Now the duo are possibly the best 1-2 punch at running back. The Steelers have said that they are making an effort to get back to the ground and pound style of play that their franchise is known for. These two running backs give them exactly what they need to do so.

Follow on Twitter: @TDavenport_PPI / @PlayerInsiders


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.