IN THE HOOD: Steelers still rule the AFC North

Street Talk IN THE HOOD: Steelers still rule the AFC North

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With training camp practices only days away and the countdown to the season opener in less than 60 days, ITH takes a look at the 2009 outlook for the teams in the AFC North.

 

Baltimore Ravens

2008 Record:   13-6; lost in the AFC Championship game to the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-14.

2009 Schedule:                                                       

Date

Opponent

  


 

9/13

Kansas City

9/20

@ San Diego

9/27

Cleveland

10/4

@ New England

10/11

Cincinnati

10/18

@ Minnesota


 

BYE

11/1

Denver

11/8

@ Cincinnati

11/16

@ Cleveland

11/22

Indianapolis

11/29

Pittsburgh

12/7

@ Green Bay

12/13

Detroit

12/20

Chicago

12/27

@ Pittsburgh

1/3

@ Oakland

 
Players Lost:  

Willie Anderson – T (retired), Matt Stover – K, Lorenzo Neal – FB, Todd Bouman – QB, Terrance Copper – WR, Kyle Boller – QB, Bart Scott – LB, Jim Leonhard – S, Jason Brown – C, Daniel Wilcox – TE, Corey Ivy – CB, Marques Douglas – DE, Chris McAlister – CB.

Players Added:

Domonique Foxworth – CB, Matt Birk – C, Chris Carr – CB, RS, LJ Smith – TE, John Beck – QB, Kelley Washington – WR.


 Offense 2008
 Points
Yards 
Pass Yds 
Rush Yds 
 
24.1 
324.0 
175.5 
148.5 
League Rank 
11 
18 
28 


Improvement in the offense is a necessity for the Ravens to grow into a perennial playoff contender. As Cam Cameron enters his second year as Coordinator, his imprint has taken shape and optimism is rampant based upon the surprising success of this unit in 2008. Joe Flacco had considerable success as a rookie starter at QB in the league, but perhaps the biggest factor in the 2008 playoff appearance was the vastly improved play of the offensive line. The additions of 1st round draft pick Michael Oher and veteran pro bowler Matt Birk should ensure that the unit will continue to get better. WR Mark Clayton began to blossom in the 2nd half of 2008, as the team really needs to develop a big-time playmaker and go – to receiver other than the remarkable Derrick Mason, who recently announced his decision to retire. Given the limited availability of top flight receivers, someone on the current roster will need to step it up. A return to Pro Bowl form from RB Willis McGahee and TE Todd Heap would boost the unit’s productivity. Look for RB Ray Rice and TE LJ Smith to push the incumbents.
 
 Defense 2008
 Points
Yards 
Pass Yds 
Rush Yds 
 
15.2
261.1 
179.7 
81.4 
League Rank 

The departures of Coordinator Rex Ryan and LB Bart Scott have inspired many pundits to declare that the productivity of this unit will fall off in 2009. Greg Mattison has assumed Ryan’s role and has stated that the Ravens defense will continue to play with the aggressiveness and tenacity that Ravens fans have become accustomed to over the years. The line should receive a boost from the return of both Kelly Gregg and Dwan Edwards. Haloti Ngata performed at a Pro Bowl caliber level in ‘08. Jameel McClain and Tavares Gooden are the likely candidates to replace the departed Scott, and the guess here is that the change will be seamless. It has become obvious that the team doesn’t want to get saddled with a shortage of healthy cornerbacks. In addition to the acquisition of Domonique Foxworth, the Ravens re-signed Samari Rolle and acquired defensive back and return specialist Chris Carr to boost the unit. The re-signing of Ray Lewis, known as a field general should in some respect offset the departure of Rex Ryan.  

Special Teams:

Sam Koch is quickly evolving into a top notch NFL punting specialist. Uncertainty prevails at placekicking for the first time in the team’s history as the Ravens have chosen so far to not re-sign Matt Stover. Currently, the competition at kicker includes last year’s kickoff specialist Steven Hauschka and un-drafted free agent kicker Graham Gano (Florida State). RS Yamon Figurs was replaced for return duties primarily by Jim Leonhard and Tom Zbikowski midway through the 2008 campaign. Chris Carr will likely step into the breach and Lardarius Webb will also get a look at return duties.

Rookie to Watch:

Lardarius Webb – CB / S, Nicholls State

ITH Skinny:

The Ravens could contend for the division title and / or a playoff berth in 2009. Whether or not they can pass the Steelers in the division will rest largely upon their ability to better neutralize the Steelers pass rush by making plays on the edges and connecting on intermediate to long passes, or explosive plays. This was something that they were largely unable to accomplish in their 2008 meeting in Baltimore and in the AFC Championship game.

Cincinnati Bengals

2008 Record:   4-11-1  

2009 Schedule

Date

Opponent


 


 

9/13

Denver

9/20

@ Green Bay

9/27

Pittsburgh

10/4

@ Cleveland

10/11

@ Baltimore

10/18

Houston

10/25

Chicago


 

BYE

11/8

Baltimore

11/15

@ Pittsburgh

11/22

@ Oakland

11/29

Cleveland

12/6

Detroit

12/13

@ Minnesota

12/20

@ San Diego

12/27

Kansas City

1/3

@ New York Jets

 
Players Lost:

Jamar Fletcher – DB, Eric Ghiaciuc – C, TJ Houshmandzadeh – WR, Corey Mays – LB, John Busing – S, Stacey Andrews – OL, DeDe Dorsey – RB, Glenn Holt – RS, Ryan Fitzpatrick – QB, John Thornton – DT, Dexter Jackson – DB, Chris Perry – RB, Mike Doss – DB, Eric Henderson – LB, Kyle Larson – P, Levi Jones – OT, Brian Leonard – RB, Mario Urrutia – WR, Matthew Sherry – TE.

Players Added:

Daniel Coats – FB, Orien Harris – DL, Laveranues Coles – WR, JT O’Sullivan – QB, Naufahu Tahi – FB, Tank Johnson – DT , Roy Williams – S 
 


 Offense 2008
 Points
Yards 
Pass Yds 
Rush Yds 
 
12.8 
245.4
150.4 
95.0 
League Rank 
32
32
30 
29

The return of a healthy Carson Palmer provides the Bengals with an opportunity to compete in 2009. The acquisition of JT O’Sullivan as a back-up also provides the team with a quarterback with game day experience marking an improvement over the 2008 failures of Ryan Fitzpatrick. Cincinnati is once again blessed with a dearth of receiving talent. Gone is the often disgruntled yet productive TJ Houshmandzadeh, but the team can put the talented Chad Ocho Cinco, Chris Henry, and veteran free agent Laveranues Coles on the field as targets to confound most NFL defenses. Add to that a pass-catching tight end in draftee Chase Coffman and the passing attack could be potent. Even though RB Cedric Benson racked up sizable yardage in the last month of 2008, it will be interesting to see if he can carry that productivity over an entire season. The offensive line is undergoing transition with the departures of veteran Levi Jones and Stacey Andrews, but the Bengals used their first draft pick on Alabama Tackle Andre Smith. This unit will need to gel quickly for the Bengals to have success in 2009.
 

 Defense 2008
 Points
Yards 
Pass Yds 
Rush Yds 
 
22.8 
325.5 
205.4 
120.1 
League Rank 
19 
12 
15 
21 

The defensive unit in 2008 was abysmal for most of the season, yet rallied and performed well late in the year. The Bengals won 3 of their last 4 games and held their opponents to 13, 0, and 6 points respectively in those victories. The acquisition of DT Tank Johnson and S Roy Williams gives Cincinnati two proven veteran performers to build around. Young cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathon Joseph could develop into a top flight tandem down the road and will be helped immediately with the addition of Roy Williams on the back end of the secondary. All good defenses are able to get to the passer, so the return of LB Kim Rivers along with draft choices LB Rey Maualuga and DE Michael Johnson give the Bengals a youthful look to the pass rush to complement veterans DE Robert Geathers and LB Dhani Jones.                                  

Special Teams:

Nine year veteran Shayne Graham returns and he converted 21 of 24 field goal attempts in 2008. He’s a reliable kicker. Kyle Larson wasn’t re-signed and the Bengals drafted Kevin Huber out of the University of Cincinnati in the 5th round of this year’s draft to assume the punting duties.

Rookie to Watch:

Kevin Huber – P, U of Cincinnati

ITH Skinny:

Cincinnati has an interesting mix of players on the 2009 roster and the return of a healthy Carson Palmer with a talented receiving corps should ensure an improvement over the 4 wins achieved in 2008. While many NFL media types are picking the Bengals as a surprise playoff team, ITH doubts that they can hang around solely on their passing game. The defense is not quite playoff caliber yet and question marks remain at running back and offensive line. They do however; have the potential to be a very dangerous team.

Cleveland Browns

2008 Record:   4-12

2009 Schedule

Date

Opponent


 


 

9/13

Minnesota

9/20

@ Denver

9/27

@ Baltimore

10/4

Cincinnati

10/11

@Buffalo

10/18

@ Pittsburgh

10/25

Green Bay

11/1

@ Chicago


 

BYE

11/16

Baltimore

11/22

@ Detroit

11/29

@ Cincinnati

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Eric Buckner

About Eric Buckner

Eric Buckner is a native of Baltimore and has lived in the area his entire life. A graduate of Towson University , Eric has been a student of professional football since the day he wept in his grandfather's bedroom after the Baltimore Colts were upset by the New York Jets in Super Bowl III. A loyal fan of the Colts and subsequently the Ravens, Eric's passion for the NFL is unwavering as evidenced by his near flawless attendance record at Ravens' games. He's missed only one preseason game -- back in 2005. We'll cut him some slack since he was on his honeymoon. You won't find Eric slacking when it comes to covering the AFC North for ProFootball24x7.com.   More from Eric Buckner

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