BEHIND ENEMY LINES: Bengals Continue Emergence as Class of AFC North

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It was another one of those unpredictable NFL weekends, and the madness certainly applied to games in the AFC North. While the Ravens took their week off and rested, the Browns, Steelers, and Bengals did battle in games they all had the chance to win.

Some were more lopsided than others (Thanks a lot, Jets). Others hit two contenders in the North for quite possibly, the final blow to their chances to make the playoffs in 2013. Check out the most noteworthy items as we take our weekly look “Behind Enemy Lines”.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

Dalton the Real Deal: I anticipated Andy Dalton would have an impressive season, but after watching him completely shred the New York Jets defense, I realize that this seems to be his year that he shows what he’s made of.

Dalton had his first five-touchdown game since coming out of TCU in 2011 in Sunday’s 49-9 demolition of Rex Ryan and the Jets. The third-year quarterback threw for 325 yards and had a quarterback rating of 125.7, his third straight over 105.0. He’s quickly shutting up all of the doubters with his precision passing and big plays.

If Dalton can continue his rout of defenses, the Bengals should be able to take the AFC North. Will he continue his dominance, or will he struggle down the stretch similar to the way he did against Pittsburgh earlier in the year?

A.J Green, Step Aside: Cincinnati has a cluster of impressive playmakers. With A.J Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovanni Bernard on the same field at once, opposing defensive coordinators are certain to have enough nightmares. It’s safe to say that those coordinators have to add emerging Marvin Jones to that list.

Jones had a career day against the Jets, reeling in four touchdowns over eight catches for 122 yards. It might be a fluke, or it might be a sign of things to come. Either way, you have to believe that defenses are going to keep a close eye on Jones when he steps on the gridiron.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

Keeping it Close in KC: You have to give Cleveland credit. After dealing Trent Richardson to the Colts and seemingly giving up on their season, they have played some pretty good football.

That continued on Sunday as the Chiefs had a tough time getting much together. No matter what the score, this Browns team plays hard, allowing them to stay in games late. Jason Campbell had a nice day, Josh Gordon continued his emergence, and the defense sacked Alex Smith five times. Even though it counted as a loss, the Browns showed some signs of life against the now 8-0 Chiefs.

Ravens Travel to the Factory of Sadness: Don’t let this team’s struggles fool you—there’s nothing to take lightly about Jason Campbell and this team.

Every year the Ravens travel to Cleveland, it seems as though it’s a typical AFC North nail-biter to remember. I expect this match-up to be more of the same thanks to Cleveland’s gritty nature. They have players that have been involved in this rivalry for a while, and they want a win just as bad as John Harbaugh’s crew. Though the players are different, they know that their team hasn’t beaten the Ravens since 2007. They’re hungry to knock off the champs and put a stop to that streak.

For the Ravens, they’ll have to take advantage of their running backs and use each accordingly. The Browns have a tendency to give up some big plays to backs in the passing game. Jim Caldwell must use the ability of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones to stretch the defense to open up the check-down game, and utilize Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, and hopefully Bernard Scott accordingly.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Owned by Raiders…Again: It appears we have found the one place Pittsburgh does not like going—Oakland. After losing last year, giving up 30+ points, they were looking to get revenge against a very beatable Raider team. Let’s just say that didn’t happen. And, although the score says otherwise, the Steelers never really had a chance.

Terrelle Pryor only had 88 yards passing, but he had 106 yards rushing, 93 of those coming on the opening play, a touchdown scamper that helped the Raiders leap ahead of Pittsburgh in this one. Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t much better, showing again that his status as the best quarterback in the AFC North is anything but secure.

Here are some stats that contributed to the Steelers’ letdown:

 

  • LeVeon Bell just 1.8 yards per carry
  • 4-15 on 3rd down
  • Just 276 NET yards
  • Suisham 1-3 in field goal attempts 

The Road Ahead: The Steelers will have to lose just two more games to even have a shot at the playoffs, and with their upcoming opponents, I can’t see that happening. With the Patriots, Packers, Lions, Ravens and Browns (twice) in their future, it’s safe to say that Mike Tomlin’s Steelers have a pretty insurmountable task in front of them.

That doesn’t make their season irrelevant however—keep rooting for a Pittsburgh loss. The last thing Baltimore needs is a Steelers team still in the playoff hunt on Thanksgiving Night when the Ravens play host.

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About Joe Wedra

Joe Wedra
Joe is an NFL enthusiast that spends way too much time studying tape, but he wouldn't want it any other way. Joe can be found on Twitter @JoeWedra, where he'll tweet out everything from Ravens analysis to scouting reports on Division II offensive line prospects...all for the love of the...more

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