Street Talk AFC North mailbag

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If you have a question about the AFC North, send it to my mailbag. It’s Saturday morning, so let’s open up some mail  …

Kevin of Colorado Springs, Colo., writes: Do you think the time is up for Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati? We all know that Mike Brown doesn’t help the situation there but it seems that the game has passed by Lewis. He’s coaching not to lose when the team gets a lead instead of coaching to win given certain situations. He is too conservative.

Jamison Hensley responds: It’s easy to bash Lewis, but winning in Cincinnati would be difficult for any coach in the NFL. Let’s not forget that the only two winning seasons in the past 20 years for the Bengals came under Lewis and he was the NFL coach of the year two seasons ago. The only time Lewis was too conservative this year was Week 2 at Denver, where he bypassed a potential game-winning 53-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.

Based on history, Lewis isn’t going anywhere this year. He reportedly signed a two-year contract worth $6.5 million after last season. The track record for owner Mike Brown is to let coaches finish out their contracts.

This year, Lewis is in teaching mode at this point with the youngest roster in the AFC (average age of 25.7 years). There’s only two players that are over 30, cornerback Nate Clements and safety Chris Crocker. All signs are pointing to Cincinnati finishing in last place in the AFC North. But Lewis will have this young team steadily improving throughout the season.

Richard of Kittanning, Pa., writes: I have been following the Steelers since 1946. My question: How many of the elite quarterbacks [Tom Brady in particular] could perform as well as Big Ben [Roethlisberger] with our terrible offensive line.

Jamison Hensley responds: The Steelers and Patriots put different priorities on the offensive line. New England’s offensive line consists of two first-round picks (left guard Logan Mankins and backup right tackle Nate Solder), two second-rounders (left tackle Matt Light and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer) and a five-time Pro Bowl guard (Brian Waters). The Steelers have selected center Maurkice Pouncey in the first round and right tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second. The rest is mostly patchwork.

A scout once told me that the Steelers don’t have to put such an emphasis on the offensive line because of Roethlisberger. He is so big and strong that pass-rushers have trouble bringing him down. You don’t have to protect him as much as other quarterbacks.  Not sure if I agree with that, but that was one explanation.

To answer your question, it’s difficult to say whether Brady wouldn’t perform as well. He would certainly enjoy throwing to Mike Wallace. The elite quarterbacks adapt to their surroundings. Peyton Manning excelled for years despite an average offensive line. It’s an interesting question but it’s one that no one can truly answer.

T.J. of Clinton, Md., writes: Why hasn’t the team used Sergio Kindle yet this season? Do they lack faith because they re-signed Prescott Burgess when they have what seems like a pass rushing linebacker in Kindle ready to bust out. What gives?

Jamison Hensley responds: To be honest, Kindle has exceeded my expectations and he hasn’t even played a regular-season game yet. He had a serious head injury last year. He fractured his skull after falling down two flights of stairs. I never thought you would see him play again.

Now, if you told me that Kindle would have played this preseason and the Ravens didn’t play him in the regular season, I really wouldn’t have believed you. The Ravens drafted Kindle in the second round in 2010 because they need another edge rusher beyond Terrell Suggs. Kindle was supposed to replace another disappointing second-round pick in Paul Kruger.

When reporters asked why Kindle hadn’t played in the first three games, coach John Harbaugh said, “If you’re not dressing, it’s because you’re not good enough yet.” He added, “The other side of the coin is Sergio is young, he’s talented, he works hard and he wants to be a good player. So his challenge is that, when his opportunity comes, he needs to be ready. It could be this week. It could be five weeks. It could be 10 weeks. We really don’t know.”

David of Elgin, Okla., writes: What’s your take on why the Browns haven’t re-signed Peyton Hillis yet? Are they waiting to see if the “Madden Curse” will come true? I don’t understand it, he runs for 1,100 plus with 11 scores, leads the team in receptions and batters defenses with his “Smash Mouth” running style! Last time I checked, the Browns are in the AFC North with uber-physical defenses and with Hillis beating them up week in and week out it aids in their ability to win games now and in the future. What do you think?

Jamison Hensley responds: The Browns are in a tough spot with Hillis, and it has nothing to do with curses. The problem is the current financial landscape with running backs. This is a bad time to be dealing with pending free-agent running backs after the new deals for Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson has inflated the market.

The Browns might be reluctant to give big money to Hillis considering he has been the featured back for one full season. There’s no doubt that Hillis is a respected workhorse, but he has a limited body of work.

The NFL is a business and Browns officials have to ask themselves: Is Hillis the long-term future of their running game? Or will his physical style lead to a short career? Maybe the Browns are more comfortable working on a year-to-year basis with Hillis. That would mean the franchise tag is in his future.

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