Saturday, August 07, 2010

I've run out of witty titles

Okey dokey, AFC North round up time: Baltimore Ravens Honestly, I think the Ravens might be screwed. I'm looking at their PUP list and most of their key defensive backs are listed. It is truly shocking how decimated their roster is right now. Tack on the fact that second rounder Sergio Kindle is highly unlikely to make it to practice this year and there just seems to be no way back from the brink. The Ravens still have a tough D-line/Linebacking corps in place and their offense has been boosted by a number of signings, but it's looking grim. The two fold strategy for the Ravens in camp has to be thus; 1) Integrate the new receivers quickly and try to develop a more pass orientated approach, looking to score points early to put opposition teams on the back foot. 2) Big focus on bringing the back up secondary up to speed. They still have Dawan Landry and Fabian Washington, but it's likely that Ken Hamlin will start at free safety and the other corner position will fall to Travis Fisher. It's not ideal, but it's do-able. Offensively I can see the Ravens switching to two TE sets, which would help to bring rookie Tight Ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson into the fray and serve as a compromise between run/pass. All in all, the Ravens are going to have to work extra hard in camp to stay competitive. Cincinnati Bengals Got previous history of off field/character issues? Then we have the place for you.... The Cincinnati minimum security prison will be buzzing. Despite a hefty dose of the run game last year that saw the Bengals sweep the division and make the playoffs, this year they've invested heavily in the WR position, both through free agency and the draft. Antonio Bryant still isn't practicing and it's still up in the air as to whether he will be let loose to avoid certain salary considerations. And with so many shiny new toys, including first round pick TE Jermaine Gresham, the pressure is being racked up on Carson Palmer. The feeling is that it's do or die for Palmer. If he can't make this group work then what more can possibly be done to help him? With defenses coming out to stop Cedric Benson, Palmer should have ample opportunities to make throws down the field. Offensively it's all about getting airborne and getting all his new toys in sync. Defensively, the return of Antwan Odom from injury and the addition of rookie DE Carlos Dunlap blends beautifully with the rise to prominence of Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph. The playbook on the defensive side will be more open this season. I'm expecting less pressure from the Bengals this year as they attack the pass with a four man rush while playing more games with their coverages. I anticipate this being a focus of camp. Look for Joseph and Hall to be up there among the league leaders in interceptions by the seasons end. Cleveland Browns Fact: Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie are not bad receivers. Fact: They're not Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Sidney Rice, Steve Smith (either one) etc. Fact: Jake Delhomme is not Tom Brady, Brett Favre, Eli Manning etc. Right, now we've cleared that up, expect Delhomme to keep being Jake Delhomme this year, i.e. a man with a passion for throwing picks. You get what you pay for and when you pay a ridiculous sum of money for a guy like Jake, you will get burnt. Badly. Offensively it's more about damage limitation. Rookie RB Montario Hardesty might get an early shot on a team that badly needs some movement. Just don't expect this to be a phenomenal year for the Browns, that somehow the Dark Lord of the West Coast Offense Mike Holmgren is going to inspire a revolution with his presence. The Browns will still struggle to score and make yards. Defensively. Well, they picked up Scott Fujita! In all seriousness, rookie Corner Joe Haden and former Eagle Sheldon Brown might be able to stem the tide somewhat of what has been a horrible defense to watch. I think the Browns might actually get worse this year (yes, that is possible) but it's a case of two steps back, so they can take six steps forward. Transition is the word I would use. Getting reps for future QB Colt McCoy will be vital over the coming year as will be the development of Haden. Pittsburgh Steelers Enter Byron Leftwich. Oh god, it's really happening isn't it? Leftwich will lead them team for the first six games (possibly only four), then we expect Big Ben to march in and resume command. The difficulty offensively for the Steelers in training camp is ensuring that Roethlisberger gets enough snaps, while making sure that Leftwich is properly prepared to lead the team out in week 1. The problem is exasperated by the loss of WR Santonio Holmes and by the changes made to the O-line, with Flozell Adams being brought in to replace Willie Colon. It is still uncertain where Flozell will end up by week 1. The Steelers still have a solid run game to lean back on led by Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore. But critically for the Steelers, my favourite player in the game right now has returned. Troy Polamalu. We all know about the win-loss stats for the Steelers last year with/without him. If they keep Polamalu and their starting linebacking corps healthy through camp and into the season, the Steelers have a great shot at brushing aside worries that they will sink without Big Ben. A lot still rests on that offense though. Can they all gel together over the coming months? Can the coaches find the right mix of snaps among their potential starting Quarterbacks? Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians has it all to do in the coming weeks of training camp. ----- So, AFC North done. Tomorrow, a look at the HOF game on Sunday and also a brief look at those who will be entering Canton this year. I will make every effort to get it up nice and early this time. Promise. Have a great day everyone.

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