Two teams in the AFC North won their Week 1 matchups and two others... did not. And while the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers did not lose when they met up on Sunday, the 21-21 tie helps neither when trying to earn control of the division. With the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens both coming up victorious, and the two slated to play each other on Thursday night, one team will (likely be, given what happened in Cleveland last week) 2-0 and firmly in first place in the AFCN.
It’s just Week 2 and the AFC North is at a critical point. Here’s what the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens are up to ahead of their respective matchups.
Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens made the most of their home-field advantage and the Buffalo Bills starting quarterback Nathan Peterman and coasted to a 47-3 win in Week 1. Week 2 doesn’t look to be as easy, though, with Baltimore on the road against a Bengals team that was sharp in its defeat of the Indianapolis Colts.
Baltimore Beatdown’s Jacob Loque agrees, calling the Bengals the Ravens’ “first real test” of the season, pointing particularly to Cincinnati’s multifaceted offense as the biggest source of trouble. Kyle P. Barber spoke with Patrick Judis of Cincy Jungle ahead of the two teams’ meeting.
Logan Levy, meanwhile, has the injury updates for Baltimore. First, the Ravens placed running back Kenneth Dixon on injured reserve and promoted running back De’Lance Turner from the practice squad. As for Thursday night, Levy reports that Dixon, cornerback Maurice Canaday, defensive tackle Willie Henry and tight end Hayden Hurst have already been ruled out.
Cincinnati Bengals: Cincy Jungle’s John Sheeran wonders if the Ravens defense might ultimately have the Bengals’ number this year because of a not-so-secret weapon: Quarterbacks coach James Urban. Urban spent the previous seven seasons as the Bengals’ receivers coach, working one-on-one with wideout A.J. Green for the entirety of his career, until now. Urban’s knowledge of the Bengals’ offense in general and Green’s tendencies in particular could add another level of chess-matchery to Thursday night’s game.
There’s also another problem in Cincinnati—the right tackle. Bobby Hart was a glaring weakness against the Colts, and Matt Minich found six free agent tackles that he estimates “couldn’t be worse” than Hart. Hart, a former New York Giant, won the starting right tackle job over the summer, beating out Bengals draft picks Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. Hart gave up five pressures on Sunday and ended with a Pro Football Focus grade of a dismal 37.4
Pittsburgh Steelers: It wasn’t Pittsburgh’s defense that caused the Steelers to struggle with and ultimately tie with the Browns in Week 1. The unit had a combined seven sacks, 13 tackles for loss, 10 passes defensed and 11 quarterback hits. The performance led to Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt being named AFC Defensive Player of the Week, having ended the day with 10 total tackles (4.5 for a loss) and 3.5 sacks.
It was originally four sacks. But, as Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman noted, the half-sack was taken away and given to defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Still, it appears that Pittsburgh’s 2017 Round 1 draft pick is beginning to show why the Steelers targeted him as their latest, greatest pass-rusher.
While Ben Roethlisberger’s numerous turnovers are a major reason why the Steelers and Browns tied (and why the Steelers should have been blown out), Hartman also points blame on head coach Mike Tomlin.
It’s not for the typical reasons, though, like lack of preparation or discipline, but rather his willingness to ignore and at times even amplify the level of off-field drama surrounding the team. Hartman writes, “when it comes to things you can control—like how the team is constantly engulfed in drama—there’s some room for criticism” of Tomlin.