A Brief History of Time in the AFC North


Ron Schwane/AP Photo

Perhaps my title is overambitious. The fact that the “time” in question is less than a week would indicate this. The “brief” part, however, is correct, as I’m going to just skim rather lightly over the other teams in our division, not even making a bunch of charts or citing long lists of stats. I do not promise, however, that this will continue.

Let’s start with the team to the north. I had hopes that Hue Jackson would turn things around in Cleveland, insofar as I can hope for the strengthening of a rival the Steelers have to play twice a season. It’s not that I want them to be really good—I’m just tired of feeling sorry for them.

And certainly a single game is scarcely anything to judge the new head coach and organization by. After all, Jackson cleaned house to a large extent and started, if not from scratch, with a lot of new guys.

Which is one of the big problems of bringing in a new head coach every two or three years. You have to turn around a culture, if the culture has gone (or remains) bad, retool the club to fit your scheme, and make the team relevant, and you don’t have very long to do it. It’s hard to see why anyone would take on a task like this. I suppose it’s tempting to think you are going to be the one with the magic touch. All I can say is if Jackson is smart he got an awful lot of guarantees in his contract.

And it isn’t as if the Browns ownership has shown a lot of patience previously. The beleaguered fans have shown more, it seems to me.

At any rate, there may be parallel universes in which the Browns are a competent, well-run organization, but by their very nature we can’t know if they exist. So we may not experience a good Browns franchise anytime soon.

On to some actual facts. The quarterback the Browns Moneyballed away, Carson Wentz, threw for 278 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Against the Browns. Which has to be the ultimate in irony. The quarterback the Browns took a chance on instead threw for 190 yards, no touchdowns, an interception, and a less than 50% completion rate. And of course Griffin was put on IR after the game, and the Browns are back to Luke McCown.

Next up, the teams which are (mostly) perennial contenders. And actually I’m not going to cover the Bengals because they were discussed in some depth in yesterday’s opponent preview. This leaves the Ravens, who were uncharacteristically bad last season. However, from the looks of their first game, they’re back.

The team that is “back,” though, is, like the Browns, scarcely recognizable, at least on the offensive side. One of the faces we will recognize is that of Mike Wallace, who the Ravens picked up in free agency last spring. Things didn’t start out so well, but they are looking up, as Wallace had the only touchdown of the game last week. And as Joe Bryant of Football Guys pointed out in his Random Shots for Week 1:

Baltimore WR Mike Wallace failed his conditioning test in Training Camp. After watching his 66 yard touchdown run Sunday, I’m guessing blowing past defensive backs isn’t on the test…

A rather surprising familiar face will be that of Dennis Pitta. It was looking as if his career was finished when he missed all but seven games over the past two seasons with a hip injury. In fact a doctor recommended he retire, but here he is. He was always a favorite target of Joe Flacco, but if last week’s game is any indication, Flacco is really going to spread the ball around. His 22 completions (out of 33 attempts) went to 10 different receivers, with the largest number (5) to Steve Smith. (Pitta and Mike Wallace both had three receptions.) In case you’re wondering, Flacco threw for 258 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions. The ground game never really got off the ground—four of the 27 total yards rushing were gained by Flacco.

On defense the Ravens look more impressive than the Bengals or Steelers.  They held Tyrod Taylor to 111 yards, the ground game to 65 yards, and the score to six points, without Elvis Dumervil in the lineup. The seriously annoying but still proficient Terrell Suggs had one of the two sacks. In fact, if you go by what I think is a rather misleading team defense stat, they currently hold the No. 1 spot.

Obviously I’m not a fan of this stat because the new-look Steelers defense is not ever going to look good in this area. They hold the No. 21 spot. Cleveland pulls up the rear in the AFC North at  No. 23 and the Bengals are at No. 13.

But if we look at what seems to me to be a more germane stat, points per game given up, the order changes a bit:  Baltimore is No. 2, Pittsburgh No. 7, Cincinnati No. 14, and Cleveland No. 24. But this is an awfully small sample size.

One more mini-stat (notice, no charts) and then I’m done. A stat the NFL site doesn’t use but which I think is very interesting is Pass Defenses. Last week Cleveland had one, Cincinnati two, Baltimore three, and the Steelers four.  Just as a matter of interest, the Jets had 11. That is in addition to the seven sacks. The Steelers-Jets game is starting to make me nervous…

Tomorrow’s games will be the first divisional tests for the AFC North. The Steelers, of course, play the Bengals, and the game promises to be a doozy. It is also a divisional match for the Ravens, who play the Browns. One thing you have to say for the Browns is, they may not beat you, but they will beat you up. Fans of physical football will have a veritable feast laid out before their eyes at 1:00 pm on Sunday. It will be very interesting to see which players can go home under their own power afterwards.





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