Pump an Iron! AFC North Preview by Steel Drama
1.) Iron City Steelers
Stout: For the fifth time in 11 seasons, the Steelers were the NFL’s top ranked defense last year despite Fat Sapp’s assertion that the unit was “Old and Slow.” Youth will be served this year with Cam Heyward, Curtis Brown, and Cortez Allen all poised to make an impact.
On the Hops: Master P on the Sopranos said, “Bold men make bold statements.” Right out the blocks my first bold statement is the Steelers have the most explosive group of wide receivers in the NFL. Mike Wallace is the first Steelers wide receiver to start a Pro Bowl since the great John Stallworth in 1985. Antonio Brown was the team’s MVP and the first player in NFL history to have 1,000 receiving and 1,000 return yards in the same season. Emmanuel Sanders runs better routes and has better hands than both of them and he’s the teams’ 3rd wide out!
Tap a Keg for the Big Boys: The Steelers used a league high 21 offensive line combinations last season. By drafting two offensive linemen back to back for the first time since 1968, the Steelers FINALLY seem committed to protecting Ben Roethlisberger who was sacked 40 times and an incredible 314 times in 114 games.
Ice Cold Draft: Greg Cosell tweeted during the draft, “Not surprised Decastro lasted this long. I saw him as a good player but not special. Good pick for the Steelers to fill a need.”
Stale Ale: Pat Kirwan in a recent article wrote, “Teams only run the ball 19.5 percent of the time on third down and they pass it 81.5 percent of the time, so sacking the QB in this situation is critical.” The Steelers tallied only 35 sacks last season (lowest total since 2003) and ranked near the bottom of the league in 3rd down sacks. A return to health of Lamar Woodley and James Harrison will certainly help, but I hope the coaches turn loose the youth of the front 3.
Bitter Beer Face: Under Bruce Arians, the Steelers ranked 21st in scoring this past season. They averaged only 20.3 points per game and scored more than 30 points just three times. I LOVE the Todd Haley hire, however Ben’s early "whining" about the playbook has me concerned.
Bartender: Mike Tomlin is 1-1 in Super Bowls and has a career regular season record of 55-25 (.688). However, last years’ 0-2 mark against the Ravens coupled with January’s 29-23 wildcard defeat at Denver as a 7.5-point favorite was VERY disappointing. With 5 straight winning seasons (2nd in the NFL) under his belt expectations remain VERY high in the “Iron City.”
Drinks Are On Drama: Hines, James, and Smitty, three All-Time Steelers’ greats…Salute!
The Hangover: When it’s all said and done, I think the offense under the stewardship of Todd Haley and Ben will break several franchise records and propel the Steelers to their 7th Super Bowl victory in New Orleans.
2.) Raging Bitch Ravens
Stout: Ladarius Webb is one of only two starting cornerbacks to play the entire year and not give up a single touchdown. He, along with last years’ top pick Jimmy Smith, give the Ravens a physical pair of shut down corners.
On the Hops: Steelers’ fans will be pleased to know that the Ravens premier weapon on offense finished 32nd in the league in broken tackles AND could be looking at a lengthy hold out. However, Ray Rice’s 2068 yards from scrimmage led the NFL last season.
Tap a Keg: While the Steelers added the top-rated guard (David DeCastro) in the first round, the Bengals added the best run-blocking guard (Kevin Zeitler) and the Browns drafting the best right tackle prospect (Mitchell Schwartz), the Ravens lost stalwart guard Ben Grubbs to the Saints. To compound matters, The Ravens need fat ass left tackle Bryant McKinnie to lose some weight and cut his sacks allowed (he led the team with 8.5). They also need right tackle Mike Oher to reduce his penalties (four for false starts and five for holding).
Ice Cold Draft: So ok draft picks Kelechi Osmele and Bruce Gradkowski’s brother Gino could help a depleted Ravens’ offensive line, but also watch out for safety Christian Thompson. Mentored by Ed Reed throughout the draft process, he's certainly one of the fastest draft-eligible players at his position, ripping off a 4.41 40-yard dash at his pro day. Thompson started his college career at Auburn before earning All-Conference honors last season at South Carolina State.
Stale Ale: No matter how many times you say it Joe, you are NOT one of the top 5 quarterbacks in the NFL.
Bitter Beer Face: Many a Steelers’ fan rejoiced when reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles last month. However, only one time in Suggs' nine previous seasons with the team has Baltimore played its first game against Pittsburgh later in the season than the team will this year. In 2006, the first Baltimore-Pittsburgh game was Nov. 26; this year, it's Nov. 18. Suggs thinks he'll be playing football in November.
Bartender: John Harbaugh in his first four seasons has four trips to the playoffs, two appearances in the AFC Championship game, and a career regular season record of 44-20 (.688). Like him or not (not), he’s a good football coach.
Drinks Are On Drama: To John Harbaugh, for calling out the Cheatriots …AND for making the impossible, possible in winning two Super Bowls in the same season! Bravo John (I hope you choke on it!)
The Hangover: Even though the Ratbirds swept our beloved Steelers last season, without a healthy Terrell Suggs I don’t see them repeating as division champs. Hloti Ngata is still a beast that must be accounted for, but Ray Lewis and Ed Reed once were great players, but are now officially old in my book.
"An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools." - Ernest Hemmingway in ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’
3.) Hudepohl Bengals
Stout: The Bengals have drafted 4 Pro Bowl players from the 2010-2011 drafts (most in the NFL) including defensive tackle Geno Atkins who had 8 sacks and led all defensive tackles with 49 quarterback disruptions.
On the Hops: The Bengals had two rookies make the Pro Bowl (first time since 1980 Lions). No better receiver this side of Calvin Johnson than AJ Green who lived up to the hype making one acrobatic catch after another while fellow rookie Andy Dalton learned quickly despite not having an offseason to work with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.
Tap a Keg: Andrew Whitworth is a VASTLY underrated offensive tackle. Last season, he gave up just three sacks, three quarterback hits and 14 hurries all year. Steelers’ fans have seen numbers like that in a single game.
Ice Cold Draft: Don’t look now, but the Bengals have figured out how to draft. Kevin Zeitler is the first offensive guard ever drafted by Mike Brown. Jon Gruden (clearly ballwashing his brothers’ team) referred to Zeitler as an “every down wrecking machine.” The Bengals seem determined not to let Dalton have a Sam Bradford/Josh Freeman type of setback in drafting him protection (Zeitler) and targets (Mohamed Sanu/Marvin Jones/Orson Charles) to complement AJ Green and Jermaine Gresham.
Stale Ale: Like the Steelers, the Bengals struggled to get interceptions last season. Reggie Nelson got 4 of the team total of 10. They really missed Jonathan Joseph last year. While I like their top pick Dre Kirkpatrick, he’s not exactly a ballhawk, netting exactly zero interceptions last year at Alabama.
Bitter Beer Face: Greg Cosell doesn’t think Andrew Dalton lived up to his “Red Rifle” moniker last season. “I can tell you that those in the Bengals’ organization have a few doubts as to what his true upside is. Because at the end of the day, while I think Dalton is a good player, I think — not I think, I know — that he’s got some arm strength limitations. And there’s some things that they’re not comfortable doing with him.”
Bartender: Marvin Lewis has been the Bengals head coach for nearly a decade. Working for the notoriously frugal Mike Brown gives him a built in excuse for never winning a playoff game. I give him (and Jay Gruden) a ton of credit going 9-7 with a rookie quarterback after a lockout no less.
Drinks Are on Drama: Having lived in Atlanta the past 10 years, the Georgia Bulldogs are my college team. The Bengals have drafted at least one Bulldog player the past three drafts and now have six UGA players on their roster…”Hunker Down Hairy Dawgs!”
The Hangover: The Bengals last won a playoff game in 1990 against the Houston Oilers. This is a team on the rise to be certain and like many of the pundits, I’m tempted to rank them higher but last season they beat only one team with a winning record in the Titans.
4.) Cellar Rats Browns
Stout: Led by cornerback Joe Haden who led the league with 17 pass breakups, the Browns finished 2nd against the pass in 2011.
On the Hops: During his college career at Oklahoma St, Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weedon proved to be a winner, defeating higher profile quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, RGIII, and Landry Jones.
Tap a Keg: Browns actually could have a very good offensive line to protect their rookie quarterback led by Joe Thomas and fellow Cal grads Alex Mack and rookie Mitchell Swartz.
Ice Cold Draft: Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown recently called Browns top draft pick Trent Richardson "ordinary," a feeling not shared by NFL teams. Richardson calmly responded, "I'm an ordinary human," he said, "but as a back I'm going to be that special guy." The Browns hope so. Only twice since they returned to the NFL in 1999 have the Browns ranked higher than 20th in rushing.
Stale Ale: The Browns were 30th in passing yards per play last season, led the league in drops (33) and ranked 2nd to last in average yards after the catch (4.4). They did add quarterback Brandon Weeden in the first round, but they didn't add any receivers to help him until the fourth round in Travis Benjamin. That means they better hope for big-time improvement from Greg Little who averaged one drop for every five passes thrown his way.
Bitter Beer Face: Big 12 coaches (and Greg Cosell) are skeptical of Brandon Weedon’s poise under pressure. “He got quick feet. He got nervous,” observed Iowa State defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who’s Cyclones defeated Weeden’s Oklahoma State Cowboys in the 2011 regular season finale. “He really threw the ball away in a hurry. I’m not saying he was scared, he just wanted to get the ball out to his hot receiver.”
Bartender: Pat Shurmur didn’t make a good first impression going 4-12. But it’s Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert who clearly screwed the pooch in not being able to complete the trade with the Redskins for RGIII. If the Browns once again are picking in the top 5 I thinks it’s a fair assessment to deem their tenure in Cleveland as a failure.
Drinks Are On Drama: A shot and a beer for my long suffering Cleveland buddies that I met at Edinboro over 20 years ago. May the Browns/Steelers rivalry one day resume…Salute!
The Hangover: I don’t see any way the Browns finish anywhere but in the “Cellar” yet again this season.
“When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.” - Henny Youngman