AFC North: Ravens use Voodoo, join Browns, Bengals on top

Cleveland Browns defensive end Jadeveon Clowney sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields during the fourth quarter on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio, at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won the game 26-6. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]Browns5
Cleveland Browns defensive end Jadeveon Clowney sacks Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields during the fourth quarter on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio, at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won the game 26-6. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]Browns5 /
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Cleveland Browns, AFC North
Sep 26, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) is sacked for an eight yard loss by Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard (94) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Bengals won the game 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports /

Steelers Pound Big Ben, 24-10

The most horrifying numbers from Pittsburgh are these three stats. First, Ben Roethlisberger was forced to go airborne 58 times on Sunday. Second, he was also sacked four times.

That’s about twice as much as they would like to see from their aging but still capable quarterback. The big guy collected 318 passing yards versus the Bengals, so it’s not like he can’t play. But that is not sustainable for him to throw that much, without support from the running game.

That does not make any sense. The third key stat is that Najee Harris, a true stud running back from the Alabama Crimson Tide had 14 carries for only 40 yards, an average of 2.86 yards per carry. Unbelievable.

Roethlisberger was sacked only 13 times last season. Most writers attributed that to the Steelers offensive line, but this writer claimed that that line was falling apart, and really Roethlisberger made them look better than they were by getting the ball airborne very quickly with short passes.
Hence, the theory was that the Steelers would not be hurt by the loss of their old veteran linemen, because they were not really that good.

However, the new linemen are even worse. On this, we can all agree.

Ben has already been sacked eight times this season.

Overall this season, Najee Harris has not been able to get any help from his offensive line. He has only 123 rushing yards and 3.08 yards per carry. Harris was the leading receiver versus the Bengals with 14 catches for 102 yards. Make no mistake, he is a true talent. His bad numbers do not reflect a lack of running ability, but do reflect a lack of help from his offensive line.

Pittsburgh cannot base an offense with the quarterback throwing the ball 60 times a game and getting sacked all over the place with zero contribution from the running game. It’s not possible.

Will there be a quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh? Yes, it will be between Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins, because Big Ben cannot survive this beat down. The Steelers could still win ugly if the offensive line can improve. They don’t have to be a premier unit, but they at least have to be coached up from terrible to mediocre. Can the Steelers do it? They have time if they can avoid getting the quarterback killed during the process.

The Bengals defensive interior played especially well, with tackles D.J. Reader, recycled Cleveland Brown Larry Ogunjobi, Josh Tupou, B.J. Hill, and Cameron Sample disrupting the center of the Baltimore line all game long. Defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson both were able to apply pressure and came away with sacks.

Linebacker Logan Wilson and safety Jessie Bates also came up big.

Quarterback Joe Burrow put up the stat line that Ben Roethlisberger should have: only 18 pass attempts, with 14 completions for 172 yards (77.8% completion percentage), three TDs, and one INT. His passer rating was a robust 122.9.

Tailback Joe Mixon was able to post 90 rushing yards in 18 attempts, 5.00 yards per carry.
Remember, the national media excoriated the Bengals for not drafting offensive tackle Penei Sewell in the first round, despite the fact that they had already signed a free agent offensive tackle in Riley Reiff, plus had a former 11th overall pick at the other tackle. Who were the Bengals bench supposed to have benched? Riley Reiff or Jonah Williams? Please tell us!

Instead, the media was falling all over itself ridiculing supposedly butterfingered draft bust Ja’Marr Chase. On Sunday, draft bust Ja’Marr Chase became the ninth rookie to catch a touchdown pass in each of his first three games. He actually hauled in a second TD against our old friend, cornerback Joe Haden, in the second half. Jeez, poor old Joe just could not keep up with Chase’s speed. Why do you think they call him Chase?

The Bengals’ offensive line, with no Penei Sewell, also did not give up a sack against the invincible Steeler defensive line. Reiff and Williams were blocking just fine. By the way, the Bengals also added three additional linemen via the draft. What hurt the Bengals (and Joe Burrow) last season was not their first string, but really their backups. The Bengals had some linemen go down and they could not protect Burrow last season.

Cincinnati is still giving up way too many sacks: 10 in three games. The Browns, by the way, have allowed Mayfield to be sacked nine times in three games. Roethlisberger has hit the turf eight times, as has LJ. Tough pass rush and weak pass blocking seem to be a common theme in the AFC North this season.

We shall see which team can protect the passer and get it straightened out. That team will probably win the division.

In summary, the Browns should be the favorites to win the AFC North. The Ravens have been very unlucky in terms of injury, but thanks to Voodoo, smoke, and mirrors they are still in it. Nobody is talking about the Bengals, but they have tied for first place also. The Steelers may still have the best defense in the Division. If they can get the offensive line to play at an NFL level, they could still generate some ugly defensive wins.

5 Browns with stock soaring through the roof after Week 3. dark. Next

So far, so good, Browns fans.