Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 8/6/12
 Headlining the AFC North are two teams that carry the “toughest” faces in the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Naturally, the most elusive players in the division exhibit the same “never say die” attitude when carrying the football as they defy defensive tackling attempts.

Despite the tough character of the AFC North division, the division’s ball-carriers are rarely in the “most elusive” conversation.  The Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Cleveland Browns all finished within the last seven team rankings for broken tackles in the 2011 season.

With help from the Football Outsiders “broken tackles” piece and a closer look at the league’s offensive statistics, the artistic abilities from the AFC North are unveiled.

Cleveland Browns – Josh Cribbs
NFL fans in Cleveland do not have much to cheer about, yet Josh Cribbs keeps Cleveland Browns Stadium on their feet and at a roar with every touch of the football.
Cribbs ran for 1,362 combined return yards in 2011 while averaging 11.4 yards per punt return. Cleveland’s sparkplug returned for 1,500 yards or more in three of four years, all the while outwitting defenders in the open field.

Last season was only the second year of his seven year career that Cribbs did not rush for 1,000 kick return yards. Despite his two year decline in return game production, Josh Cribbs has reportedly lost 15 pounds this offseason, making him a slimmer, 200 pound brilliant ball carrier.

Baltimore Raven- Ray Rice
Last season Ray Rice ate up yardage like a koala bear in a field of eucalyptus. His 4.7 yards per carry was third in the league for players with at least 250 attempts.

Rice scored 12 touchdowns last year, matching his total touchdown count in 2009 and 2010 combined. 29 broken tackles in 2011 places Ray Rice at 11th in the rankings by Football Outsiders, revealing his level of difficulty to tackle.

 In his four year NFL career, Ray Rice has stepped on and around numerous defenders in route to 4,377 rushing yards. The 5’8” running back is a star in the AFC North “most elusive” constellation, as he radiates with action when handed the football.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh has been an AFC juggernaut, missing the playoffs only three years in the last decade. The black and yellow army treads lightly for no one with their physical, smash mouth style and their resilient spirit on the gridiron.

Offensively, Pittsburgh’s percentage of plays with a broken tackle finished tied for second in the NFL, evading defenders on 7.8% of their 995 plays. When it comes to the most elusive players in the division, two players in their backfield and a deep threat receiver serve as representation of the steel city’s fierce reputation in the NFL.

Mike Wallace- Mike has broken at least one tackle on 18.2% of his touches, ranking second in the NFL amongst wide receivers, as stated by Football Outsiders. Wallace was termed “the fastest” wide receiver in the league by multiple defensive backs in the NFL, dashing past the best cornerbacks in the game.
As his future with Pittsburgh hangs in the balance, it is no doubt that his potential to stretch the field fits their scheme and adds value to the offense.

Isaac Redman & Rashard Mendenhall- Separately these two running backs are not the talk of the league, but Football Outsiders tells why they punish defenses as a team.

Isaac Redman continued running after first contact with the defense on 17.2% of his touches last season, a percentage that is second best in the NFL. Rashard Mendenhall averaged 4.1 yards per carry last season, breaking a fifth best 34 tackles on 13.8% of his touches. Together both running backs were top 10 in broken tackle rate per touch of the football.

Because of Rashard Mendenhall’s ability to run through a defender, the Illinois native’s 4.45 40-yd dash in the 2008 combine is often overlooked by opponents. After surgery to his injured ACL from last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers will need Mendenhall’s talent to retain their balanced offensive attack in 2012.
 

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