The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: AFC North
The Good: When I think of the Ravens, the first thing that comes to mind is the Defense. Granted, this 2011 Ravens defense was not that of the 2000 Ravens, but they still had an outstanding defense. I picked them to win the division based on defense, and they did just that. Overall they ranked third in the league, trailing only the “Old Steelers” and the Houston Texans. Baltimore’s defense forced turnovers 26 times and tied for first in defensive scoring. On offense, depending on the day, the Ravens looked pretty solid overall averaging 338.7 yards a game and 23.6 points a game (12th overall). Flashes out of Rookie WR Torrey Smith and a stellar RB in Ray Rice, the Ravens have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.
The Bad: Although the Ravens won their respective division, and finished undefeated on their home field, they had major road-woes throughout the year. Of their eight road games, the Ravens only pulled away with four wins, losing to the Titans, Jaguars, Seahawks and Chargers. Of those four games, two of which should have been chalked up as a W – possibly three. However, it wasn’t just the losses that made me scratch my head. It was the way in which they lost them. A week after blowing out the Steelers in the season opener, the Ravens traveled to Tennessee and did not look anything like the beastly team that played the week before. In losses to Jacksonville and Seattle, the Ravens again didn’t look like the team that they truly were, in both losses, the Ravens left the rest of the NFL wondering if they were pretenders or contenders, because they just simply didn’t show up to play. In a week 15 blowout atSan Diego, the Ravens were embarrassed on national TV and played very lousy to a Chargers team that at the time didn’t look like they could produce a win in as convincing fashion as they did. In their home playoff game, they beat a solid Texans team and then traveled to New England to fall short of an AFC Championship crown.
The Ugly: Cam Cameron and his atrocious play-calling. In the aforementioned games, and a few others that the Ravens had a definite chance to look like one of the best teams in the league, Cam Cameron forgot that they employed a very dynamic running back by the name of Ray Rice. You may have heard of him. I can understand having faith in your QB and expecting him to take big steps in his fourth year as a starter, but to plan a game without involvement of Ray Rice?! CMONMAN! Quite frankly, I can’t believe that the Ravens have kept Cameron going into the offseason. If I was Ozzie Newsome or even John Harbaugh, Cameron would have been on a separate plane ride home from New England because he wouldn’t have been a piece of my staff, but that’s just me. The organization must see something they like in the guy, because they are keeping him around for some reason. It could be that Harbaugh plans on taking more control of the play calling, or bringing in another guy for the duties. But whatever happens with the situation, the play caller needs to know that he does not employ Tom Brady or Eli Manning, but a young QB and a stellar RB.
The Good: I’ll start where I started with the Ravens: Defense. This defense was labeled as old and slow by a guy, who quite frankly, was old and slow at the end of his career but continued to try to go at it unsuccessfully. But anyways, on with the leagues number one overall defense. With vested veterans like Lamarr Woodley, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and James Harrison, the defense did not upset the Steeler Faithful. Allowing only 271.8 yards a game and just over two touchdowns while forcing turnovers 15 times during the year, they seemed to have that old and slow thing put to bed. On offense the Steelers put up 372.3 Yards per game and 20.3 points a game, while being a top ten passing offense and the 14th ranked ground game. Finishing the season with a 12-4 record and heading into the playoffs as the favorite over the fourth seeded Broncos, the Steelers fell short in an overtime loss toDenver to end the season. With Bruce Arians gone as the Steelers OC despite an upset Ben Roethlisberger, whoever the next guy is should have success in the future with a young speedy corps of WR’s, a solid run game and a two time Super Bowl Champion in Big Ben.
The Bad: A bit like the Ravens, the Steelers also had struggles with play calling. With Arians gone, the Steelers play calling should get a little better. Saying that he was the main reason for not getting the maximum out of the pieces of the puzzle he had might not be fair, but with the potential of WR’s that run 4.3 second 40 yard dashes brings – he definitely could have utilized them a lot more than he did. With a young group of speedsters the Steelers offense could have been high paced and fast flying, but Arians went a little conservative and way slower than what the offense could have been. To think they ended their season to a team that utilized a speedy receiver, might have been part of the reason Mike Tomlin decided to part ways with the guy that could have done the same but chose not to.
The Ugly: Pass blocking that left Ben Roethlisberger a target for opposing defenses. The Steelers gave up 42 sacks this season! The preseason O-line, was well pre-season o-line play. But they continued that play through the season. They NEED to improve the O-Line. It was a problem for them in 2010, and continued to be an issue in 2011. Yes, there is a young stud in Maurkice Pouncey but the rest of the guys on that line should be ashamed of themselves. Big Ben was hobbled with injuries at the end of the season and still gave it a go, but if he had a decent pass protection all year would we have seen the Steelers in the Super Bowl for the second year in a row? Who knows.. But what I do know is they HAVE to upgrade those positions be it in the Draft or Free Agency to get the most out of what they have on the rest of the offense.
The Good: Let me first start by apologizing to the Bengals fans that had to hear me say in my preseason picks that the Bengals would end up with Andrew Luck. I, like many others did not see the season going the way it did for this young team. As a Utah Utes fan, I had to see Andy Dalton lead his TCU teams to beat my beloved team a few times in his collegiate career. I didn’t think that his success would continue to the NFL as it did, but when he was paired with the sensational AJ Green, it was a perfect fit. Along with Green, the Bengals have a pretty good offense in place with guys like Cedric Benson, Jerome Simpson (Who possibly had the top play of the year) and Jermaine Gresham lined up alongside an underrated offensive line, things are looking good in the future for this team. The fact that they have an explosive offense, a dynamic up-and-coming defense and a lot of draft picks to build with thanks to the Raiders; Marvin Lewis should not be in the “Coaching Carousel” that finds its way into every NFL Offseason anytime soon.
The Bad: The bad that I want to touch on for the Bengals, doesn’t necessarily come from the team itself, but rather the fans. Every game I watched them play throughout the year at home was sad. Every game of the 2011 season was blacked out because the fans didn’t fill the seats; while I don’t like the whole blackout thing, it was kind of sad seeing that the fans didn’t support the team, especially seeing as to how surprising the season had gone for them this year. There was a lot for the fans to be excited for after all the drama left town and they built a young and special team, I think with more fan backing, the Bengals could have had a better record than they finished with. It’s nothing against the fans at all, I just think they need to give more support
The Ugly: Although Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and Carson Palmer are Ex-Bengals, there is still some cleaning up that needs to be done. Cedric Benson, Adam “Pacman” Jones and Jerome Simpson aren’t names to be extremely frustrated with, but their off-the-field antics have been an issue. With Benson’s assault allegations, Jones’ assaults/disorderly conducts and Simpsons drug-pushing problem, these issues can be magnified in a huge way of the Bengals continue success. Not only can it hurt them in the long run, it can also hurt the team if they have to miss games. We saw it this year, when Benson and Jones had served suspensions; it was definitely noticeable that they weren’t there. They need to be able to clear this crap up so they are available for their teams because each of them plays a valuable role in their respective positions.
The Good: When the preseason started and I made my picks, I had the Browns at 8-8 to finish the season, a 4-12 record didn’t seem to do them justice, but I still did like things I saw out of this team. Although Colt McCoy didn’t have the year that most thought he would have, before you start to bash him – - take a look at what he had to work with. There was no run game with Peyton Hillis’ issues (We’ll touch on that later) and Josh Cribbs was the only WR that anyone had really heard anything from prior to the season. Browns fans might not want another year with McCoy, but I truly think that he can be the guy for them. The O-Line is one of the better ones in the league; the Browns Defense is an up-and-coming squad that was one of the most improved and the offense just needs a few more weapons. McCoy can make the throws, he’s as mobile as he needs to be and he hasn’t lost any confidence despite the season they did have. Get the weapons on offense and they can improve dramatically.
The Bad: The bad I seen out of the Browns this year was finishing games. Of the 12 losses for the Browns this year, only four of them were over two scores, and only one was a big loss. The rest of the games were in reach for them whether it be losing the lead with little time to go, or not having that “Clutch gene” that other teams seem to have. Be it play calling or late game mistakes they have to figure out the fourth quarter strikes to be able to pull wins out of the bag, they are close to being the team that they want to be, but still a little bit to work on and this is the biggest.
The Ugly: Peyton Hillis and his “Contract situation”. Following a breakout season for the stud RB, Peyton thought that he needed to be paid. So he was adamant, both privately and publicly that he wanted his money. So much so that he was a lazy ass all through the beginning of the year. Didn’t give 100 Percent, didn’t do his conditioning that led to his multiple injuries and left him almost a nobody for the first ten or so weeks of the season. In the later part of the season he pulled his head out and realized that he was being a ******* about things and he started to become relevant again. But prior to that there were times when he was benched, games he wasn’t active and times that he just didn’t care to do anything and gave up on plays. I blame Hillis a lot for the lack of success for the Browns year and I highly doubt that he’ll be popping that orange helmet on his head come August.
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