Steel City Underground's AFC North Report wraps up the result of each game played by rivals in the division and how the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers fared against their opponents each week during the NFL regular season.
On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens extended their lead in the AFC North by handing their divisional rival Cincinnati Bengals a loss, 23-17. That win gave the Ravens a two-game cushion between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. While the Browns are trending the wrong direction, the Steelers are finally righting the arrow to up.
Steelers win, Browns lose in continued battle for division
Steelers running back James Conner deserved a game ball for his efforts in helping secure a win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday night. Conner gained 41 yards on 16 carries, getting physical to earn every down, including a 12-yard touchdown run. Add on seven receptions (seven targets) for 78 yards, including a 26-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown and Conner put together one of his better performances this season.
"It takes patience," Conner said following the game, "it's a long season." His reference likely was the struggles the Steelers had had in previous games in getting the run game going and being successful doing so. The patience paid off, though.
"It was a team effort, everybody worked together... Just proud of the whole team as a whole, getting this done." - Cameron Heyward
With the defense playing heads-up ball on offense, defense, and special teams, they enter their bye week (NFL Week 7) looking to get healthy and prepare to take a real run at the division lead. Whether Devlin Hodges, who got a win in his first NFL start on Sunday, will continue to lead the offense or not once Mason Rudolph is released from concussion protocol remains to be seen. On Sunday, however, it was all "Duck". "I always had belief in myself," Hodges said in his first post-game press conference. "I had other people behind me and it's just amazing."
The Browns expected more from their 2019 season than they've gotten so far. After Baker Mayfield set the rookie record for touchdown passes in a season (27) in 2018, he has hit a bit of a sophomore slump and leads the league with 11 interceptions. In the Sunday game against the Seattle Seahawks, Mayfield was guilty of throwing three, including one in the final quarter of the game on a drive that could have been a game-winner. Instead, Cleveland took a 32-28 loss at home.
"Do I think (Mayfield) can better with his accuracy? Yes. Do I think other people around him need to get better? Yes. Do I think I need to get better? Yes." - Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens
Premature hype surrounded the Browns as potential Super Bowl contenders before the regular season kicked off. Now the Browns are a rollercoaster of brilliance and madness. Cleveland is committing too many turnovers, too many penalties, and not performing despite the star power they've rolled out. They were able to score touchdowns on their first three drives in their latest game before a home crowd only to see their offense completely shut down. The defense has allowed opponents to run for 445 yards against them in the past two weeks.
What has been working for Cleveland has been giving the ball to Nick Chubb. Chubb carried the ball 20 times for 122 yards and scored two touchdowns against Seattle. Odell Beckham Jr. also stepped up, catching six passes for 101 yards on 11 targets.
Cleveland, too, will enter a bye week and will then be on the road to face the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on October 27. Being on a skid isn't what they needed before facing what will likely be their toughest competition this season.
Ravens running loose as Bengals are in free-fall
Baltimore is taking advantage of the talents that best suit them. When they need quarterback Lamar Jackson to run (literally), they turn him loose. If they need him to have a better pocket presence and throw, he's been able to do that with relative success as well.
As for the Bengals, they've been without veteran A.J. Green and it has forced Andy Dalton to try to create offense with a group on offense that has been up and down... and sometimes really down. Trade rumors that Green wants out of Cincinnati can't be helping the team, either. Green denies wanted to do anything more than get healthy while rookie head coach Zac Taylor told the media, "I've heard the speculation. We are not trading (Green)." Second-year receiver Auden Tate stepped in for Green and was able to record five catches for 91 yards against the Ravens.
"(The Ravens) had a plan for (Tyler Boyd). He got a bunch of double teams... [as for the run] they had all their guys in the box. They made it hard for us to run." - Andy Dalton
The Ravens offense was able to march up and down the field, but that doesn't mean the final score wasn't close. In fact, the outcome of the game was up in the air until Baltimore took control of nearly ten minutes of the game clock in the final quarter to go on a game-clinching drive.
They're heading into a much tougher stretch on their season schedule, however. And while they currently hold a two-game lead in the AFC North, they will travel in Week 7 to face a hot Seahawks team that looks like it might ramrod itself right through all of the teams in the division this season.