Harbaugh: 'We cannot run the ball right now'
For better or worse — more on the worse side, you would have to say — the Ravens can pin whatever hopes they still harbor for a postseason berth on the fact that they reside in the AFC North. It’s a division where teams would have to step up to reach mediocrity.
The only AFC North team with a winning record, the Cincinnati Bengals, may be 6-3, but they have nearly as many concerns as the three other teams with losing records. Their best defensive player and widely regarded as the best defensive tackle in the league, Geno Atkins, injured his ACL in Thursday’s loss to the Dolphins and is out for the season. They have also lost top cornerback Leon Hall for the season. Linebacker Rey Maualuga may be gone for nearly another month.
Meanwhile, quarterback Andy Dalton’s inconsistent play — he has thrown 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions, including three picks in Thursday’s defeat — has done nothing to quiet the talk that he is not the man to lead a team with high postseason aspirations.
And that’s your first-place team. The rest of the division?
Yes, the Browns have shown an ability to play stout defense, which they did for most of the game in beating the Ravens on Sunday, though maybe Baltimore’s dysfunctional offense deserves some of the discredit. And Cleveland has apparently settled on Jason Campbell as its quarterback. He had good moments against the Ravens, but there also has to be a reason he’s with his fourth NFL team and why the Browns earlier this season made their former No. 3 QB, Brian Hoyer, the starter over Campbell. Plus, as good as the Cleveland receivers often looked on Sunday, they have their own track record of butter fingers.
The Steelers, meanwhile, sit in a 2-6 hole. Ben Roethlisberger did throw for 400 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Patriots, but he had to put it up 48 times and was intercepted twice, plus he lost a fumble, while being sacked five times. Pittsburgh recorded three sacks against Tom Brady, but, overall, they haven’t generated enough of a pass rush. And they did give up 55 points on Sunday. Plus, the big offensive numbers in Week 9 may quiet the talk about coordinator Todd Haley’s offense, but those murmurs never seem far from the surface.
And the Ravens? As our Clifton Brown details, they have a defense that isn’t closing the deal, an offensive line that can’t protect Joe Flacco, error-prone special teams and a quarterback who is missing open receivers.
But the Ravens are very much in step with the rest of their division in one thing — running the ball. As in not being able to. The Ravens are No. 29, fourth-worst in the league, in rushing. The Steelers are No. 28, the Browns 25th and the Bengals 19th. Yes, it’s a passing league, but you need to be able to run the ball sometimes, if for no other reason than to get the defense to care when you fake a handoff.
The Bengals come limping into M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. Should the Ravens win, they would find themselves right back in the AFC North race. Somebody has to win this division.