Another week and another marquee NFL player is sidelined with a serious injury. Ben Roethlisberger was off to a fantastic start of the 2015 NFL season but will reportedly be out 4-6 weeks after suffering a medial collateral ligament sprain and bone bruise from a low hit in the pocket by St. Louis safety Mark Barron in the third quarter of the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ 12-6 victory over the Rams on Sunday. Big Ben had completed over 75% of his passes this season and was leading the league with 10.2 pass attempts; in the first two games of the year Roethlisberger threw for a whopping 720 yards, and was picking the St. Louis defense apart, completing 20 of 24 passes before the unfortunate hit. Just over a month ago it looked like 35-year old Michael Vick‘s NFL career was over, before the Steelers signed him on August 25th. The first overall pick of the 2001 draft will take over an offense with plenty of weapons, featuring Antonio Brown (29 receptions for 436 yards and two touchdowns through three games) at wide receiver and Le’Veon Bell (2,215 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns in 2014) at running back. Head coach Mike Tomlin will have a short time to prepare Vick: the 2-1 Steelers host division rival Baltimore on Thursday night in what should be a very interesting game.
In what has to be a bit of schadenfreude and poetic justice for Pats Fans, the 0-3 Baltimore Ravens still have yet to win a game since whining about New England’s legal formations in last season’s playoffs and then collaborating with the Colts to set up an ill-advised and bungled sting operation. Baltimore could easily be 3-0 instead, but continues to find ways to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. Patriots president Jonathan Kraft could not resist the opportunity to take a jab at the Ravens when asked about their start, sarcastically calling Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh a “sweetheart” and commenting on their early struggles that “it’s too bad, isn’t it?” The Baltimore secondary has been extremely ineffective, and the Ravens keep shooting themselves in the foot with penalties. The Ravens were penalized 13 times for 116 yards against the Bengals, and now have been penalized for 240 yards (fifth worst in the NFL). Even though only five teams in NFL history have begun the season 0-3 and then gone on to make the playoffs, it is still far too early to write the Ravens off – but certain folks predicting that Baltimore would win the Super Bowl are hoping nobody remembers their prognostications.
The Cincinnati Bengals advanced to 3-0 with their win at Baltimore Sunday and for the moment control the AFC North. Cincy’s run defense was stellar, stuffing Justin Forsett to just 29 yards on 14 touches while holding Baltimore to a paltry 36 yards on 18 carries overall; DT Geno Atkins in particular appeared to have a very good game. The pass defense was another matter though; Steve Smith toasted the Bengals to the tune of 13 receptions (on 17 targets) for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Cincinnati has been a good defense/average offense in recent years, but that appears to have changed. Andy Dalton threw for 383 yards, three touchdowns and averaged an incredible 12 yards per pass attempt. Nobody seems to have an answer for WR A.J. Green, who was unstoppable with ten receptions for 227 yards and two touchdowns – including the game-winner with 2:10 remaining. Green is averaging 18.6 yards per reception on the season and is fourth in the NFL with 335 yards receiving. The next four games will tell us a lot more about this team, as they face some pretty good defenses: next up are home games against the Chiefs and Seahawks, followed by games at Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
The Cleveland Browns displayed a hallmark of bad teams on Sunday, as they were unable to handle success – in their case a single victory the previous week – and lost at home against a west coast team that had not won an eastern time zone early game in their last 14 tries. The Browns inexplicably signed WR Dwayne Bowe to a two-year contract with $9,000,000 guaranteed – despite the fact he has not caught a touchdown pass since 2013. Bowe was inactive Sunday and has been on the field for just eight snaps this season. The Browns have given up an NFL-worst 475 yards rushing through three games with poor fundamentals – they missed 14 tackles in the loss to the Raiders – and for whatever reason stick with 36-year old journeyman Josh McCown at quarterback rather than seeing what Johnny Manziel can do, and assess his future with the team. Things don’t get any easier for the Browns in the foreseeable future; after a two-game road trip at San Diego and Baltimore they host Denver, followed by a game at St. Louis, home against Arizona, and then two more road games at Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.