Tag Archives: Steve Smith

Brady Slices and Dices Top Defense of Ravens on MNF

Steve Balestrieri
December 13, 2016 at 7:34 am ET

The much-anticipated matchup between the Patriots and Ravens lived up to its hype with the Patriots taking a hard-fought physical battle 30-23 at Gillette Stadium. After a slow start, Tom Brady made short work of the #1 defense in the NFL passing for 400 yards and three touchdowns and the Patriots running game with LeGarrette Blount pounded out the yards when they needed them as the Patriots rolled up nearly 500 yards of offense.

After winning three in a row over the 49ers, Jets, and Rams, there were questions of how good this Patriots team is because of the level of competition. Wait until after Baltimore the critics said. Well, the Patriots physically dominated a team that “is not afraid of them” and despite the return game making this a lot closer than it needed to be, showed the mettle to close out a tough game and opponent.

With the win, the Patriots are 11-2 with the best record in the AFC and have a 1-game lead over both KC and Oakland in the conference and are tied with Dallas for the best record in the NFL. It is looking like the playoffs will go thru Gillette. While there’s still plenty of time for things to change, the Patriots firmly hold their own destiny in their hands.

Here are some observations from tonight’s game:

Maybe Baltimore Doesn’t “Have Brady’s Number” After All: Much of the talk (including here) prior to the game was how difficult the Ravens had made life for Tom Brady. Maybe it is time to change that narrative. Perhaps it’s time to say how difficult Brady makes life for the Baltimore defense. In the last three meetings with the Ravens the Patriots have scored 106 points which comes out to 35.3 points per game.

Brady and the offense started slowly going just 3 for 8 with a couple of drops and one deep route by Julian Edelman where it seemed like the WR stopped running. But Brady heated up and started hitting big chunk plays all over the field. Brady ended up completing 25 of 38 passes for 406 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. The one pick was an ugly one, facing 3rd and goal from the two, Brady should have thrown it away, but instead, he floated a gift to Eric Weddle in the end zone.

However, he more than made up for that gaffe with some beautiful throws including a laser on a slant where James White rolled for a 61-yard gain, a nice drop in the bucket to Martellus Bennett for a big 19-yard touchdown, and the beautifully thrown deep ball to hit Chris Hogan in stride to put the game away for a 79-yard score.

Brady entered the game, facing the #1 defense in the NFL at home six times in his career with a record of 6-0. Make that seven now. In Brady’s last two games against Baltimore, he’s completed 58 of 88 (65.9 %) for 773 yards, good for 8.78 yards per attempt, six touchdowns and two picks for a QB rating of 106.8. Those are some pretty impressive numbers for a team that has his number eh?

Defense Was Very Good and Had a Great Game plan: Kudos to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia for coming up with a very good game plan slowing down the Ravens offense and Joe Flacco. Entering tonight’s game, the Patriots were primarily a man-coverage team and Baltimore was expecting more of that. Flacco said as much in his postgame comments.

But the Patriots mixed in a ton of zone coverages and where mixing their pass rush up, dropping defensive ends out in the flat and bringing linebackers or corners. As a result, they got good pressure on Flacco all night, but without sacrificing their coverage integrity.

The vertical passing of Baltimore was limited for most of the game. Flacco was forced to check down to the shorter stuff underneath where the Patriots were making the tackles short of the sticks. Flacco’s average yards per attempt was just 5.7 on the night. Other than two short field touchdowns were the Ravens had to go a total of just 25 yards because of a pair of special team gaffes, Baltimore had a total of just three field goals.

The Ravens managed just 42 yards on the ground on 14 carries.

Offensive Line Won the Battle: One big matchup entering tonight was the Patriots offensive line against the physical, front of the Ravens. Well, the crew of Dante Scarnecchia passed this test, doing a phenomenal job of keeping Brady upright and opening holes for the running game.

Baltimore has an impressive pair of bookend edge rushers in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. They like to bring pressure on A-Gap blitzes and at times overload one side. While it wasn’t perfect, it was good enough.

Suggs and Dumervil did bring some pressure at times but the only Ravens sack was from Eric Weddle on a safety blitz. And their edge rushers each finished with just a single tackle.

And the Patriots running game churned out 95 tough yards on a night when Brady threw for over 400. Most impressively, they were able to grind out the final first down needed to close out the game when they needed to with Blount. Speaking of which…

Blount sets New Career Milestones: One can’t speak enough about what a solid season LeGarrette Blount is having. Having turned 30-years old this week, this is the time when running backs tend to break down. Instead, Blount is playing some of the best football of his career.

Blount’s previous best season was his rookie year with Tampa Bay where he gained 1007 yards. He went over the 1000-yard mark tonight and now has 1029 yards on the season with a 4.1-yard average.

His touchdown run in the first half gives him 14 scores for the season which ties the Patriots team record set by Curtis Martin (twice). With three games remaining, two of which are against teams struggling to stop the run, he’s in good shape to break the team record for rushing touchdowns down the stretch.

Cyrus Jones Struggles Dampens a Great STs game: The Patriots are going to have a problem down the stretch until Danny Amendola returns. Cyrus Jones has been an unmitigated disaster in the return game. The Patriots top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft was brought here specifically because the return game was supposed to be his strength. His struggles have the team searching for answers. He can’t hold onto the football and his boot of a punt turned the game around.

With the score 23-3, and the Patriots cruising, Jones dropped back once again to receive a punt. Sam Koch’s kick was short and bounced in front of him. Rather than move to the side away from the ball, Jones allowed the ball to hit his foot and the Raven recovered at the Patriots three-yard line. After a score, the team put Matthew Slater back for the kickoff, not trusting Jones and Slater, who missed the previous few games with an injury, coughed it up. A rout became another close game, much like the loss in Denver last year.

Other than that, the STs were excellent. Shea McClellin channeled his inner Jamie Collins, leaping over the line of scrimmage and blocking a chip shot field goal from Justin Tucker. McClellin also played a solid game again at linebacker.

Ryan Allen dropped two punts inside the five-yard line, the first becoming a safety for the Patriots defense. Stephen Gostkowski hit on all four of his extra point attempts.

No Rest Now, Short Week to Denver Awaits: The Patriots will have very little time to savor this one. Because of playing on Monday night, they now face a short week of preparation before heading to Denver to play the Broncos.

After putting a damper on the Ravens’ chances of a playoff berth, the Patriots can do the same thing against their rivals from the West this week. Denver has always been a house of horrors for the Patriots but this will be a great chance to erase some of those memories this week.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Five Patriots Players to Watch Against the Ravens

Steve Balestrieri
December 10, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots are back on top of the AFC with the #1 playoff seed courtesy of the Chiefs win over the Raiders tonight.  On Monday night, they’ll try to stay a game in front of KC and Oakland when they take on the Baltimore Ravens at 8:30 p.m.

Early weather reports are calling for up to 6 inches of snow between Sunday night and Monday morning but that should not affect the playing field on Monday night, the forecast does call for unseasonably cold weather.

The Ravens are at 7-5 and on top of the AFC North. They’re trying to keep the Steelers at bay in the division and need this game perhaps even more so than New England. The Ravens offensively are playing their best football of the season and are just hitting their stride. The defense is the top unit in the NFL and is tied with New England for second in points allowed.

The Patriots are 10-2 and the offense has four games to figure out how they’ll stay productive without Rob Gronkowski. They can’t replace him but they have enough weapons to retool and shift their focus on heading down the stretch and into January without the best overall tight end in football.

Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Monday:

QB Tom Brady: Brady’s name was taken from the injury report as his knee, which had given him some problems since the Seattle game has no longer become an issue. He’s going to have to figure out a way to utilize all his weapons now. And he’ll be short-handed this week. Besides Gronkowski who has been placed on IR, the Pats will be without Danny Amendola who has a high ankle sprain. Martellus Bennett has been slowed in recent weeks with ankle and shoulder issues is far from 100 percent as well.

We’ve all seen the stat that facing the #1 statistical defense at home, Brady is 6-0 with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions. The Ravens #1 overall defense is seventh against the pass and first against the run. Baltimore has always played Brady tough although in the regular season he’s 5-1 against them.

This should be a terrific matchup as Ravens DC Dean Pees once held the same position here in New England and knows Brady and the Pats offense well. Tom Terrific loves the big stage and all eyes will be on the game this week.

Safety Devin McCourty: The Patriots defense has been trying to get untracked in recent weeks and they’ve had different players trying to work into different roles. But the back end of the defense hasn’t changed and the Pats All-Pro safety will be also under the spotlight this week.

Baltimore and Joe Flacco like to go vertical in their passing game, and the Ravens have three players who will test the Patriots secondary. Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, and Breshad Perriman are all threats to go deep. McCourty as the Patriots deep safety on many coverages will be tasked to be the over-the-top help to take that away.

The Patriots may also rotate safety Duron Harmon back and occasionally put McCourty on tight end Dennis Pitta in certain looks as well. Either way, this week’s defense will lean heavily on the Patriots captain.

Right Tackle Marcus Cannon: The Patriots much-maligned right tackle is amid a very solid season and was recently rewarded with a nice contract extension. But the two weeks will be a very stiff test for the veteran and the offensive line as a whole.

While most eyes will be trained on left tackle Nate Solder and his matchup with Ravens leading sack artist Terrell Suggs, Cannon will be on the opposite side matched up with veteran edge rusher Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil missed a large chunk of the season due to injury and has just returned and is quickly rounding into form.

With Brady trying to find the time to throw, the edge rushers for Baltimore will give the tackles plenty of headaches this week. And things won’t get any easier for Cannon as next week, he’ll face the Broncos Von Miller.

Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia credits Cannon with a much improved 2016 season due to his being healthy and improved technique. The next two weeks will be a big test and Dumervil is a very worthy first opponent. Cannon will be under our microscope this Monday night.

Wide Receiver Julian Edelman: The Patriots talented and tough wide receiver is having a very solid 2016 despite suffering from lingering foot issues as a result of his surgery he had last year. Edelman has caught a team-leading 72 receptions for 718 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season.

Now his foot has seemingly healed up and he looks much more like his normal self in recent weeks and his production has increased as well. Last week against the Rams, Edelman snagged eight passes for 101 yards. He’s always been one of, if not the favorite target of Tom Brady and his value now is even higher.

With both Gronkowski and Amendola missing this week, Edelman will have to produce even more in the offense which should now show more of the three-wide receiver variety. The Ravens know Brady will want to get Edelman involved early and often in the passing game and put a premium on trying to take him away. Edelman against the physical, tough secondary of the Ravens will be a key matchup to watch on Monday.

Defensive End Chris Long: Much of this week, the talk has been about the Patriots secondary against the Ravens vertical passing game with Joe Flacco. One area of the defense that Bill Belichick always preaches about is that coverage and the pass rush go hand in hand. Since the Patriots aren’t a big blitzing team it is their edge rushers who’ll have to step up in this game and get some pressure on Flacco.

Long is moved around a bit by the Patriots playing both right and left defensive end this season. He’s been a very solid contributor and the team has dropped him into coverage quite often trying to clog the passing lanes in the flat. He’s been good at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and has picked up sacks in each of the last two games.

Monday night he’ll be going against both Ronnie Stanley and Ricky Wagner on the edge and they’re both playing well.  Long, a veteran in his ninth NFL season is playing a meaningful game this late in the season for the first time. Long has picked up his game recently and Monday night on the national stage will be a great time for him to step into the limelight and give the secondary some needed pressure on Flacco.

Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots – Ravens Keys, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 9, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots finish up their brief two-game homestand by taking on the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

This week’s game will be broadcast by ESPN and can be seen locally on WCVB -TV Channel 5 in Boston. Sean McDonough will handle play-by-play duties with Jon Gruden as the color analyst. Lisa Salters will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Cappello.

The Patriots (10-2) beat the Rams 26-10 at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady became the winningest QB in NFL history with his 201st win. The Patriots win also marked the 14th straight season that the Pats have won 10+ games.

The Ravens (7-5) blew out the Miami Dolphins 38-6 which snapped Miami’s six-game winning streak. Joe Flacco threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns and the defense shut down the Dolphins offense.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Ravens are meeting for the 13th time since 1996 when the Browns moved to Baltimore. The two teams have met eight times in the regular season with the Patriots holding a 7-1 advantage. The teams have met four times in the playoffs with all four in Foxboro with the teams splitting those contests with 2 wins each.

The Pats won the last contest which was the Divisional Playoff Game of 2014. The Patriots overcame two 14-point deficits to win 35-31. That was the game of the now famous double pass from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman to Danny Amendola

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots 2016 Opponents, 5 First Impressions of the Ravens

Steve Balestrieri
December 7, 2016 at 10:00 am ET

Baltimore Will Go As Far As Defense, Flacco Can Take Them

The Patriots finish a two-game home stand when they face the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football. The kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.

The Patriots (10-2), defeated the Rams 26-10 on Sunday. Tom Brady notched career win number 201 putting him alone at the top of all QBs. The defense held LA to under 100 yards of offense until the final two minutes of the game. LeGarrette Blount also scored his NFL-leading 13th rushing touchdown on the Patriots first drive.

The Patriots increased their lead in the division over the 7-5 Miami Dolphins to three games with the Ravens win over the Fins. The Patriots are still tied with Oakland with the best record in the AFC but the tiebreaker goes back to Oakland this week.

The Ravens (7-5), are getting healthy and not coincidentally are playing their best football of the season now. They are locked in a struggle with the Steelers for the AFC North divisional lead. Baltimore throttled Miami 38-6 on Sunday. Joe Flacco threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns and the defense frustrated Miami all day long. The Ravens snapped Miami’s six-game winning streak.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Ravens:

Ravens Have Talented Trio of Targets in the Passing Game: Baltimore has been productive in the passing game. Joe Flacco has had his struggles this season at times, but with the offensive line coming together, he’s a battle-tested upper tier QB who can produce in the playoffs. And his top three targets will bear watching on Monday.

Flacco has spread the ball around and has hit six receivers with 20+ catches on the season but the big three of Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, and Dennis Pitta will get the most of the looks. They’re a veteran group of receivers that are coming together and will be a tough matchup for the Patriots secondary.

Wallace has been the deep threat with 57 catches for 851 yards and 4 touchdowns. He seems to have found a new lease on life with the Ravens. Steve Smith works both out of the slot and outside and is still a tough cover even at the ripe old age of 37. The five-time Pro Bowler has 54 catches for 589 yards and three touchdowns.

Pitta suffered a serious hip injury and was there was thought that his career might be over after missing most of the past two seasons. He’s found his groove again and has hauled in 61 passes for 529 yards and two touchdowns. He scored both against Miami last week, his first since December of 2013.

This team with their defense will go as far as Flacco can carry them. While he isn’t the demonstrative type and was called out by former teammate Ray Lewis, his calm demeanor is what wins for him in the playoffs. He never gets flustered.

Defense Never Rests With Dean Pees: The Ravens always have one of the top defenses in the league and this year’s group is no exception. They are the best in the league at stopping the run allowing just 73.4 yards per game and only 3.4 yards per rush. Their front seven is big and physical and they play with that type of physicality every game. The Ravens and the Patriots are tied, allowing the second least points in the NFL with 207.

The defense is led by another greybeard Terrell Suggs who is still producing at a fantastic rate at the age of 34. T-Sizzle has no love for the Patriots or Tom Brady but with eight sacks on the year, he’s still a force to be reckoned with on the edge. He and Elvis Dumervil give the Ravens the edge rushers that can turn a game.

Pees, the defensive coordinator held a similar position here in New England and knows the Patriots offense and Brady well. He’s very aggressive and look for the Ravens to play a tight zone on early downs to take away the short area, especially in the middle of the field. And they like to blitz up the A-gaps on obvious passing downs.

Running Game Has Struggled: The Ravens running game has been stuck in neutral all season. One of the reason’s their offense has struggled to score points is the lack of the running game, especially in the red zone. Baltimore is averaging just 89.7 yards per game and 3.7 yards per rush. Far below what we’ve come to expect from them.

Their 28th-ranked running game is led by Terrance West with 163 carries for 650 yards, and 5 touchdowns. The change of pace back is rookie Kenneth Dixon who we liked during the draft process this season. He’s rushed for 206 yards on 46 carries and he’s added 18 catches for 100 yards receiving.

With the offensive line getting healthy and coming together (more about that below), however, they’ve averaged 101 yards per game the past three weeks. That fact may show that they’re turning the corner on things and may have a much more effective running game this week.

Ravens OL Is Healthy and Gelling Now: The Ravens struggled to protect Joe Flacco for much of 2016 and haven’t been able to generate anything consistent in the running game. The health of the offensive line and having multiple players miss games had a lot to do with it. But this unit is getting healthy at just the right time and their play has gelled the past few weeks.

It starts up front with Ronnie Stanley.  He missed four games with a foot injury and Baltimore lost all four of those games. But the rookie tackle who was the Ravens top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, (#6 overall), has really improved his technique as he’s adapted well to the pro game. After being beaten for sacks and drawing too many penalties, he’s adapted.

Marshall Yanda flipped from RG to LG and is teaming with Stanley to play exceptionally well. Jeremy Zuttah at center has been solid all season. On the right side, the Ravens have gotten much better play out of former Jet Vlad Ducasse and RT Rick Wagner than anyone could have foreseen.

Facing a tough Miami front seven, Flacco wasn’t sacked once and had just two QB hits for the entire game.

No Love Lost Here, Expect Playoff Atmosphere: No team other than the Steelers brings out the intensity of Baltimore than the Patriots. The games are always a physical, tough matchup and the teams seem to genuinely dislike one another.

The rivalry is an under-the-radar one and with a national stage on Monday Night Football, this one will have an intensity that will be a possible preview for another matchup in the postseason.

The Ravens need this game to stave off the Steelers in the division. The Patriots are trying to keep pace with Oakland for the overall #1 seed in the AFC. The teams have met four times in the post-season and are 2-2. But the most recent one in 2014 was perhaps the best game of all. Twice the Patriots fought back from 14-point deficits and are remembered for the double pass by Julian Edelman and the eligible/ineligible offensive linemen rotation that confused and irritated Baltimore to the extent that they had the rule changed the next offseason.

Check back with us later in the week as we’ll break down the key matchups for the game right here on PatsFans.com.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Will The Patriots Defense Get After Joe Flacco?

Steve Balestrieri
December 6, 2016 at 8:02 am ET

They Should… If They Want Success This Week

The Patriots enter the final quarter of the season and it promises to be the most difficult one of the 2016 season. Home games against Baltimore and the Jets are sandwiched around road trips to Denver and Miami. This week the Pats play host to the Baltimore Ravens who are hitting their stride as the playoff push begins. And facing Joe Flacco, the QB who’s won playoff games in Foxboro (twice), the question is, should the Pats be aggressive this week?

If they follow the trends, they should. Flacco is a much different quarterback when under pressure as opposed to when he’s not. He, as well as the Ravens offense, has struggled for much of 2016 but they’re getting hot at just the right time. On the season, he’s completed 321 of 497 passes, for 64.6 percent with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a passer rating of 84.1 which are hardly his best.

Entering last week’s game against Miami who had won six in a row, Flacco had thrown for just 11 touchdowns and 11 picks on the year. But he torched Miami for 386 yards (which was a career top 5) and four touchdowns in the Ravens 38-6 rout of the Fins.

Last week facing rookie Jared Goff at QB, the Patriots were aggressive and mixed up their coverages as well as their blitzes and thoroughly confused Goff on many occasions. While Flacco is hardly a rookie and has a Super Bowl win and had great success against the Patriots in the past, a similar approach may be the right idea.

Look at the numbers and they play out an aggressive approach. When Flacco isn’t sacked the Ravens are 15-4. When under no pressure, Flacco’s completed 70 percent of his passes this season with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions for a passer rating of 94.7.

But when he’s been under pressure, those numbers plummet. His completion percentage falls to 46.5 percent and he’s thrown just one touchdown and 5 interceptions for a passer rating of 48.3.

But before everyone thinks the Patriots should sell out and bring the blitz on every down, there are a couple of other factors to consider. One is the Ravens offensive line. While injuries decimated that unit up front and they were using multiple combinations earlier this season, they’re healthy now. Baltimore has stuck with the same starting combination on the OL for the past three games and the offense has responded.

Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots defense will have the challenge of trying to get after Flacco this weekend. (USA TODAY Images)

They have run for over 300 yards and passed for 872 in those past three contests. The Ravens are built to win now. Ttheir three top receivers are on the wrong side of 30 but are having very good seasons. Mike Wallace has found new life in Baltimore and has 57 catches for 851 yards (14.9 average) with four touchdowns including a 95-yarder. The ageless Steve Smith has rebounded with a very solid showing in 2016 after going on IR last year. The mercurial Smith has 54 catches for 589 yards (10.9 average) with three touchdowns. Tight end Dennis Pitta has made an amazing comeback from a hip injury. There were questions whether he’d ever play football again, but he’s finding his form at just the right time. Pitta has caught 61 passes for 529 yards and two touchdowns, both against the Dolphins last week.

The Patriots try to take away the big play and force teams to work their way down the field. The bend but don’t break approach may well find its way into the game plan this week as the coaches would be wary of the big play ability of both Wallace and Smith. With an improved offensive line, Flacco could hit the deep ball that he’s had success against New England with in the past.

That’s the approach they’ll probably take but if this season’s history is taken into consideration, a more aggressive approach may be the right call. As a result, it will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia game plan the Ravens this week. Facing the Baltimore defense is an entirely different story…stay tuned.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

AFC North Notes after NFL Week 3 – Big Ben injured; Bengals remain undefeated while Ravens drop to 0-3

John Morgan
September 29, 2015 at 8:52 am ET

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 Steelers12-6 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.