Jill is back, this time as a regular contributor to Draft Day Suit. We will be hearing a lot more from her as the NFL season progresses. She is also kicking off our NFL previews with a look at the AFC North. We will hear from Adam soon with his take on the same division. Jill is a Steelers fan. Adam is a long-suffering fan of the Browns. I don’t think they’re gonna see things quite the same way. –ed.
The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers will, of course, be awesome and win the Super Bowl. OK, well, maybe not but, as a Pittsburgher, I am obligated to make this bold prediction on an annual basis. In reality, though, the Steelers could be pretty darn good and will likely compete for first place in the AFC North throughout the season. But, there are some question marks in the form of a suspect offensive line (again) and new offensive coordinator, Todd Haley.
Haley, who replaces former offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, has the run-first philosophy that the Rooneys embrace, which is probably the reason he was chosen to replace Arians, who had focused more on the passing ability of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in recent seasons. But, I have to say that as much as I love the Rooneys and the way they have run this team over the decades, I was surprised and a little chagrined at their choice of Haley to lead the offense. What do I know? Haley grew up in Pittsburgh, was a Steelers ball boy and the son of Steelers’ personnel director, Dick Haley. This type of stuff may insulate him from the ire of Steeler Nation through his first couple of regular-season losses. If he drinks Iron City and speaks Pittsburghese, he may be able to ride that wave until, oh, his third regular-season loss. But, if the offense is weak, the Nation will begin turn on him, despite his black and gold roots.
The problem with Haley is that he has a reputation of sideline arguments with players, particularly quarterbacks. And, with the freedom that Roethlisberger was given by Arians in running the offense, we have all been watching and waiting for the inevitable camera shot of Roethlisberger and Haley, nose-to-nose and red-faced with fingers pointed in each other’s chest and spit flying out of their mouths. So far, so good. So, let’s look on the bright side, as we Pittsburghers are apt to do. Not.
The additional of Haley is not the only change the Steelers made during the off-season. Due to salary cap issues, the Steelers made some significant moves in the off-season, unloading salaries and restructuring contracts. They also tendered an offer to restricted free agent, Mike Wallace, who turned his nose up at such an affront (a one-year tender, indeed!) and refused to report to training camp. Wallace’s absence at training camp seemed akin to a toddler throwing himself on the floor in hysterics – it will get him nowhere and it’s all for show. Everyone knows that the Steelers do not negotiate with players who are not in camp. Duh. But, maybe it made him feel better to stomp his foot for a few weeks while his colleagues attempted to actually learn Haley’s new offense. And, he’s here now. Hopefully, no harm, no foul.
The biggest question mark this year, as has been the case for the past couple of seasons, is the offensive line. While the Steelers attempted to reinforce the line in the draft (as discussed below), it appears as though it is going to be their Achilles’ heel yet again due to injuries and slow development of new players. I think Big Ben ought to invest in some serious protection around his ribcage and backside because he is probably going to be taking it to his blind side quite a bit this season. I suppose he’s used to that by now but it sure would be nice to see what he can do when he has a solid offensive line out there protecting him for once.
Top Draft Picks
1st Round (24th Overall) – G David DeCastro, Stanford
David DeCastro was considered the best guard in the draft and was not expected to last until the Steelers’ first round pick. But he did and, knowing that they needed to address the sieve-like offensive line that had Big Ben on his back for most of the past couple of seasons, they jumped at the opportunity to pick DeCastro at number 24. And Steeler Nation did a little happy dance. Unfortunately for the Steelers, DeCastro was injured during the first quarter of the third preseason game against the Buffalo Bills and will sit out for 3-5 months due to a torn MCL and dislocated kneecap. So, that pretty much figures. Steeler Nation collectively shook its head and sighed. And kicked stuff.
2nd Round (56th Overall) – OT Mike Adams, The Ohio State University
In the second round of the draft, the Steelers again went after the offensive line, drafting offensive tackle Mike Adams from Ohio State. Adams has had his share of off-the-field troubles such as a five-game suspension for receiving improper benefits and a positive test for marijuana in February. Because of these troubles, the Steelers initially had no interest in drafting Adams. But, he met with the Steelers and, apparently, promised to never do it again so they took a chance and drafted him with their second-round pick. Adams was plugged in at left tackle and charged with protecting Ben’s blind side. But Adams has had a rough preseason, letting up two strip sacks of Roethlisberger in nine plays in his first preseason game appearance against the Eagles. And then he left the game with a knee injury, which is not nearly as significant as DeCastro’s, but is still an issue. His second game with the Colts was rough, as well. He played with the reserve players, rather than starting, as was beaten and turned around numerous times. So, I’m thinking he is not going to be much help this season. Maybe next year, dude. Fingers crossed. Just stay away from the Mary Jane, ok?
Good question, but I think I actually jumped the gun and answered this question above. Oops. To summarize: Todd Haley and the offense, David DeCastro, Mike Adams and the (initial) absence of Mike Wallace are new. The Steelers also made an unusual move in firing their special teams coach, Al Everest, halfway through the preseason and giving the job to former special teams assistant Amos Jones. Seeing as how the Steelers ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in kick return, punt return and net punting average yardage last season, the biggest question is what the heck took so long?
But, this season for the Steelers, despite the changes (including the significant one at offensive coordinator), it seems that the big story is not going to change; it’s going to be the same old thing – the offensive line. And it’s more like a Grimm’s fairy tale than a lovely bedtime story. You know, the real ones with people’s heads getting chopped off and stuff. In other words, not pretty.
The Steelers have the potential to win the AFC North and I suspect that they will battle it out with the hated Ravens for most of the season. If they can get the cobbled-together offensive line working reasonably well, they have the talent elsewhere to be a very strong team. Since I am a Pittsburgher, I will just go ahead and own up to being a homer and predict that the Steelers will go 12-4 and win the AFC North. So there.
The Ravens suck. The end.
That’s not going to do it for you, huh? Ok, fine. The things is, it’s fun to hate the Ravens. They are always challenging the Steelers for top of the division and, let’s face it, they stole their team from Cleveland in a big way. And also Ray Lewis plays for them. So, they are easy to hate. It used to be fun to hate the Cleveland Browns but now we just feel too sorry for them and that’s no fun.
The Ravens’ preseason is looking up after last Thursday night’s game against the Jaguars, who they destroyed 48-17. The Ravens rang up 571 yards in total offense against the Jaguars with Joe Flacco (seriously, who is this kid? Wasn’t he supposed to be, like, not that great?) passing for 266 yards and two touchdowns. Yeah, that had to hurt. The Ravens needed this game in a bad way after losing the week before to the Detroit Lions, who scorched the Ravens’ prideful defensive unit for 507 yards and are hopeful that this game against the Jaguars means that things are coming together for a successful season.
This preseason has highlighted Flacco’s passing ability (did I really just say that?) with the coaching staff apparently content to loosen the leash on Flacco and allow him to take more responsibility for the team’s offense. During his playing time on Thursday night, Flacco threw 36 passes to nine receivers, completing 27 of them. It is difficult to imagine that this would become a regular occurrence given the awesomeness that is running back Ray Rice waiting to take it All.The.Way on any given play but it shows that the coaching staff is confident in Flacco and his growth.
Another reason Ravens’ fans should have some optimism (besides the above-expectations play of Joe Flacco) is second-year wide receiver, Torrey Smith. Smith had a good rookie year last year with 841 yards receiving and seven touchdowns but had some high-profile drops that marred an otherwise pretty decent season. In the first three preseason games, Smith caught 11 passes for 149 yards. Not too shabby. This could end up being a breakout season for him, especially if Flacco is, indeed, going to be passing more.
On the downside, as part of their downsize to a 75-man roster, the Ravens placed linebacker Terrell Suggs on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list due to a torn Achilles’ that he suffered last April which required surgery. This means that he must sit out the team’s first six games but, realistically is expected to miss at least the first half of the season. Suggs, who had 14 sacks last season, was voted Defensive Player of the Year and his loss will be a huge blow to the Ravens defense. Hmmm…that’s too bad.
The Ravens were the first team to trim their roster down to 75 men when they made nine roster moves over the weekend. The most significant of those moves was cutting kicker Billy Cundiff. I don’t think the Ravens’ fan base will waste any time crying over the loss of Cundiff. Most will remember his miss of a 32-yard field goal (wide left) in the AFC Championship game against Patriots that would have tied the game with 15 seconds left and potentially cost the Ravens the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. Boo hoo. Rookie Justin Tucker, who kicked all of the extra points and field goals in Thursday night’s game against the Jaguars (making all six extra points and two field goals) will take over the kicking duties going forward.
Top Draft Picks
2nd Round (35th Overall) – OLB/DE Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
The Ravens traded down out of the first round and took Upshaw at number 35. With Suggs injured, the Ravens were banking on Upshaw, who was touted as being “pro-ready,” to start at outside linebacker but he showed up at camp overweight, failed the team’s conditioning test and suffered a shoulder injury. Not a very auspicious start. Now, instead of Upshaw starting at outside linebacker, it appears we could see Albert McClellan, a second-year who was undrafted out of Marshall, taking that position.
2nd Round (60th Overall) – G Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
The Ravens also sought to replace guard Ben Grubbs in the draft by picking Iowa State’s Kelechi Osemele in the second round. And given the preseason he has had, it looks likely that he will start the season opener against the Bengals. Osemele has started all three preseason games, playing two at right tackle and one at left guard, and has impressed the coaching staff with his ability.
I am growing bored with writing about the Ravens and I am beginning to feel dirty having spent too much time thinking about them. So, moving on.
The Ravens should be a force to be reckoned with in the AFC North and should challenge the Steelers for the Division title throughout the year. But, they are the Ravens and I really, really don’t like them. So, I predict that they will end up at 11-5 and be the runners-up in the AFC North, behind the awesomeness that is the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I will let our long-suffering Browns expert, Adam, give you the dirty details on the Browns but I have to say something about them. I mean they are the Browns and I am a Steelers fan. I know I am supposed to but I just don’t hate the Browns. I mean, really, how can you hate the Browns? They have been beaten down for decades and then, to add insult to injury, they had their team stolen right out from under their noses (or, if you recognize this as an expansion team, which it is, then they have been beaten down for, what, 13 years?). It’s just sad. And it just seems to be never-ending. Their first-round draft pick, running back Trent Richardson, whom they traded up to draft third overall, already had to have arthroscopic surgery on August 9, although the Browns say they are “optimistic” that he will be ready to start in the first regular-season game. Then, looking for a quarterback to replace the lukewarm-at-best Colt McCoy, they picked Brandon Weeden, who is, like, 60 years old. Ok, I exaggerate – he’s 29. But, in quarterback years, that is like being 60 years old! And Weeden has not looked impressive in his three preseason games, going 24-49 with no touchdowns, one interception and three fumbles. He was also sacked five times. Ick.
Having said that, the Browns have actually won a couple of their preseason games and Colt McCoy has looked much better than Weeden. But whoever is quarterbacking this team is going to need a lot more help from the offensive line and I just don’t think either Weeden or McCoy is up to the task of winning a lot of games. I will say that the Browns will go 6-10 and come in last in the Division. Sorry, Adam.
It looks like the Cincinnati Bengals may be back and contending this season. After going 9-7 and making the playoffs last season, quarterback Andy Dalton has had a solid preseason, despite an ugly loss to the Green Bay Packers, and has made passing to A.J. Green his favorite pastime. However, their schedule this season is going to be a little tougher than what they faced in 2011 and Cincinnati will need to prove that it can play against the stronger teams in order to gain the respect they have been so desperately seeking. I really started to dislike this team during the Carson Palmer/Chad Johnson/Ochocinco years and am hoping that they find a reason to implode this season. I am going to go with 9-7 again this season, good for third place in the division, if they can keep most of the team out of jail.