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Green Zone League Articles

Final Piece to the Puzzle? AFC North
By Garth Pearce
Special to gzl-football.com

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Small Pieces Find a permanent and skilled #2 corner. Curtis Marsh is the second most productive corner this year and is definitely not up to top standard. Rookies Eric Victorino and Sanders Commings are both extremely raw and of varying degrees of talent in situational match ups at best. Overall Commings looks the better long term prospect as Victorino won't get past 89 speed (even though he's 6'4"), but it depends if Joe wants to take a gamble in this league, testing if all that pure height can turn dividends in pass protection. After trading out all the decent veterans from this team last off season one would expect another youthful starter is likely to fill the second corner spot in the long term, although with DeMarcus Milliner fresh from the draft himself it may be more prudent to find him an established player to support him whilst he learns.
On the same note as getting another corner, the overall pass defense needs to be improved, especially with the offense missing so many vital pieces. They've given up 22 touchdowns this year for only 7 interceptions, with an opponent's QB rating of almost 94. These stats are on par with other teams who have suffered significant injuries to their secondary, but in this case most of the cause is due to an extremely young and raw group of players. FS Dana Garcia has the most years under his belt (and highest awareness) in the secondary, so it's no wonder they are struggling to match up on a weekly basis. An injection of experience and awareness into this group, even as short term fill-in whilst the young guys develop, would help the overall team performance.

Final Piece Dream the wonderful dream of so many and avoid injuries. Having Flacco, AP and Hester all spend long stints on the sidelines in one year is never a good thing and sure to hinder offensive consistency and potency. Whatever the Ravens have been doing offensively this year seems to be a little too risky in my books as they've got a great offensive line which shouldn't be allowing that sort of hurt through (especially to Flacco). It may just be one of the years for the Ravens where they can't stop the injuries, but whatever the case they can only hope for a fresh start next year and a better turn of luck.


CINCINNATI BENGALS

Small Pieces Find another talented passing target. Mike Sims-Walker is a lone skilled target of size and could use a second pillar to support the young signal callers. Jordan Shipley has a decent skill set but lacks serious speed to go with his 5'11" frame which obviously can't handle catches in traffic (8 drops), whilst Titus Young is younger, rawer version of Shipley. Klein doesn't put any heat on the ball (most players could read the daily newspaper in the time it takes to reach them) which indicates that the pressure will be on when a catch is attempted. Strong, robust receivers are more likely to succeed in this situation and even a short-pass orientated game plan would help.
Adding a true, experienced leader to the offensive line would also be a big improvement for this team. Most of them are mid 80's overall with no-one even 80 in awareness and most blocking skills are below 90. There is some nice young talent here that can be developed, such as LT Jonathan Cooper and LG Andres Crawford who would benefit from truly talented support on the right side or in the center.

Final Piece Improve the offensive output. Both the passing and running game have sucked at scoring this year, with rookie Colin Klein having an appalling touchdown to interception ration and Eddie Lacy being just as lack lustre carrying the ball. It was probably a lot to ask these two rookies to lead the scoring in the same year, but management made that decision and now need to invest some serious time and effort into them or Ryan Tannenhill to step up and score better than an average of 15.8 points per game. It may be a case of finding the right game plan that works with these guys, or just a few years of progression could help get the scoring up and a few more wins.


CLEVELAND BROWNS

Small Pieces Unfortunately for the Browns it is time to look to replace MLB D'Qwell Jackson as one of the all time tackle leaders is heading into the twilight (and regression period) of his career. Whilst he still provide a solid presence in the front 7 and great run stopping, his coverage ability will be exposed as he would struggle to keep up with most tight ends, let alone receivers. I can't see Brad giving him the straight up flick from the roster, more of a transitioned mentor approach if he seeks a rookie or youngster for the role.
RE Gutierrez Rivera is a mediocre rated player at best and will never reach the desired level of output from a RE. With the abnormal talent of Cameron Jordan on the other side you'd be feeling a little disappointed having to utilise Rivera on the same line. His agility looks great but with the current speed/strength combination they may look to draft another player or even dip into the free agent pool to find a faster pass rusher or stronger pusher.
When a player's number of fumbles out does their number of touchdowns you have to start worrying, especially when it's from a talented campaigner like Peyton Hillis. 5 fumbles in one year is a lot and made even worse by only scoring 4 touchdowns to date. The Brown's need to really lift this part of their running game as they aren't known for recovering these lost balls and the turnovers are not what their young QB needs to shutdown his drives.

Final Piece Time to develop the passing game. Boston Mallett is having a great sophomore year and is only going to get better with age. A few years of development for him and his receivers, Brad Edwards, Carlton Mitchell and Tandon Doss, along with TE Lance Kendricks will only lift their game to new heights and stretch any defense all over the field. If Mallett can perform with such raw stats and developing receivers we can only imagine what he'll achieve as they all get better and wiser. The only downfall they may face in taking this time is the age of their skilled o-line who I'm sure are currently giving Mallett the time to make his throws.


PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Small Pieces Ricky has done wonders with this aging franchise to get them back onto the championship path after Brian Brown's departure. Experience and awareness are not lacking in this outfit, however they are faced with a lack of speed, especially in their secondary. This hasn't had a big impact this year, as shown by the 10-0 start and now 12-1 standing, but the guys like Chris Gamble, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu will all be under 83 speed next year. Brandon Flowers is the only 90 speed player in the secondary, but he hasn't been performing to the same level of his first three seasons in GZL. It would be a truly epic gamble to consider starting any of the sub-85 speed guys in following years, even with how much they have surprised us so far this year. It would be the perfect time to blood some youth into the mix, especially with all the mentor talent around to teach and support.
On paper this O-line doesn't look the greatest but in reality has been doing a fair job in supplying the game plan with constant ball possession, run blocking and solid pass blocking. Looking at the youth on the line we see a mixed bag of skills that just seem to be working together, no matter how raw the players. Austin Laurie is decent but needs time to develop mainly his pass block and awareness, Bill Victorino is strong, fairly smart, but not very mobile, whilst Ismael Bryan is strong and only slightly more mobile than Victorino but could use some awareness and run block development. Whatever the case may be they are doing a fine job and can only get better with time, unless Ricky finds more athletic players to replace them in future drafts.

Final Piece As good as the Steelers have proven this year, I feel they would probably be undefeated to date if they hadn't suffered some key injuries. In their one loss they had an ineffective running game that Rashard Mendenhall could have improved on, whilst their defense could only be better with Lawrence Timmons in the middle instead of Dennis Lewis with Arthur Cook. This team is the master at controlling the clock and Mendenhall is a big part of that while Timmons helps capitalise on the rushed offense the opposition is forced to put together. As mentioned for the Ravens already, they need a lot of Madden luck to avoid these injuries, but if they get a season free from them then it will get ugly for the rest of us.
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