Thursday, June 21, 2012

Quarterbacks: AFC North

The time of year has come for lots of talk about quarterbacks.  I have decided to do a series on the quarterbacks of the AFC.  I am going to start this off with my favorite division, the AFC NORTH.  This division sent three teams to the playoffs last season and is considered one of the toughest divisions in the NFL.  They are known for their tough defensive play for the most part.  But in here we're going to take a look at and list the quarterbacks.

1.  Ben Roethlisberger:   I am putting Big Ben at the top of this list because frankly he deserves to be there.  Big Ben has gone to three Super Bowls, winning two of them.  Big Ben has been the most consistent quarterback in the AFC North, only missing the playoffs in two of his 8 seasons thus far.  He has only lost one AFC Championship, and that was in his rookie year, the other three he appeared in he led the Steelers to the Super Bowl.  A lot has been said about Big Ben’s play in the Super Bowls but, personally, I do not judge a quarterback strictly on that.  I look at the overall play that got them there in the first place. Even if you consider the two early exits the Steelers suffered since Big Ben has been there, he did everything he could to get the win.   

I look for much of the same from Big Ben next year. There has been a lot of talk that the Steelers will take a step back, including Ben, due to the fact they have a new offensive coordinator in Todd Haley. I, for one, do not believe everything I read.  Big Ben has too much desire to win to allow that to happen.  Big Ben has been branded one of the toughest quarterbacks in the NFL, and with good reason. He has played with some sort of an injury pretty much every season, but it does not seem to slow him down.  Big Ben not only has a new OC, but he also has the most dynamic set of wide receivers he's ever had in the Black and Gold. Not to mention the fact that the Steelers also addressed the offensive line this offseason.  Big Ben recently has come out and said he is not going to change the way he plays.  I like this because letting Ben be Ben is what got them where they are, which is two Lombardi trophies heavier. Now that they're giving him the protection he needs, this could be a big season for him and the Steelers offense. 

2.  Joe Flacco:   Joe Flacco gets my number two nod for many of the same reasons for which Ben got my number one nod, outside of Flacco not having played as long.  Flacco's numbers are not as good as Big Ben's, but he has been consistent in the win column.  Flacco took a step forward last season with his play in the AFC Championship game, even though the Ravens lost.  They did not lose because of Flacco.  He did everything he had to do to win.  I personally believe that if Lee Evans would have caught that pass in the end zone,   then the Ravens would have gone to the Super Bowl, and people who know me know that it stung me to say that.  But we are not known to stay inside the box when putting out our blogs.  We give credit where credit is due.

 This season Flacco will have to step up even more if the Ravens plan on being successful.  In the past they have depended on their defense, and for good reason, but they are going to be missing their defensive player of the year, Terrell Suggs, and, let’s face it, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are no spring chickens.  It showed in the championship game in which Suggs was a non-factor to begin with.  Personally, I don't think they addressed the offensive issues that needed to be addressed either.  Yes, they will still have Rice, because they will get a deal done before the season starts, but what else do they have?  Yes, Torrey Smith proved to be a speedster and improved as the season progressed, but they don't have much else.  They drafted Tommy Streeter, an unproven rookie, and they still have Bolden, but outside of that I don’t see much improvement. The Ravens also have the third toughest schedule this year.  They are going to have their hands full on their road back to the playoffs.  This is going to be the tale of the tape as to whether Flacco is truly their franchise quarterback or not.  He is in the last year of his contract and has asked for top tier money.  This will be the season he will have to prove he is worth that kind of money.

3:  Andy Dalton:  Dalton was the rookie in the AFC North last season.  No one, including myself, gave the Bengals nor Dalton much of a chance to have a winning season, let alone make the playoffs.  This kid, though, went out, with the help of rookie wide receiver A.J. Green, and proved everyone wrong.  Dalton should have gotten more of a consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year.  He led the Bengals to a 9-7 record and a wild-card bid in the AFC.  This kid also showed something else.  He has no fear.  He stayed in the pocket, even with the likes of Harrison and Woodley, and Suggs and Ngata coming at him.    That is something you most usually do not see out of rookies.   Despite defenses catching up with him toward the end of the season, I believe he will only improve this season and push the top dogs of the AFC North.  The Bengals had a successful draft in addressing problems spots on their roster and signed some key pieces via free agency.   This team is only going to improve with the youth on offense and the play of a very good defense.  

4:  Colt McCoy/ Brandon Weeden:  There isn’t much I can say about the Browns situation at QB.  We do not know for sure who is going to be the starter.  All signs are pointing towards rookie Weeden, but who knows?   So, that is the reason for the low ranking.   They have not been consistent at QB for some time now.   I don’t look for that to change this season. But, hey, I was wrong about Dalton.   If it is Weeden, then all I can say is don’t look to put up 40 points a game like you did with Oklahoma State.  These are not the same defenses that you played in the Big 12.  The Browns added rookie RB Trent Richardson, but did not address much else on offense. Still, they should be a little better overall.  Their line allowed their quarterback  to be sacked A LOT, and that does need addressing.   So time will tell with this team if Weeden can step up and be their quarterback of the future.