AFC North weekend mailbag

Let's see what's in the AFC North weekend mailbag.

Becky from Galloway, Ohio, wants to know how the Cincinnati Bengals can improve if they continue to have a problem with penalties.

James Walker: This was a problem last season, and it's something the Bengals have been unable to solve early in the preseason. Coaches typically can live with physical or "effort" penalties, but it's the mental errors that will drive Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis crazy. It sounds simple, but the Bengals must play smarter and pay more attention to detail. Based on last season and from what I'm seeing so far, this could be an ongoing problem.

Brooks from Lubbock, Texas, writes: I was interested to know if you believe Quan Cosby might be able to make the Bengals as a return guy and backup receiver.

Walker: There is a good chance Cosby will fall victim to the numbers game in Cincinnati. Cosby is a decent player, but the Bengals are too deep at that position this year. The team appears comfortable letting Adam Jones and Jordan Shipley field punts and Bernard Scott handle kickoff returns. So that could make Cosby expendable. But he's certainly good enough to help another team if he gets cut.

Anther214 from Caracas, Venezuela, writes: If the call were on your hands, would you start Dennis Dixon over Byron Leftwich?

Walker: It's too early to make a decision, but I would make sure Dixon gets an equal opportunity to compete with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I believe that's the biggest issue Steeler Nation has with the way things are being handled, and it's a legitimate gripe. If it's an "open" competition, allow Dixon to share some first-team reps in minicamp, organized team activities, training camp and the preseason. If it's not an open competition, name Byron Leftwich the starter and move forward. The Steelers are not doing either right now, which is confusing.

Derek from Virginia writes: Even if Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington were to come back healthy by the season's start, would it really make as big a difference as a lot of people speculate? Without Ed Reed, this unit is average at best.

Walker: That's a fair point, Derek. Baltimore's secondary without Reed patrolling the back end is not as dangerous. But the strength of this defense is in the front seven. So any additional help Baltimore gets in the secondary with Webb, Washington or both will make a difference.

Joel Metzger from Bowling Green, Ohio, writes: Hey, James, do you notice any similarities between the 2010 Cleveland Browns and the 2008 Miami Dolphins?

Walker: If you're suggesting the Browns will go from worst to first in the AFC North, I don't see it. The division is too competitive, and this will be a gradual building process for new Browns president Mike Holmgren. They don't have enough talent right now to win the division.

Complaint department

Here are comments and complaints from our AFC North community this week:

RJ from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: I don't get why the Steelers are so hesitant to use Dennis Dixon. It's like they bought an action figure and they don't want to take it out of the package. He's not going to learn any more by watching from the bench. If you're too afraid to use him, then you might as well trade him for someone you will use.

Jimmy T. from Williamsville, N.Y., writes: I went to Steelers training camp for two days, and I must say that Dennis Dixon looked better and more sharp than Leftwich! I also think that mobile quarterbacks are more useful than pocket quarterbacks!

Dustin from Pittsburgh writes: I'm sick of all these yinzers in the Burgh going nuts over Dennis Dixon. Yes, he's athletic and, yes, he has an NFL arm. But he's just like Kordell Stewart -- if his first read's covered, he's going to take off and run. He had open receivers on plays when he decided to tuck it and run against Detroit. I've never been able to understand for the life of me, James, why does Steeler Nation have a knee-jerk reaction to every little thing when the franchise is the exact opposite?

Henley from Richmond, Va., writes: Alright guys, I think we all need to stop freaking out about Baltimore's secondary. Even John Clayton used it as grounds to no longer have the Ravens as his pick for the top of the AFC North this season. Yes, it is very poor right now. However, both Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington will likely play in or immediately after the season opener. John Harbaugh didn't even rule out the possibility of Webb playing in the preseason. Ed Reed will likely miss a few games, but Tom Zbikowski is a decent player. With two good cornerbacks playing, the secondary will likely be above average, but not elite until Reed returns.

Ryan Campbell from Cincinnati writes: I just read your article regarding Shayne Graham. I especially liked his comment when asked how he would feel if the game came down to kicking a field goal down by two. His comment of "that would be nice." As a Bengals fan, I couldn't agree more. That would be very nice. After watching him choke in big-game situations, it will be nice to watch him blow it for a division rival instead of us. Oh, and Ravens, I hope you enjoy very short kickoffs, too. That is another Shayne specialty.

Gary from Savannah, Ga., writes: I think J.T. O'Sullivan and Jordan Palmer will be great backups in Cincinnati this season as long as they are only expected to hand the football to a running back. Otherwise, dump them both and try again.

Jake from Youngstown, Ohio, writes: I think if this season is a complete disaster, then everyone will hate Jake Delhomme. But they won't look at the other reasons like turnovers (as in fumbles), injuries, defense! Some people need to open their eyes and pay attention. But I think he will do good with a good running game and a decent defense. All he needs to do is relax and have fun and he will do fine. Stick to the short throws and the wildcat, and we will be a real threat to the other teams. I think we will go 7-9.

Crail from Akron, Ohio, writes: As big of a Browns fan as I am, this is still hard to watch. Our history has been horrible on quarterback decisions. I want to hope so bad, but somehow in my heart I know I will be let down. If Jake does well, who is gonna jump out in the wide receiving core in Cleveland? Too many what if and hopes. I hate to say it, but another losing year. Sorry, Brownies, I hope I am wrong.

AFC North Homer of the Week

Treezus from Cincinnati writes: All my life it's been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ division to lose. The Bengals have a gun-shy quarterback, the Browns are the Browns, and the always contending Ravens are always contending. BUT it’s about the world multi-ring champions. The Steelers are the true pride of the AFC North.