Here are seven notes and observations from Week 3 in the AFC North:
There were two reasons the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0) knew they would be able to go deep in Sunday’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1). The first was the recent suspension of safety Tanard Jackson, and the second was Charlie Batch's presence convinced the Bucs to, at times, play eight defenders in the box. Therefore, Pittsburgh's speedy receiver Mike Wallace was able to score on 46-yard and 41-yard touchdown catches in the first half. Jackson, Tampa's best safety, was recently suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, which exposed the back end of the defense. The Bucs also wanted to stop the run first, and Batch said he anticipated there wouldn't be much deep help with Tampa.
Lost in Pittsburgh's stout performance was the great play of its offensive line. Batch had plenty of time to throw and wasn't sacked by Tampa. The holes also were big for running back Rashard Mendenhall, who rushed for 143 yards on 19 carries (7.5 yard average). Left tackle Max Starks returned to the lineup and backup guard Doug Legursky filled in well for the injured Trai Essex. The Steelers rushed for 201 yards and only threw the football three times in the second half to preserve the lead.
We have good news and bad news this week for the Cincinnati Bengals (2-1). The good news is Cincinnati (2-1) will be shooting for an astounding nine consecutive victories against AFC North teams when it travels to play the winless Browns (0-3) next weekend. Cincinnati hasn't lost to a divisional foe since falling to Baltimore on November 30, 2008. Since then, the Bengals are 3-0 against Baltimore, 3-0 against Cleveland and 2-0 against Pittsburgh.
As for the bad news, the Bengals have played just one good half of offense this season. And a case can be made that the production should be voided because it came in garbage time in a blowout loss to the New England Patriots. But the timing and execution in Cincinnati's offense still seems off. Quarterback Carson Palmer often wasn't on the same page with receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens against the Carolina Panthers (0-3). Palmer targeted his starting receivers 21 times, connecting for only eight receptions. Palmer was lucky to only have two interceptions Sunday, because the Panthers' defense dropped at least two other opportunities.
I noticed one major difference in Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco: He had more time to throw in their win over the Cleveland Browns. Flacco wasn't sacked, was able to set his feet, and threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns. His mechanics and follow-through were shaky against the aggressive Bengals. But Flacco went back to his fundamentals against Cleveland. Finding former Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin also was a great idea, which we will get to next.
Browns starting cornerback Eric Wright had an awful game. But I partially blame Cleveland's coaching staff for the tactical error. The plan entering Sunday's loss was for Wright to cover Baltimore's star receiver, Boldin. But it was clear early that this strategy wasn't going to work. Boldin scored his first touchdown over Wright in the first quarter. Boldin also beat Wright for his second touchdown in the second quarter. Why wouldn't the Browns scrap their idea at halftime, start double-teaming Boldin and make someone else beat you? Instead, the Ravens were allowed to keep exploiting that mismatch, and Boldin beat Wright for a third, go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. As much as Wright is at fault for not executing, the coaching staff didn't do the cornerback any favors by hanging him out to dry while having a rough day.
Finally, it may be time to make Josh Cribbs a permanent starting receiver in Cleveland. Cribbs replaced the injured Brian Robiskie (hamstring), who is off to a slow start, and led the Browns with five catches for 58 yards against Baltimore. Cribbs also rushed for 20 yards on two attempts. Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, who was shut out by Baltimore, have struggled to get open. Cribbs isn't your prototypical wideout, but he's the only receiver who consistently makes plays for the Browns.