Walker's weekend mailbag

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

Andy from Canada writes: Do you see Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren heavily influencing Eric Mangini's decision at quarterback?

James Walker: Yes, Holmgren will certainly have input, which he does with a lot of decisions in the building. Holmgren has plenty of experience with quarterbacks, and Mangini will go to him for advice. The public perception is that Holmgren wants Colt McCoy because that's the quarterback he drafted. But I don't think that's a guarantee. Holmgren and Mangini want to win first, and they may feel veterans Seneca Wallace or Jake Delhomme give them a better chance to accomplish that goal when healthy. They certainly felt that way at the beginning of the season, because the plan was not to let McCoy play this year.

Steve from Union, Ky., writes: Is there a win total to keep Mangini in Cleveland?

Walker: We get this question all the time, Steve, and there is no firm answer. I said before the season started that Mangini has to win at least seven or eight games to show good improvement over last year's 5-11 record. That's just my opinion. But I don't know if Holmgren has a set number in mind. At 2-5, the Browns are on pace to go somewhere around 5-11. That was Cleveland's record last year, so Mangini has to get on a better pace after the bye week.

Andrew from Dayton, Ky., wants to know if the Cincinnati Bengals' coaching staff will be fired.

Walker: We have a lot of coaching questions this week. Andrew, Cincinnati's ownership does not like to fire coaches and won’t in this case. The team has the luxury of playing out the season and deciding what to do once Marvin Lewis' contract expires. Cincinnati then has the option of giving Lewis an extension or not re-signing him, and Lewis will be free to explore his options with other teams as well. Lately, I haven't heard much on the contract front, but that can always change.

Thaddeus from New York City wants to know what’s the deal with Cincinnati's pass rush.

Walker: It's a personnel issue, Thaddeus. Cincinnati has plenty of solid players on defense, but none specialize in rushing the passer. AFC North teams like the Steelers and Ravens make sure they draft those players as often as possible because getting to the quarterback is a unique and very important skill. Cincinnati was bailed out by its secondary last year, but a lack of pass rush has been an issue for a while. I'm sure the Bengals will address that need in next year's draft.

Steel City Jonny from Thousand Oaks, Calif., writes: You've been saying for a few weeks now that "if the Bengals don't turn it around THAT week, their season might be over," and they keep on losing. Now with a loss to the Falcons you are yet again saying that their season MIGHT be over. How many losses will it take before you stop using MIGHT?

Walker: I don't like to be to knee-jerk in the blog, Jonny. So I'm not writing off the Bengals at 2-4. If Cincinnati gets hot the next two weeks, the team is .500 and back in it. But if it loses Sunday to the Miami Dolphins and falls to 2-5, you can stick a fork in the Bengals. Their playoff hopes are done.

Steve from Austin, Texas, writes: I know Mike Tomlin is not placing Aaron Smith on IR, hoping he'll return sometime this season. Have you heard any prognosis on Smith's injury?

Walker: I'm told behind the scenes that the Pittsburgh Steelers were happy with the surgery and feel it went better than expected, in part because it was only a partial tear. That's why they are holding out hope for Smith. He's so important to the defense that Pittsburgh may be willing to do a Rod Woodson-type scenario, where they wait into the postseason to see if he can come back. I’m not sure the Steelers will wait until the Super Bowl in the event it came down to that. But Smith will have plenty of leeway to see if he can make it back this season.

Keefe from Georgetown writes: Mike Wallace's speed on the carpet in the dome screams out a big day for Wallace. What's your take?

Walker: Wallace could have a big day. He’s been making the game look easy lately, and I think he’s one of the fastest players in the NFL. The New Orleans Saints also have some recent injuries in the secondary.

Brandon Crawford from Sykesville, Md., writes: What are the chances the Ravens will start corner Josh Wilson over Fabian Washington after the bye week?

Walker: I think it's 50-50 at this point. Washington looked awful last week, as Buffalo receivers had him spinning like a top. But every cornerback has bad games. Washington will have to have two good weeks of practice for a chance to prove that game was a fluke.

Yianni from Baltimore writes: James, please bring up the topic that Ed Reed has already tied Troy Polamalu's interception total in one game!

Walker: The "Troy Reed" debate never ends.

Comment and complaint department

As usual we have plenty of comments and complaints from our AFC North community.

Stephen from Ohio writes: How is it that the two refs that totally screwed the Miami Dolphins last week are from PITTSBURGH!? The Patriots cheated with video, and now the Steelers are taking their own refs to the game?

Michael from Pittsburgh writes: James, I'm just calling it now. With Aaron Smith out, the Steelers are done. Without him we can't stop the run well enough to beat the better teams. Our defense was suspect in the second half against Miami after he left. Not good James, not good.

Walker: Stephen, I thought your comment was pretty funny, but it didn't have anything to do with the game. The NFL said the refs made the right call this week. The Steelers, in my opinion, were fortunate more than anything. Michael, Smith is a huge loss but I think this year's team is more prepared to handle it than in year's past. Check out our feature with Ziggy Hood from Friday. He has big shoes to fill.

Mike P from Boulder, Colo., writes: No offense, but I have to call you the opposite of a homer in just as negative a way. You picked the Browns ahead of the Bengals because you think they're playing better?!?! They could barely muster 200 yards of offense last Sunday. If there defense doesn't score two TDs off picks, they still lose that game. What a joke. Only things the Bengals have working against them are stupid mental errors and a lack of urgency. I would like to know how you think that the Browns are playing better than the Bengals.

Walker: Mike, Cleveland beat the defending Super Bowl champs and Cincinnati lost three straight. Cleveland is playing better football. Plus, you know who won recent the head-to-head matchup, correct?

Bryan Roberts from Philadelphia writes: I watched the highlight video for the Bengals and Falcons and I saw very upset faces and I'm starting to think that people were right and that we're going to explode as a team and I don't like this at all.

Walker: Everyone is waiting and predicting an explosion, but I was pleasantly surprised with how positive the Bengals' locker room was after last week's game. I didn't know what to expect, but the group stayed pretty upbeat and knew the challenge that was ahead of them. This is a more mature group than several years ago. That doesn't mean Cincinnati can't implode with several more losses, but I didn't sense 2-4 did the trick. Let's see how the Bengals react Sunday against Miami.

Gus Rafeedie from Warren, Ohio, writes: Picking Ed Reed over David Bowens for Player of the Week? James, you're better than this. Ed Reed got two INTs off of the worst team in football, a team that couldn't even figure out who their real QB is until after the season started. Reed got 46 return yards. Bowens, however picked off one of the best QBs in the league twice and scored both times, with 94 return yards. More production against a better opponent. We AFC North blog fans have high standards. I hope blunders like this are only going to happen once in a while.

Erik from Bowling Green, Ohio, writes: How did Ed Reed get the AFC North High Energy Player of the Week over David Bowens? I understand that it was his first game back from major hip surgery and had two interceptions. However, David Bowens also had two interceptions and both were returned for touchdowns. Until the garbage time TD the saints scored at the end, Bowens had outscored the Saints by himself.

Walker: Gus and Erik, you both are right. Both had great games. But if I had to do it over, I would choose Bowens as the High Energy Player of the Week and probably pick a different decisive moment in the division. Bowens was a candidate for both.

AFC North Homer of the Week

John W. from Denver writes: Bengals are going to win the AFC North. Just watch, they will go undefeated the rest of the season. Carson Palmer is by far the best quarterback in the AFC North and we have the most talented team. The Bengals’ time is now and they are going to be Super Bowl champs this year! WHODEY!!!!!

Walker: Why does every "Homer of the Week" believe their team will never lose another game? This is the NFL.

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