Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
Texans fullback Lawrence Vickers said he's "geeked up" to play his former team and admitted to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he was hurt by the Browns' decision not to re-sign him last year.
"And I know they're pretty much geeked up, too," Vickers told The Plain Dealer. "We all had this game circled on the calendar."
Vickers said he never heard from them after his 2010 exit interview, but he knew his time was up after Cleveland drafted fullback Owen Marecic in the fourth round. Vickers' powerful run-blocking helped Jerome Harrison and Peyton Hillis lead the team in rushing the previous two seasons.
Asked how much the Browns' running game misses him, he said, "My focus is on Lawrence Vickers. I'm on to the next chapter. I wish Peyton and all their running backs the best."
Hensley's slant: Injuries have factored into Cleveland's struggles in running the ball this season, but not having Vickers has contributed to the Browns falling to 29th in the NFL in rushing. His lead blocking was a big reason why the Browns ranked No. 8 in rushing in 2009 and why Hillis ran for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. The Browns thought Vickers' style wouldn't fit into their new West Coast offense. Wonder if the front office is rethinking that decision now?
BENGALS: Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (ankle) continues to work off to the side, and outside linebacker Thomas Howard (hamstring) remains limited in practice. But the Bengals don't seem too concerned because of their depth at linebacker, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. Backup middle linebacker Dan Skuta and outside linebacker Brandon Johnson didn't play much in the first five games, but they've filled those spots "seamlessly." Hensley's slant: The way the Bengals have played well without Maualuga and with Howard at less than full strength is more a reflection of the team's defensive line. The strong rotation up front has allowed Cincinnati to plug anyone at linebacker and remain effective. The defensive line is the backbone of perhaps the most underrated defense in the NFL.
RAVENS: Left guard Ben Grubbs continues to practice and even lined up with the first-team group during drills, according to MASNSports.com. Grubbs hasn't played since the season opener against the Steelers because of a toe injury. "Anytime you can get a player like Ben back, that's big because he played extremely well in the first game," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We'll see. He is probably going to be a game-time decision. We'll take Ben back at any point in time." Hensley's slant: The loss of Grubbs has been a bad domino effect for the Ravens. Andre Gurode has struggled a lot the past two games at guard, which has cause left tackle Bryant McKinnie to help out more to the inside. Because McKinnie can't put all of his focus on protecting the blind side, the pass protection on the edge has declined. So, the return of Grubbs would be big for the Ravens.
STEELERS: The first-half Most Valuable Player isn't really a player, according to The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It's defensive backs coach Carnell Lake. The former Steelers player is receiving the most credit for adding the physical element to the Steelers' secondary. Hensley's slant: When Pittsburgh ranked No. 1 in pass defense in the past, it usually was the result of the Steelers' pass rush. But this year, it's the defensive backs who have really stepped up. Ike Taylor is having a Pro Bowl-type season, and William Gay has rebounded after a rough start.