Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
Committed to stopping the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack, the Steelers lined up their safeties close to the line of scrimmage and left their cornerbacks in man-to-man coverage with no deep help. That's how the defense played the Broncos when Tebow hit Demaryius Thomas on an 80-yard winning touchdown on the first play of overtime.
Tomlin refused to second-guess his strategy against the Broncos.
"The responsibilities associated with defending their run gaps kind of dictate at times how you attack them," Tomlin said at his Monday news conference, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Obviously, they made some plays on us. In hindsight, you analyze with a fine-tooth comb some of the things you did. But I think really your options are limited in terms of how you attack them because of the run gap responsibilities."
Asked if this is too risky, Tomlin said, "Not really. We've done that and done it quite a bit, particularly against wildcat and wildcat type of attacks and plays."
Hensley's slant: As I pointed out in my column after the game, you can't argue with this game plan coming into the game. Tebow never showed any signs of being able to beat defenses consistently with deep passes. But, once Tebow started to hit them, the Steelers needed to make more of an adjustment. The game plan wasn't wrong. Sticking to the game plan was wrong.
BENGALS: Head coach Marvin Lewis said this is the healthiest his team has ever entered an offseason and expects all of his players to be ready to practice for the first day of training camp. The only injury concerns are cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles) and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (believed to have ankle surgery scheduled). Lewis told the team's website that Hall is progressing. “It can be as good as it was, where it was,” Lewis said. “All that’s been positive so far.” Hensley's slant: The loss of Hall showed up in a big way in the playoff game. Adam Jones, who replaced Hall in the starting lineup, had his worst game since joining the Bengals. He got beat on a double move by Houston's Andre Johnson for a 40-yard touchdown.
BROWNS: The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Bud Shaw says first-year coach Pat Shurmur deserves more time with the Browns. "He has to learn to manage game situations better. Having a coordinator who might call his own plays would help with that and, regardless, with game-planning," Shaw wrote. "He can improve in a dozen different ways. But can he become the coaching equivalent of "more presidential?'" Hensley's slant: Hiring an offensive coordinator -- and an experienced one -- is key for Shurmur to handle the responsibilities of a head coach. The last first-year head coach to be hired in this division was John Harbaugh. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti made sure the team surrounded Harbaugh with longtime coordinators like Rex Ryan and Cam Cameron to make the transition easier. Shurmur needs to focus his energy on being a head coach and not the playcaller.
RAVENS: Ray Rice showed his appreciation to his blockers by buying them watches, according to the team's website. All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach tweeted a picture of the watches, writing, "Nice gift for me and offensive linemen from [Ray Rice]." Rice, who led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage, said after the regular-season finale that he intended on rewarding them. “Man, that bill is going to be expensive for what I have to get my offensive line," Rice said. "I have to get those guys something nice. They’ve set it up nice for me this year.” Hensley's slant: Rice should be able to easily pay for them after the season, when he is expected to get a significant raise from his $600,000 salary from this year. The Ravens will likely use the franchise tag on Rice to keep him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.