Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
Here are seven notes and observations from Week 8 in the AFC North:
If you're looking for one formula for success with the Baltimore Ravens (4-3), look no further than efficiency from quarterback Joe Flacco. The Ravens improved to 12-1 Sunday when Flacco has a quarterback rating of 81.9 or higher. He threw for 175 yards, one touchdown and had a 109.2 passer rating in Baltimore’s 30-7 win over the Denver Broncos (6-1). Flacco completed his final 14 passes and tied a team mark for completion percentage (80 percent) in a game. Baltimore also is 10-2 when Flacco doesn’t throw an interception.
The Ravens were clearly the more physical team Sunday, and it showed in the individual matchups. Baltimore’s size and physicality gave Denver trouble throughout the game. The Broncos couldn't block Baltimore as the Ravens had two sacks, five quarterback hits and five tackles for losses. After a fast start, Denver's much-publicized defense also wore down as the Ravens scored 17 second-half points and controlled the pace.
Described by Ravens coach John Harbaugh as "off the charts," this was as good of a special teams’ performance as I’ve seen from Baltimore the past two seasons. Not only did the Ravens get a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from rookie Lardarius Webb, but they bottled up elusive Denver returner Eddie Royal. Baltimore kicker Steve Hauschka was 3 for 3 on field goals, and two punts were nearly blocked as the Ravens really got after it in the third phase of the game.
Did the Ravens do the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) a favor? Baltimore exposed several undiscovered holes in Denver. The Broncos are very hesitant (afraid?) to go vertical with quarterback Kyle Orton, who tends to get rattled and rushes throws when pressured. Denver's defense, while solid, can be beat on third down by attacking the slot. Expect the Steelers to see this on film and implement some of these things into their own game plan for next Monday night. They can thank the Ravens later.
Look for a quarterback change to take place with the Cleveland Browns. It’s the only excitement the team can give its fan base following a 1-7 start. Browns backup quarterback Brady Quinn, who started the first three games, played toward the end of the fourth quarter in a 30-6 loss to the Chicago Bears after Derek Anderson (76 yards, two interceptions) had another poor performance. Quinn is past the threshold of earning nearly $11 million extra in bonuses with 70 percent playing time this season. Whether that played a factor in keeping Quinn on the bench is debatable. But regardless, the Browns no longer have that money barrier to worry about.
I am not surprised by the announcement that Browns tailback Jamal Lewis plans to retire after this season. Lewis hinted several times in the past two years that he’s still playing to compete for a championship. That’s why he re-signed with the Browns after their 10-6 season in 2007. But after things blew up in 2008 and this year, Lewis likely regrets that decision. Lewis has a Super Bowl ring, great career stats and nothing to prove. There is a decent chance the Browns could cut Lewis anyway after the season, because he’s 30 and entering the final season of a three-year contract.
Finally, here is a head-scratching stat: Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is 1-4-1 in games after the bye week. Most teams benefit from the two weeks of preparation, but for whatever reason Lewis and the Bengals have struggled. It will be interesting to see how the first-place Bengals (5-2) respond when they host the Ravens on Sunday in a huge AFC North showdown at Paul Brown Stadium.