Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
Half of the preseason is officially in the books, and now it's time to check in again with your favorite teams.
In another installment of the Seven-Step Drop, here are seven things that caught my eye during Week 2 of the preseason in the AFC North:
It is just me, or do the Pittsburgh Steelers look awfully sluggish on defense? Granted, it's just the preseason and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau knows when to hold off for the games that matter. But the Steelers do not look sound in their base schemes, which is essentially what most teams run in the preseason. The Buffalo Bills put together two touchdown drives against Pittsburgh's first unit fairly easily last week, and the Philadelphia Eagles also had their way the week before. The fact the team signed 13-year veteran defensive end Orpheus Roye says a little concern is starting to mount in Pittsburgh. But for now, I'm still going to give last year's top-ranked unit the benefit of the doubt.
Second-year linebacker Lawrence Timmons has been impressive. The former first-round pick from a year ago had another impressive showing with eight tackles and a sack against Buffalo. Timmons is not projected as a starter in Pittsburgh's defense, but it's going to be difficult to keep this active linebacker off the field if he keeps playing at this pace. Expect Timmons to be the first linebacker off the bench early in the season, then eventually push for a starting job at inside linebacker.
Speaking of the Bills, cornerback Ashton Youboty is having a great preseason. He had five more tackles against Pittsburgh to go with his interception in the first exhibition game. How does this relate to the AFC North, you ask? Well, Youboty was hot on the radar of the Cleveland Browns, who figured he would be a tradable commodity because he was a backup last year and the Bills drafted rookie cornerback Leodis McKelvin in the first round. But Buffalo maintained its depth and Youboty is playing very well. Now the Bills might keep him or, at the very least, increase the asking price. As evident by Cleveland's pass defense this preseason, the secondary could use the help.
The Browns ran into a buzz saw Monday night as the New York Giants jumped out to a 30-3 lead early in the second quarter in what turned out to be a 37-34 loss. The starting offense, defense and special teams all played poorly. That's the only way a team falls behind that far, that quickly. But perhaps the most concerning thing was how out of sync Cleveland's starting offense looked. There were a lot of bad plays from a normally sound unit. Quarterback Derek Anderson missed several routine throws before being knocked out of the game, the offensive line missed assignments and Jamal Lewis fumbled a handoff. Backup quarterback Brady Quinn played well against New York's second teamers, which is expected.
The Baltimore Ravens' quarterback situation is even more murky than it was before last weekend's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. Kyle Boller and Troy Smith continue to not separate themselves, although Smith did a few nice things in marching the team down the field for a touchdown on Baltimore's first drive. Rookie Joe Flacco put up better stats Saturday night. He was 10-of-15 for 74 yards. But keep in mind it was in the final eight minutes of the game against many players that probably won't make Minnesota's roster. The Ravens' coaching staff for now does not consider him in the running with Smith and Boller. Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he knows who the starter will be, but he's not ready to make it public.
An offensive player that did look impressive for the Ravens was rookie running back Ray Rice. The second-round pick from Rutgers showed a great burst and even some shiftiness and toughness to run inside the tackles on his way to 77 yards on eight carries. Rice's biggest gain of the night was for 42 yards on a cut-back play that opened up on the backside. He showed great vision to see the opening and quickly squirted through for the gain. Rice also had a 6-yard touchdown run to cap off a solid night. This is good news as the team awaits the status of starter Willis McGahee, who is out for the remainder of the preseason with a knee injury.
The Cincinnati Bengals are fortunate that, after a bad-looking fall, Chad Johnson's shoulder injury is not more serious. Love him or hate him, he is Cincinnati's most indispensable player outside of quarterback Carson Palmer. Word out of Cincinnati is that Johnson should be ready by the start of the regular season. Although the team was interested in former Bengal Chris Henry before, recent injuries to receivers Johnson, Andre Caldwell (toe) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) sped up the process. Henry is in Cincinnati today to sign a contract with the team.