Chat with James Walker
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, ESPN.com AFC North blogger James Walker will stop by to chat about the NFL and what to expect from your team.
Walker joined ESPN.com in 2008 after three seasons covering the Cleveland Browns for the Columbus Dispatch.
Send your questions now and join James Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET!
James Walker (4:00 PM)
Hello everyone. It's been an exciting start to the 2009 season so far. So let's talk some AFC North football.
avi (orange county,ca)
Do you think Baltimore's Kelly Washington should be the 2nd or 3rd option behind Mason and Heap since Clayton does not seem to be getting it done...?
James Walker (4:02 PM)
Avi, I think the WR lineup is fine where it is. Washington is big and has really strong hands to thrive in the slot position. I think that's where he's most effective. Clayton has deep speed and you need that threat on the edge to keep defenses honest. Clayton needs to catch the football though in the crucial moments.
Do you think the fact that the Browns gave the Bengals their money's worth is troubling for the Bengals or was it just a let down game after the Steelers win?
James Walker (4:05 PM)
I thought the Bengals would play better. But I've seen enough AFC North games over the years to know that winning on the road is one of the toughest things to do in the division. The opponents are too familiar. To a degree, Cincinnati played down to its level of competition. But the Bengals did get a road win in the AFC North, and I don't anticipate many of those happening this season.
Don (Harrisburg PA)
James,Do you not think it would not be prudent of the Steelers to hold Polamalu out of the next 2 games, if not limited play depending on how he feels, before playing the Vikings into the bye to ensure his health for the sake of the team's defense overall well-being?
James Walker (4:07 PM)
It looks like Troy Polamalu may be healthy enough to practice limited this week, but his status for the game is uncertain as of Tuesday. I don't think the opponent should matter. If he's healthy, he should play against Detroit and Cleveland. If he's not, the team should hold him out.
Simon (Manchester, UK)
JDub, Why haven't the Bengals WRs had that many big plays yet? Is it due to defenses changing their schemes to cancel out the big play or are the WRs just not getting open?
James Walker (4:09 PM)
I mentioned this Monday in my Seven-step drop. I'm seeing a combination of teams making sure Chad Ochocinco doesn't get deep, along with Cincinnati adjusting more to a shorter, quick-hitting passing game. I'm pretty sure the Bengals will take their shots deep at some point with Ochocinco and Chris Henry. That's the next step for this offense to take to get better.
James,I was getting pretty impatient with Mendenhall and then I learned he's still the second youngest player on the team this year, I guess he's not only young but he came out a year early. Any thoughts on how his age might have something to do with some of these "immaturity issues" we've seen over the last two years?
James Walker (4:13 PM)
Yes, Mendenhall came in as a very young rookie, and he still has room to grow there. He had a poor week of practice recently, but I wouldn't say he's had many issues beyond that. He's a pretty quiet person who is trying to fit in with a veteran team. His performance against San Diego certainly helped.
Travis (Cincinnati, OH)
What is the timetable for Andre Smith's debut in tiger stripes?
James Walker (4:15 PM)
I haven't checked on this in about a week but at that time it was looking like November at the earliest. Andre Smith was still in a walking boot last week (haven't seen him this week). Once he gets that off, it's going to take some time to get him into football shape.
Travis (Cincinnati, OH)
Why do you think the Bengals' defense played so poorly against Cleveland on Sunday?
James Walker (4:17 PM)
I think it was a combination of things. Part of it was the familarity the Browns had with Cincinnati. Derek Anderson has always given that defense trouble (at least at home). And the team wasn't prepared for a player like Mohamed Massaquoi to come out of nowhere. These things all came into play on Sunday.
Mark clayton dropped the pass that ended the game, but he also made about 3 huge catches on that drive to get us in that situation so i don't really beleive his stock is falling. so heres my question, were you impressed by joe flacco on that last drive and how cool he looked?
James Walker (4:21 PM)
Absolutely. I was telling a co-worker recently that nearly every time I watch Joe Flacco play or in practice during training camp, he shows me something different. Sunday he showed his ability to drive a team down the field, on the road, for a potential game-winning drive against the Patriots. The drop ended it, but I don't know if many would have expected that from him coming into the game. I'm really high on Flacco. I've been saying for a while that he's is/going to be the real deal.
Craig (Lwood, OH)
I haven't heard anything about Troy Reed in awhile. Is he injured?
James Walker (4:22 PM)
why cant anyone give credit to the tough, talented 4th quarter offenses the steelers have faced, instead of trashing their defense, which has played well?
James Walker (4:24 PM)
It's a fair point, Anthony, especially when you consider the quarterbacks were Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers. But the defense isn't making plays either. It only takes one key turnover or stop to end the game, and the Steelers are not getting those plays.
Ray Rice has looked much more explosive and versatile than Magahee but Willis continues to get rewarded around the stripe. Will this trend continue or will the Raven try to get Rice even more involved in the offense?
James Walker (4:26 PM)
I think Ray Rice's role in the offense is fine. He runs from one 20 yard line to the other, and Willis McGahee is the power back who gets the touchdowns. I don't get the sense that either player minds all that much. Both are thriving in their roles.
Can you see 3 teams from the North making the playoffs?
James Walker (4:29 PM)
I said earlier this year that I don't see it happening, and I'm sticking to that. It's possible with the division setup, of course, but it would be extremely difficult for three teams to win at least 10 or 11 games in the same division. I do expect three AFC North teams to be in the running down to the final weeks though.
Hey JW - do you think the Steelers offensive line has improved considerably or do you believe their dominating play was a result of the poor defensive front of SD?
James Walker (4:31 PM)
"Considerably" is a strong word, but the unit has improved. This hasn't been a one week thing. I've watched Pittsburgh's line get better in steps in Week 2 and Week 3 before Sunday's performance. The Chargers were the softest defense I've seen this year.
What in the world is going on with Greg Jennings and Larry Fitzgerald. Neither of their teams are looking for them as often as they should. Should that be a concern going forward
James Walker (4:33 PM)
Madden Curse for "Fitz." Not sure what's the deal with Jennings. I watched the Bengals shut him down pretty easily in Week 2.
Any hope my Browns can win this week against Buffalo? Edwards and the no huddle look horrible.
James Walker (4:35 PM)
This is the most winnable game for the Browns thus far. Cleveland beat Buffalo in Buffalo last year, so it's not out of the question. I'm not big on Trent Edwards at all. I don't think he's a good starting NFL quarterback.
Justin (Scranton PA)
Who puts up the better numbers this week Ray Rice or Ced Benson?
James Walker (4:37 PM)
Ray Rice, even though he's sharing carries.
Will (Terre Haute, IN)
Hey what's up James? Just wondering who was more responsible for Rashard Mendenhall's big night the O line or Rashard?
James Walker (4:39 PM)
You can't separate the two all that much. But I will say Mendenhall displayed great vision to see the creases and attack them. There was little indecision that we've seen at times from Willie Parker, and that made a difference in the running game.
Why do you think steelers' pass rush is not very effective like last season?
James Walker (4:41 PM)
Teams have shortened its passing games against Pittsburgh. San Diego is a vertical team so the Chargers took chances downfield and Pittsburgh was able to get to the quarterback more than in previous weeks.
Would you start Flacco or McNabb this week? both have good matchups
James Walker (4:42 PM)
Joe Flacco. Donovan McNabb is coming off an injury and you don't know how much rust will be an issue.
JW, what kind of chances do my Bengals have this weekend? If they put 4 solid quarters together, which is something they have yet to do, then I think they will win. However, they have been going flat for it seems like 2 quarters a game, and I don't think that will give them a chance to win in Baltimore. Then again, with the way the season has gone, the game has to come down to the wire...
James Walker (4:44 PM)
I'm covering this game Sunday and I'm definitely looking forward to it. If Cincinnati is ever going to play well for four quarters this would be the perfect time. Because the Ravens don't take quarters and halves off, so they would jump on the Bengals pretty quickly. This has the potential to be a good game if Cincinnati brings its "A" game.
Any AFC North team going to upset (or be upset) this next weekend?
James Walker (4:46 PM)
At least one division team has to lose this week. But I make my predictions every Friday.
JW, do you think the Cardiac Kids in Cincy will ever have a game that I can relax in the fourth quarter? I don't know how many more of these close games my heart can take...
James Walker (4:47 PM)
You may not want to watch this week, Henry. There will be no relaxing in the fourth against Baltimore.
When Gaither went out, did the Pats take advantage of that to get more pressure on Flacco?
James Walker (4:50 PM)
I felt New England's pressure on Joe Flacco was pretty consistent throughout the game. He took some hard shots in both halves but still stood tall in the pocket. I just thought the Ravens should have ran the football a little more.
James Walker (4:51 PM)
That would have helped keep New England's pass rush at bay.
Craig G. (Fairfield, California)
How did the Steelers D dominate the 1st half and almost lose the game vs. the Chargers?
James Walker (4:54 PM)
San Diego sped up the tempo and went almost exclusively to the pass. With Troy Polamalu out, that has been the team's weakness lately. Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers began the take over and San Diego got some breaks on special teams to make it a game again.
J.B. (Dunmore, PA)
Why doesn't Eric Mangini find different ways of getting Cribbs the ball?
James Walker (4:58 PM)
It's a work in progress, J.B. The previous coaching staff couldn't figure it out in four years with Josh Cribbs. So I think the new coaches deserve some time. He's not a prototype WR, he's not a running back. So it is a challenge.
James Walker (5:00 PM)
Everyone, thanks for the time. Sorry I can't get to every question, but you can always visit the AFC North inbox. I will check back to chat the same time next week.