Around the AFCN

Around the AFCN

A quick look at the Ravens' divisional foes Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati.


CINCINNATI BENGALS

HOT TOPIC
Yes, it's only halfway through the preseason, but the performance of the Bengals potentially high-powered offense has been mixed, at best.
Against New England in the preseason opener, the Bengals first-team offense did not score a touchdown.
In the second game at Washington, the offense started slowly. In the first four possessions, the Bengals starting offense gained just 61 yards on 22 plays. Drives ended in punts three times and a Carson Palmer interception.
The Bengals first-team offense did score touchdowns on its last two possessions Friday night against the Redskins, but coach Marvin Lewis wants more productivity early from quarterback Carson Palmer.
"He didn't play as well as he needs to play, and he needs to keep playing better," Lewis said Sunday of Palmer. "He knows there are some things he needs to do to get better. He's learning a lot in these areas of what we can and can't do. But we've got to be able to handle things early in the game.
"We've got to go out and make first downs and get the field position turned around."
Palmer knows the offense starts with him.
"His whole theme of starting fast you want to come out and score on the first drive," Palmer said of Lewis. "In a perfect world you do that 16 out of 16 times. That's what our goal is.
"There's progress in a lot of areas but a lot of things we have to execute better. Our main thing is you want to get better week to week and be ready for opening day, and we got better last week."
Palmer led touchdown drives of 93 and 80 yards in the second quarter against the Redskins.
Palmer ran twice on scrambles for 23 yards. Both runs resulted in first downs on third down, and Palmer said he plans to run when there is space.
"That's something I wanted to work on last week but didn't get the opportunity to do it," said Palmer, who ran 18 times for 47 yards and one touchdown last season. "We had a couple of opportunities. We've been doing a lot better job this year holding our blocks longer and letting me step up in the pocket."

NOTES
-- The Bengals on Sunday released defensive end Derrick Crawford, offensive tackle Reese Hicks, wide receiver Freddie Milons and fullback Jeremy Thomas. The releases drop the Bengals roster to 81 players. NFL teams must reduce their rosters to 65 players by 4 p.m. Aug. 30.
-- The death of 49ers offensive lineman Thomas Herrion struck Bengals defensive end Jonathan Fanene hard. Herrion died early Sunday morning in Denver, following San Francisco's preseason game Saturday night. He collapsed in the locker room afterward.
Fanene was a teammate of Herrion's at Utah in 2003: "Good dude, a Christian guy," Fanene said of his former teammate. "He was the captain of our leadership committee. He was a good example for us."
Fanene heard about Herrion's death from Bengals trainers when he arrived to get medical treatment on his hamstring.
"I was just sorry to hear it," he said. "I called everyone I knew, the Utah guys. Everybody said he was more than a football player. He was like an older brother to everybody off the field. I miss the dude. He was more than good. He was raised in Texas (Fort Worth) and always loved football. But God was first with him."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
-- OT Willie Anderson practiced for the first time of the preseason Sunday, Aug. 21, and provided a boost to his team. He had offseason knee surgery.
"To have Willie back now adds a sense of calmness and also determination," coach Marvin Lewis said. "I think Willie and Rudi (Johnson) play off each other as far as their approach to the game."
Anderson said he would be back for the preseason finale Sept. 2 against the Colts or for the opener Sept. 11 at Cleveland. "My main thing is getting back into the pads," Anderson said. "Even last season, I stopped practicing after the sixth game. Putting the pads back on for me will be a challenge. But it should be like clockwork. I've been doing it so long.
"I want to get back into that because once I start playing on Sundays, I plan on being full speed, and I know the only way to do that is to practice in pads, practice hard and get my conditioning back."
-- WR Peter Warrick was happy to get on the field Friday night against Washington but was disappointed that he didn't get a pass attempt. "I guess that's just the way it is, take the good with the bad," said Warrick, who did have one rushing attempt for two yards. Warrick didn't participate in practice in Sunday in order to rest his knee.
-- CB Tory James doesn't drop the ball. When an errant throw comes near him, the Bengals cornerback makes the play. He picked up on his eight-interception Pro Bowl season on Friday night with two more interceptions, both of which turned into long touchdown drives for the Bengals offense in the 24-17 victory against Washington at FedEx Field.
"I know when we get this ball back for the offense, good things are going to happen," James said.
-- LB Odell Thurman did not make the same mistakes at Washington that he did the week before against New England. When he had a clear shot at the quarterback Friday night, instead of jumping and whiffing, he brought him down for seven-yard loss. The sack was against Patrick Ramsey on the Redskins' second series. In the first, Thurman dropped deep and broke up a pass.
-- DE Elton Patterson, the Bengals seventh-round pick in 2003, has come back to the team with a renewed desire to play special teams. Signed by Jacksonville off the Bengals practice squad Oct. 15, Patterson played in six games with the Jaguars and had one sack among his eight tackles.
Released by Jacksonville, Patterson signed April 25 as a free agent with the Bengals.
He had two tackles and one sack on defense in the preseason opener against New England and impressed coaches with his showing on special teams.
"He got a taste of it last year," Lewis said of Patterson. "He did some good things on Friday night and that set you apart from the other guys. You increase your value rather than limiting your role."
INJURY REPORT: K Shayne Graham (groin) is expected to miss the Philadelphia game Friday.
-- CB Greg Brooks (hand) could begin practicing this week in a limited degree.
-- TE Reggie Kelly (knee) could be back in time to play the preseason finale Sept. 2 against the Colts.
-- LB Caleb Miller (ankle) back in time to play in the preseason finale Sept. 2 against the Colts at home.
-- The following players are questionable for preseason Game 3 at Philadelphia: DE Duane Clemons (ankle), CB Reggie Myles (groin, abdomen) and WR Tab Perry (injury unknown).
-- Rookie OT Adam Kieft (left ACL) is out for the season. He was injured in the mock game Aug. 6.


CLEVELAND BROWNS

HOT TOPIC
Growing pains in switching to a 3-4 defense have manifested themselves in run defense problems for the Browns.
The Lions rushed for 117 yards in the second preseason game after the Giants rushed for 154 yards in the preseason opener. The biggest problem is the Browns were out of position, though not as often in the first game as in the second.
Coach Romeo Crennel consciously restricted contact during the early part of training camp because he did not want his own players injuring each other. He said that philosophy had nothing to do with the defensive problems.
"I don't think (not tackling in practice) had anything to do with it," Crennel said. "We weren't missing tackles. We got handled at the line of scrimmage."
Run defense is a problem the Browns must correct quickly. In the first three weeks of 2005 they face the Bengals' Rudi Johnson, the Packers' Ahman Green and the Colts' Edgerrin James.
In switching to a linebacker oriented defense, the Browns jettisoned most of their starting defensive line from last season. The starting linebackers are comprised of four players that were originally a second-round pick (Chaun Thompson), two fourth-rounders (Matt Stewart and Ben Taylor) and fifth-rounder Andra Davis.
"We need definite improvement," Taylor said. "This is the first time for a lot of us playing a 3-4 in games. It is a definite learning experience for me. I'll speak for myself.
"I need to get better knowing the angles and things like that. It isn't like we're missing tackles. In this defense, you kind of sit and wait and play off your defensive linemen. I was too fast over the top and that opened up the cutback lanes. It's a good thing we have four preseason games. That's the best thing we have going for us."
The run defense did show definite improvement against the Lions. Taylor talked about his determination to get better despite leading the team with six tackles in Detroit. A reason they weren't overly excited about the way they played against the Lions is Detroit's top rusher, Kevin Jones, still managed 5.5 yards a carry on six attempts.
"It was better," Crennel said. "I'm not going to put them in the Hall of Fame or anything like that, but they listened to what we were saying. We'll continue to work and try to improve upon that a little more."
Orlando Ruff, signed one day before the start of training camp after six seasons with San Diego and New Orleans, has been promoted to second team. He played briefly against the Giants yet led the team in tackles with six and had one sack. He had five against the Lions.
The slow start has not caught Crennel by surprise. After cutting ties with Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown, Ebenezer Ekuban and Michael Myers there is no going back to the 4-3, but regardless Crennel is committed to making the switch. He won without superstar linebackers as defensive coordinator in New England and he believes with time this group will adjust.
"It does not shake my confidence," Crennel said. "I knew it wasn't going to happen overnight. We've just got to stay with the process-stay with the system-and the system will get better."

NOTES
-- Romeo Crennel gained the respect of his players by placing first-round rookie Braylon Edwards fifth on the depth chart after Edwards missed 18 days of training camp before signing his contract.
"I have a great deal of respect for RAC (Crennel's nickname) for a lot of reasons," quarterback Trent Dilfer said. "That is one of them."
-- Browns management tried to push the envelope in their preseason telecasts by using former players Bob Golic, Brian Brennan and Reggie Rucker in what it described as a "three guys in a corner bar watching the game" format. They chatted through the first game with no play-by-play. The telecast was met with such ridicule that the format was scrapped before the Browns played the Lions in the second preseason game. Sam Rosen of FOX was hired to do play-by-play.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A hamstring injury to cornerback Michael Lehan and Daylon McCutcheon's slow recovery from migraine headaches forced the Browns to sign 32-year-old cornerback Ray Mickens, a nine-year veteran with the Jets. The Jets released Mickens in a salary cap move to sign Ty Law.
Mickens is the starting nickel back but could end up as the starting left corner, depending on how soon Lehan and McCutcheon can play. McCutcheon has been unable to work out, let alone practice, since before camp began.
-- Josh Cribbs is putting heat on Andre Davis as a kick returner. He returned kicks 33, 37 and 36 yards against the Lions. In fact, the Browns have seen enough in Cribbs and are deep enough at wide receiver that they have given Davis permission to seek a trade.
-- Josh Harris and Lang Campbell, the fourth and fifth quarterbacks, are having terrible camps. At one point they combined for four interceptions thrown on four straight passes. Heading into camp it seemed Harris would end up on the practice squad, but now that might not happen. Neither played against the Lions.
-- Matt Stewart has a firm hold on the starting job at left outside linebacker. It means Kenard Lang will be a situational pass rusher.
-- Injuries to Daylon McCutcheon (headaches) and Michael Lehan (hamstring) have made Leigh Bodden the starting left cornerback. He is an adequate corner, but he is an excellent gunner on punt coverage. Now that he's playing more at corner the Browns are looking for another gunner.
-- Fullback Terrelle Smith is more than just a blocker in this offense. The Browns want to use him as a receiver and occasional ball carrier to keep defenses guessing. Last season Smith had only four carries and seven catches.
INJURY REPORT: CB Daylon McCutcheon has migraine headaches and has not practiced this training camp. ... CB Michael Lehan has a pulled hamstring. ... CB Gary Baxter has a concussion. ... S Brodney Pool has a concussion. ... LS Ryan Pontbriand has a shoulder strain. ... OT Jonathan Dunn has a high right ankle sprain. ... RB Lee Suggs has a sprained left ankle. ... QB Doug Johnson has a sore arm and shoulder.


PITTSBURGH STEELERS

HOT TOPIC
Unlike his rookie season, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has gotten out of the gate slowly for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While his body of work in preseason games this summer is little more than one half, he has been far from the impressive quarterback who captivated the NFL last season.
Roethlisberger has completed 8 of 15 passes for 64 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. It's not just his stats, either. His passes have been sailing on him, much the way they did late last season, particularly in the playoffs when he threw five interceptions, two of them returned for long touchdowns.
He has a passer rating of 36.53 in his brief preseason performance. That alone is not alarming and no one in Pittsburgh is jumping off bridges because of it, but it comes on the heels of his poor playoff performance (61.3 passer rating) after a sensational regular season (an NFL rookie-record 98.1 rating).
In Saturday night's 17-3 victory against Miami in Heinz Field, Roethlisberger looked no better than he did against the Patriots in the title game. He threw high to a wide-open Cedrick Wilson in the end zone from the nine and the Steelers failed to score on that drive. He overthrew 6-4 tight end Jerame Tuman and the ball was intercepted.
"One thing about him, he has been an accurate passer in games," offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. "He was that last year. I think it was just a sense of timing."
Hines Ward, who ended his holdout and had been through just three days of practice with the Steelers and played only briefly Saturday night, attributed Roethlisberger's preseason inaccuracy to a lack of cohesion with the quarterback and his receivers.
"We have to get our timing down with everybody," said Ward. "With me not being here and Cedrick moving around, playing X and Z, right now he just has to get a comfort level with (the regulars). It's just a matter of all of us getting on the same page.
"He looks good in practice, he's making good reads and stuff. We just have to make more plays, bottom line."
Roethlisberger also has built up virtually no rapport with rookie tight end Heath Miller, their top draft pick who is supposed to bring the position out of the dark ages in Pittsburgh. Miller caught one pass for five yards in the first preseason game and, despite playing extensively in the second game, had no passes even thrown his way.
People have been talking about a sophomore jinx possibly hitting Roethlisberger, but he has pooh-poohed any thoughts that will happen.
"All you guys think I'm going to have it," he told a group of reporters early in training camp, "so I'm not going to."
His early performances in the preseason have not hushed the predictions of a sophomore slump, but coach Bill Cowher discounts such talk and predicted that Roethlisberger will overcome it.
"He's been very committed, he was there from day one in our offseason program," Cowher said. "He was there working with the receivers, talking with them. He's very grounded and recognizes he can get better. I like his perspective of things."

NOTES
-- Linebacker James Harrison returned a fumble 69 yards for a touchdown against Miami, giving the Steelers four touchdown returns in two preseason games. They had three in the first game against Philadelphia -- a 10-yard interception return by Willie Williams, Ricardo Colclough's 66-yard punt return and Ike Taylor's 100-yard kickoff return.
-- Hines Ward played in his first game after he ended his two-week holdout, but played only one series and one down of the next, catching one pass for three yards against the Dolphins.
"It felt good," Ward said. "It's still only my third day of practicing and getting a chance to get out here and participate in a live game. It's good to be back."
Ward said after that game that he and the Steelers are getting closer on a contract extension.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: No one has yet nailed down jobs behind the top three receivers of Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El and Cedrick Wilson. There's two, perhaps three roster spots left. Rookie Fred Gibson has done well enough to probably stick with the team, since he is a fourth-round draft choice. That leaves one or two jobs among veteran Lee Mays, first-year players Zamir Cobb and Walter Young and rookie Nate Washington. Young led the Steelers in their second preseason game with three catches, but only for 19 yards.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Willie Parker is overtaking Verron Haynes for the top backup job at RB behind Jerome Bettis (while Duce Staley is out with an injury) and may get the third-down job as well. He led the team with 58 yards on 6 carries in the second game and had one catch for 20 yards. ... Tommy Maddox has won the No. 2 QB job and it's between Charlie Batch and Brian St. Pierre for No. 3. ... Ike Taylor has clearly emerged as the No. 3 cornerback.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: RB Willie Parker flew to 58 yards on six carries against Miami and also caught one pass for 20 yards. He played with the first team and, with Duce Staley out with a knee injury perhaps into the regular season, Parker could be the top relief man for starter Jerome Bettis.
"He's the one guy on this team, if you can get him onto the field, he can give you a 35, 40-yard run in a hurry," coach Bill Cowher said. "He's got explosive speed. We wanted to give him an early look in there with the (first) group. I liked what I saw."
ROOKIE REPORT: TE Heath Miller played extensively in the second preseason game but did not have a pass thrown his way. He has one catch for 5 yards in two preseason games. ... CB Bryant McFadden caused a muffed punt by Miami when he shoved a blocker into the return man; the turnover led to a score. ... WR Nate Washington caught one pass for 16 yards to the one in the second game to go with a strong first game. ... G Chris Kemoeatu had another strong week of practice and play and has been the talk of camp.
INJURY REPORT: RB Duce Staley and LB Joey Porter are still out after knee surgeries.
Towards the end of Saturday night's game, DE Travis Kirschke (back) and CB Chidi Iwuoma (shoulder) were slightly injured.

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