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The Ugly AFC North

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By: Tony Lombardi

We’re two weeks into the 2023 season and while it’s still very early, I’m unimpressed, particularly with the AFC North. The games are sloppy, offenses seem out of synch while injuries are out of control. And for that, we can all thank head coaches across the NFL who have opted not to have their starters play in preseason games.

Recently while doing a little digging through archives as we assemble our series, The History of RSR, I stumbled upon a video of our old Ravens Rap Show, this one featuring Steve Bisciotti. His comments beginning at the 16:05 mark about injuries is both interesting and sad. Interesting, because he might be on to something. Sad because in six years since these remarks were made by the Ravens owner, nothing material has been done to curtail these injuries. If anything, it seems to be getting worse.

The Ravens added to their mounting list of wounded players this past weekend. The names Odell Beckham, Jr. and Odafe Oweh will now appear on tomorrow’s injury report. Given John Harbaugh’s guarded response regardin OBJ and Odafe, and his history of understating injuries, count me among those who don’t think either will play against the Colts at The Bank on Sunday. I’ve written it before and I’ll do so again, it’s rather mind-boggling that the Ravens would promote from within as it relates to their strength and conditioning staff. This is the staff that the highly criticized Steve Saunders recruited and that group, with Saunders at the helm, was a trainwreck.

Besides the Ravens, other AFC North rivals have also suffered key injuries. The Bengals Joe Burrow is less than 100% and if he continues to play, that nagging calf injury which limits his mobility will be a nuisance for the balance of the season. Such injuries only subside with rest and given Cincinnati’s (0-2) start, they can’t afford to rest their franchise QB. Soon however, they may have no other choice.

Elsewhere in the AFC North, the news in Cleveland is devastating. The Browns have lost RB Nick Chubb for the season to a violent knee injury and that places a ton of pressure on one of the league’s villains, Deshaun Watson. Watson did little to endear himself to the rest of America, perhaps even the fans of Cleveland as well, when he was flagged for two personal fouls, both face-masking penalties. Has that ever happened in the history of the NFL – a QB landing two personal fouls for the same infraction in the same game?

Watson looks completely out of sorts, yet the Browns are stuck with the creepy one for quite a while. If this newest mistake by the lake spirals out of control, and the signs are there, the Browns unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) are saddled with a hefty cap number for years. Even if they hang on to Watson through the 2024 season and then cut him loose post June 1, he’ll still carry a 9 digit cap hit. The desperate Browns earned this situation. Congrats to The Haslams.

Do you think Browns GM Andrew Berry sent out an SOS to Kareem Hunt during their loss in Pittsburgh last night? Name your price Kareem!

Kenny Pickett looks awful. The Steelers offense looks awful. They can’t run, they can’t throw and the only redeeming quality of that offense is George Pickens. Something has got to change for the Steelers or all of that preseason hype and talk about not sleeping on the Steelers and them being a real challenger in the AFC North, just might put their 2023 hopes to sleep. Let face it, if Chubb didn’t go down last night, the Steelers would have. And for now, the scapegoat is the Steelers offensive coordinator.

Sound familiar?

Remember when many thought the AFC North would be the best division in the NFL?

That’s funny.

Back to Watson for a moment – he looks slow, indecisive and behaves like a player under extreme pressure. And he is. But his failures reverberate, and the writing is on the wall. Head coach Kevin Stefanski and GM Berry should dust off their resumes. Meditate on that for a bit Deshaun.

Live Games

For nearly two decades I went to nearly every single Ravens home game and several roadies. These days, I might go to a game or two each season and it has been a few seasons since I hit the road. Maybe it has to do with getting older; maybe I feel like I’ve been there, done that; maybe it has to do with my job and watching from home is easier (the stuffy press box has never been for me); maybe I don’t feel like exposing myself to things like this…

Can’t we just all get along. This is sports entertainment. It isn’t life or death. It is meant to be a happy distraction from the weekly grind.

Ravens v. Colts

Speaking of attending games, I will be at The Bank this Sunday and I have to say, the fan in me hopes that Anthony Richardson gets the start. The Ravens are currently listed as 7 ½ point favorites but Richardson’s backup, Gardner Minshew worries me a bit. He can look awful. He can also pull some things out of his hind parts to rally teams. He reminds me of Ryan Fitzpatrick, aka FitzMagic.

I just don’t want the Gardner’s crop to flourish in Baltimore. Give me the rookie against a defense with many moving parts in a hostile environment.


Random Thoughts

J.K. Dobbins, Nick Chubb and Saquon Barkley were all part of the running back Zoom call that took place before the season, the objective of which was to re-establish the value for the RB position. The injuries that have occurred since will make their argument an even bigger challenge…Patrick Queen is balling out. There’s little doubt that with each positive effort, he’s making himself more desirable in the open market in 2024. The Ravens hate to part ways with their first-round picks but let’s face it, the economics of the NFL don’t provide for two highly paid off-the-ball linebackers. The Ravens need to improve their pass rush. This is more than likely Queen’s swansong in Charm City.

I must admit, I root against The Commanders and the reason is 100% self-serving. I want Washington to fail. I want Chase Young to lose interest in the team, the season. I want EDC to pull off another deadline coup with a trading partner that is a struggling team willing to give up a pending free agent for a reasonable number because with or without said free agent, the season no longer matters.

I want that team to be the Commanders.

Did you know that Miami RB Raheem Mostert was a member of the Ravens in 2015?

And how about those O’s?

O's Mofos

The post The Ugly AFC North appeared first on Russell Street Report.

Originally posted on Russell Street Report

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