Mike and Mike in the Morning previewed the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals Monday morning as we shared here on FoS and they completed their AFC North review with the Ravens and Steelers as reviewed on FoS here. As the pre-season has begun, and the regular season is creeping up, FoS will be sharing a division preview Unit by Unit of each of the 4 teams. While position ranking could be fun, doing so for each of the 25 positions, including Kicker, Punter and Return Specialist is a little tedious and does not help take a bigger picture into account. Also with the Bengals in a 43 Defense, and the other teams in a 34 variation, Front 7s are more important then splitting up DLine and Linebackers. These reviews will include the following units:
As we continue are rankings on the offensive side of the ball we finish up with the “big uglies,” the offensive linemen. The AFC North, the old smash mouth 3 yards and a cloud of dust teams have slowly given way to the in vogue spread out offensives. This was reflected in the backfield rankings and hold true with the offensive lines. Some teams like the Steelers have been caught between the old large run-centric OLines of the past and a more spread out offense that they were running under Big Ben. It is easy to rank the top individuals from specific positions but its a more difficult task to grade the lines as a whole, a challenge we accept. The top left tackle is the Browns Joe Thomas, top right tackle is the Bengals Andre Smith, top guard is Marshal Yanda and the center position goes to Maurkice Pouncey from the Steelers (though the Browns Alex Mack is in the discussion). 1 player from each team holds down the top spot for their position, so what team has the best offensive line?
- Cleveland Browns – With Joe Thomas holding down the left side, veteran Mack a above average to excellent center, 2nd year man Mitchell Schwartz showing early signs of dominance the Browns are set at the 3 most crucial line positions. Guard play has been a concern, especially since the loss of Eric Steinbach, but John Greco has locked down the LG spot with young player Jason Pinkston and Shaun Lauvao fighting for RG. Pinkston started last year as the LG starter and was playing well before a blood clot ended his season and Lauvao has started at RG for the past 3 years. A ankle injury, and surgery, in camp will cause him to lose his starting spot for the first time in his young career. The Browns have the talent and the consistency to be ranked #1 for the first time in these AFC North rankings.
- Baltimore Ravens – The fight for #2 was a close one between the Ravens and the Bengals. Two tipping points were the performance of Ray Rice behind the Ravens line and the time the line gives for the deep passing game of Joe Flacco. With Yanda at guard, Blind Side’s Michael Oher at RT and the very large veteran Bryant McKinnie at LT the Ravens have a solid if unspectacular core. 2nd year guard Kelechi Osemele showed promise last year as a rookie but still has a lot of learning to do transitioning from college tackle. The Ravens schemed well to keep Flacco and Rice protected, the large offensive line allowed Rice to “hide” behind his blockers before making cuts or while on screen passes. 2nd year center Gino Gradkowski had some struggles his first year but looks to improve in his second.
- Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals, and their fans, have a rightful claim to the #2 spot in these rankings. With stud RT Andre Smith back in the fold, solid veteran LT Andrew Whitworth and 2012 1st rounder Kevin Zeitler the Bengals have the making of a solid line. Whitworth’s age limits some of his ability to protect the blind side, and the Bengals will soon have a decision to make regarding his future and the future of that position. Do they move Smith over? Do they draft another 1st round lineman? Zeitler started all 16 games last season and graded out higher then the more profiled Smith and Whitworth. The Bengals struggled to open holes for their running game and Dalton often was running away from pressure, which thankfully he has some talent for.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – Early in the Ben Roethlisberger era of the Steelers the question was whether all the sacks were the line’s fault or Ben’s tendency to hold the ball to long and scramble. While the answer then most likely was a little bit of both, now its clearly the offensive line that is very offensive. Pouncey has been a excellent center for the team, even playing great at guard his rookie year. 2012 first round pick David DeCastro was billed as a once in a generation guard but injuries severely limited him his rookie year. 2nd year man Mike Adams, a second round pick out of The Ohio State University, played in 10 games last year and started 6 of them. He has a chance to hold down the RT spot, but could be moved to LT at any time given the revolving door on that side. Marcus Gilbert was also a 2nd round pick but has failed to dominate at any position on the line, so much so that Max Starks has been brought back late in training camp or early in the season each of the last 2 years. If Gilbert struggles look for him and Adams to be switched but unfortunately Starks is now with the San Diego Chargers. Overall the line has youth on its side and could develop but it is by far the worst line in the AFC North.
What did we miss? How would you rank these 4? Did we “disrespect” your team? Tell us what you think.