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:
On to the secondary and the last of the planned rankings, though we may add a Specialist and Coach ranking tomorrow. We will conclude Monday with a overview of the rankings and what they say about head to head matchups and who should come out on top in the division this year. These will be interesting to look at as the year ends and see how close we are, where were we off on the rankings compared to actual play on the field and what can be carried over to next year. The AFC North has had an interesting mix in the defensive backfield in the past few years with name players like Leon Hall, Jonathan Joseph, Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. Joseph and Reed are now out of the division and Taylor and Polamalu are starting to show some age. The Bengals have spent draft picks on their corners with Hall and former 1st rounder from last year Dre Kirkpatrick. The Browns have star CB Joe Haden and hard hitting Saftey TJ Ward, 1st and 2nd round picks respectively. The Steelers still have Taylor and Polamalu as the backbone of thier DBs and the Ravens are rebuilding at safety after the loss of Reed and fellow starter Bernard Pollard.
- Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals have struggled at the safety position but have put together a solid CB core to go along with stud Hall. Kirkpatrick is still not starting opposite Hall, according to the depth chart, but provides a high level of skil as a 3rd CB. Bringing in veteran Reggie Nelson in 2010 helped solidify the backend of their defense. Taylor Mays was a highly regarded prospect out of USC but has struggled to find consistency, even being traded to the Bengals after only 1 year in San Francisco where he was a 2nd round pick. Adam “Pacman” Jones has cleaned up his act in Cincy and is a valuable slot CB and dynamic return man for the team. Based on depth and top end talent the Bengals take down the #1 spot in both of the defensive rankings, fitting the overall assumption of them having the best defense in the division.
- Cleveland Browns – Though Browns with Haden and Ward narrowly beat out the Steelers and Ravens for #2 in these rankings. Haden was suspended for 4 games last year for violation of the drug policy and out injured for 1 game. In those five games the Browns were 0-5, with Haden the team was a more respectable 5-6. Ward has become a versatile hard hitter who has improved his coverage skills dramatically after being selected int he second round. The Browns depth is questionable with 2nd year man Buster Skrine, 3rd round pick Leon McFadden and free agent signee Chris Owens fighting for #2 – 4 CB spots. The Free Safety position is also up in the air with youngsters Tashaun Gipson and Jamoris Slaughter fighting it out.
- Pittsburgh Steelers – While Taylor and Polamalu are starting to show some age their 1-2 punch, similar to the Browns, beats the Ravens. Taylor is no longer a shutdown corner like Haden, and may never be, but is smart and wily veteran. Polamalu’s partner in the secondary, Ryan Clark, has grown leaps and bounds over the past 2 seasons and is a integral part of their defense. His anemia has not allowed him to play in Denver for the past few seasons, and is an unfortunate problem for the Steelers now with Peyton Manning in the Mile High City. Polamalu has always been a risk taker but has had the talent to back it up. As his health has declined over the past 2 seasons his ability to take risks has gone down, to the point that often he is out of position. Polamalu is more like a linebacker and has been a force to reckon with for years for division foes.
- Baltimore Ravens – The loss of Ed Reed, as well as Cary Williams, is a big hit to the Ravens secondary. Ladarious Webb may be the best CB in the division, between he and Haden, but is looking at a 1st round bust and a former special teams player behind him at safety. Former Raiders bust Michael Huff was not wanted back by the Raiders, which should tell you something, and has big shoes to fill. Its possible a change of scenery is just what he needed, if so the Ravens will move up these rankings quickly. James Ihedigbo will try to fill the other safety spot after his first 6 years were primarily as a special teams player. Opposite of Webb is 7th year man Corey Graham who has started to emerge as a solid CB and will take over for Cary Williams. The lack of standout talent beyond Webb and relying on a bust and two 7 year backups places the Ravens at the bottom of this list.
What did we miss? How would you rank these 4? Did we “disrespect” your team? Tell us what you think.