We take a look at the headlines around the AFC North as Week 5 begins.
Baltimore Ravens vs Cleveland Browns: Sunday 1:00 P.M. EST
The biggest x-factor in Sunday's game is Justin Forsett
Coming off his best performance so far this year, Justin Forsett will look to replicate that production off a struggling Browns run defense. A huge part of Forsett's resurgence was just the Ravens deciding to stick with running the ball. Through the first three weeks he had 39 carries and never eclipsed 70 yards rushing. On Thursday night he received 27 carries for 150 yards, that is a 5.6 average. The Browns come in to Baltimore giving up 4.8 yards per carry and 141.5 rushing yards a game. Easy to say that despite the Ravens lack of threats through the air, they still have a very good chance of moving the ball down the field against the Browns.
Could the Ravens trade for another receiver?
With Steve Smith being out for at least week 5, Michael Campanaro being put on injured reserve, and first round pick Breshad Perriman without a timetable for return the Ravens are left with very little at the receiving position. They just traded for Chris Givens, formerly of the Rams, but many have connected them with trades for other receivers from around the NFL. Obviously, major trades are a rarity outside of Madden, but with the trade deadline coming up, and many teams quickly realizing their fate, it isn't so far fetched that the Ravens could acquire a substantial name at wide receiver.
Aside from the big names like Alshon Jeffery and Golden Tate there are some realistic targets for them to bump up their receiving core. One of the most interesting is Kenny Stills, who was recently traded to the Dolphins from the Saints. The Dolphins are quite deep at the position with young players already and with a new direction being taken in the team, they might be interested in dumping some fringe assets for draft picks. In Stills, the Ravens would get the deep threat they've needed all season and have dearly missed since the departure of Torrey Smith. Stills had 63 receptions last year for 931 yards including 10 plays of over 20 yards and six of over 40. He's the deep threat that could get them through Perriman's injury and let Joe Flacco do what he does best, throw the ball deep.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens Sunday: 1:00 P.M. EST
In the new era of statistics, we can now more accurately understand that not all 1-3 teams are created the same. Some teams get there struggling with tough losses to very talented teams, and others lose to teams who aren't exactly lighting the NFL on fire. That is the case with these Brown and Raven teams. While their records are the same and their point differentials are similar, how they reached them is not. While the Ravens certainly aren't at the top of the league, by metric standards they are somewhere in the middle on offense and defense. Meanwhile, the Browns are near the bottom of the league in both categories.
Realistically this game comes down to one thing, the same thing it usually does for the Browns in recent history, and that is stopping the run. The Browns are among the worst in the league at slowing down their opponents' rushing attack. It even showed up during that crucial last drive against the Chargers last week where they let Danny Woodhead scamper for 19 yards on a draw to set up the eventual game winning field goal. The question now becomes can they slow down Forsett who is coming off a 150 yard running game. The answer is, probably not. While the game will likely be closer than a lot of people think, I would predict a similar late game drive by the opposing quarterback, this time with Joe Flacco, to seal or win the Game for the Ravens.
Cleveland Browns will wait and see on Joe Haden, K'Waun Williams
After back-to-back poor performances from this Browns defense it looks like they will at least have K'Waun Williams back in the nickel position, as he was cleared from concussion protocol and back at practice. You would think since Joe Haden was such a late scratch against the Chargers that he would be able to play against the Ravens, but you know what they say about assuming. In any case, it feels like a bigger deal to not have these guys playing than it is to have them.
Without Haden and Williams, the Browns gave up two 300-yard passing games and that would be just one more thing the Ravens could take advantage of, even with their depleted receiving corp. However, even if both of them end up being active and playing they aren't about to be able to help that run defense any more than allowing the Browns to blitz more frequently. Even then it will still create one-on-one opportunities that Flacco is more than capable of taking advantage of, no matter who he has catching his passes.
Pittsburgh Steelers at San Diego Chargers: Monday 8:30 P.M. EST
What Steeler fans are worried about, including expectations for Martavis Bryant's debut
The Steelers are coming off a disappointing loss, but have had plenty of time to prepare for their Week 5 matchup against the Chargers. The concerns of Steeler fans are obvious like what it will take to win and how effective Martavis Bryant will be, who is making his regular season debut after being suspended for the first four weeks.
The answers are quite simple. A heavy pass rush on Philip Rivers, similar to what the Browns did to him last week, and a heavy dose of Le'veon Bell. Even with Bryant's return you have to expect at 2-2 the Steelers will place a lot more faith in Bell, who will be facing a Chargers' defense that allows 4.9 yards per carry and and 126.8 yards per game. After a week where Michael Vick failed to show a lot of chemistry at key moments with his receivers, expect the Steelers to rely heavily on Bell.
Ryan Shazier to return on Monday Night Football
Ryan Shazier's return will hopefully fix the problems during his absence last Thursday. Most notably in fixing that run defense, fresh off a 150-yard beating by Forsett and the Ravens. The Chargers however, haven't hurt anyone running the ball. They average just 3.9 yards per carry which is tied for 29th in the league. They might find Shazier more valuable to help cover Antonio Gates, one of Rivers' favorite targets, as he takes the field for the first time after a four game suspension. With the pressure the Steelers will likely be forcing on Rivers, he will be looking to get the ball out quickly, and you would have to imagine Gates will be a frequent target.