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State of AFC North: New division leader; Browns refuse to go 0-16

The Ravens shut down the Steelers to take the division lead. Cleveland’s defense is worse than you think, but one player promises the Browns won’t go 0-16.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens snapped their three game losing streak to improve to 4-4, and they now hold the AFC North division lead. Meanwhile, the Steelers lost their third straight game in Ben Roethlisberger’s return to action. The Browns are one step closer to the impressive 0-16 mark.

The Baltimore Ravens (4-4) beat the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4): 21-14

Baltimore has a throwback defensive game

It was the biggest game for the AFC North so far this season. The Ravens and Steelers both had big names returning after missing action. The Ravens got Steve Smith Sr. back, and the Steelers saw Ben Roethlisberger get back on the field after missing one game due to knee surgery.

The real story and, what decided this game, was Baltimore’s defense that didn’t allow Pittsburgh’s offense to cross midfield until the fourth quarter. The Ravens contained Antonio Brown and the Steelers until garbage time. The Ravens were able to move Roethlisberger from his spot more often than not, and the Steelers had to rely on their recovering quarterback more than they would’ve like. Roethlisberger threw 45 times. The Steelers weren’t able to get the ground game going and the Ravens made Le’Veon Bell look pedestrian with 32 rushing yards on 14 attempts. Even when you’re playing from behind, why would you give up on Bell? That doesn’t seem to be a good strategy for the Steelers, so, we hope they use that more going forward.

The Ravens benefited from an early lead created by an impressive 95 yard catch and run from former Steeler Mike Wallace. The nail in the coffin was provided by the special teams. A dimension of the game that had let the Ravens down during their three game losing streak won them this game. They blocked a punt in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown.

The Ravens and Steelers now each have a 4-4 record, while Baltimore also now owns the lead in the AFC North with their fourth straight win over the Steelers. The Ravens will have a quick turn around with a Thursday night game against the Browns. Pittsburgh will have a tough time ending their losing streak against Dallas next week. With all that said, the Bengals are just a half game out of first place in the division, with a lowly 3-4-1 record.

Antonio Brown not happy with teammates in loss

Brown wasn’t happy with the effort from the rest of the offense against Baltimore. Brown says he faced triple coverage a lot on Sunday, and when that happens he expects someone else to make a play.

"They need to find a way to step in, step up and make plays," Brown said after the game. "It's been about eight weeks so far, and that's what we've been seeing -- double coverage. Today, it was triple coverage with the linebacker coming over, and we just have to find ways to win. Other guys have to step up."

He could directly be talking about Sammie Coates who dropped a potentially game changing touchdown in the fourth quarter that would’ve made it a one score game. However outside of Eli Rogers, who had six catches for 103 yards, the rest of the receivers disappointed.

Le’Veon Bell also didn’t provide much. He had 70 total yards including 6 catches, but his ability to run the ball was taken away mostly due to the situation of his team never having the lead.

Brown isn’t wrong though. If the rest of the receivers can’t make plays then he will continually be facing impossible coverage all game long.

Steve Smith Sr. calls out Mike Mitchell

Smith’s beef with Steelers safety Mike Mitchell started last season. In 2015, after Smith got speared and hurt on a play he heard Mitchell say, “how do you like that”? while clapping his hands and celebrating. This is the same guy who targeted Bengals wide receivers last year and after knocking out Marvin Jones on a massive hit, walked over to A.J. Green and said, “you’re next”.

Class act, right? (Click here for eight of Mitchell’s all-time dirtiest plays.)

After the game, Smith was asked if playing Mitchell inspired or angered him. He said, “he ain’t on my level, he never will be. He ain’t even on the same level as my kids.” It’s not like Smith is someone Bengals fans like, but, Mitchell is among the people Bengals fans dislike most. He is a dirty player who continually gets away with sleazy moves, just like how he hurt Smith in 2015 and then celebrated.

Mitchell has been an overrated players for a little while. He is a throwback player who is struggling in a modern league where safeties are asked to cover more and more. Mitchell also doesn’t help out the Steelers’ criticism of Vontaze Burfict. Many Pittsburgh fans called out Burfict for apparently celebrating injuring Bell last season. Burfict ran across the field to the Bengals sideline after stopping the Steelers on third down, but Steelers fans thought he was celebrating an injury he didn’t know occurred. Meanwhile, multiple NFL players are calling out Mitchell for literally taunting them after dangerous hits, and what are Steelers fans saying about that?

Smith and the Ravens got the last laugh in Week 9. Mitchell would be wise to keep his mouth shut next time, and probably play a little less recklessly.

The Cleveland Browns (0-9) lost to the Dallas Cowboys (7-1): 10-35

Cleveland suffers embarrassing loss at home

The Browns took an early 3-0 lead in the first quarter against the Cowboys on Sunday. That was the highlight for the Browns. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott dominated from then on. The Browns didn’t put up much resistance though. Prescott had three passing touchdowns. Elliott didn’t eclipse 100 yards rushing, but he did have two rushing touchdowns.

Cody Kessler was an efficient 19 of 27 with a touchdown, but when your leading receiver is your running back, Isaiah Crowell with 63 yards, it tells you a lot about how the game went. And get this, all 63 of those yards came in the first quarter. Kessler missed a couple deep shots to Corey Coleman, who made his return after not playing since Week 2.

The Browns are now 0-9, but one player made it known that they won’t tie history. Rookie linebacker Chris Kirksey pledges 0-16 will not happen in Cleveland. He went on to say that it is motivation for him.

We’re not going to go 0-16,” Kirksey said after the Browns dropped to 0-9. “That’s for a fact. We’re not doing that. Things are going to get on a roll, and we’ve just got to keep fighting.”

To be fair, this wasn’t a “winnable” game for the Browns, but their best shot may be against a Ravens team that is flying high after beating the Steelers on Sunday. Probably not though, the Browns are not favored to win any of their remaining games.

Also in the first quarter, on the down prior to the Browns taking their only lead of the game with a field goal, center Cam Erving and Dallas pass rusher David Irving were both ejected from the game for unnecessary roughness. They were fighting with each other on the field, after the whistle and Erving threw Irving’s helmet off his head. John Greco took over at center and rookie Spencer Drango took over Greco’s typical job at guard. It’s safe to say that didn’t help the Browns on Sunday.

Cleveland’s defensive struggles are more than talent

It isn’t that the defense let the Cowboys score. The Cowboys have the best offensive line in the league, and their rookies have been playing well. It is the fact that the Browns made a habit out of leaving receivers wide open. It started with newly acquired Jamie Collins who seemed to think he was passing off coverage of Jason Witten to a safety down field. The only problem was there was no safety help. Witten caught an easy touchdown. Miscommunication was a constant for the Browns coverage all game. That can be expected as Collins had just joined the Browns days earlier, but, it can’t continue and should be a good lesson learned moving forward.

In the NFL it is unheard of to have several big plays where defenders simply don’t know what their teammates are doing. However, the Browns are giving up 30 points per game, and a lack of talent isn’t the only thing responsible for that. If players aren’t even in the right spot, you have to turn your attention to the people lining them up and telling them what to do. A change in defensive coaching may not be a more than a year down the road.

AFC North standings: