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State of AFC North: Steelers crush Ravens; rift between Hue Jackson and Browns’ front office?

Did the Steelers win over the Ravens prove they are the team to beat in the AFC? Is Joe Flacco holding the Ravens back? Are the Browns a bigger mess than we realize?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed against the Baltimore Ravens in the fight for the top of the AFC North, but does that make them the team to beat in the AFC?

The Cleveland Browns got embarrassed by the Cincinnati Bengals and fell to 0-4. It may be time the Browns stop putting all the pressure on their rookie quarterback.

Baltimore Ravens (2-2) lost to Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1): 9-26

Bell returns to form against Baltimore
Le’veon Bell had a rough start to the season as far as his standers go, but against the Ravens, he came alive. Bell finished the game with 35 carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns. He also added four catches for 42 yards.

The Steelers offense really did pretty well overall, but it was clear they wanted to get the threat of Bell going to help open up the passing game. Ben Roethlisberger finished 18 of 30 for 216 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He struggled at times, but Bell kept the Steelers afloat along with the defense.

It’ll be interesting to see Bell’s workload going forward, but 39 touches a game can’t be sustainable. The Steelers rookie running back James Conner kicked in four carries for 26 yards (23 of which came on one run). The Steelers may want to send some of Bell’s touches his way if they want Bell healthy for the playoffs.

Flacco continues to struggle
Joe Flacco has one game this season where he has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions. In the past two weeks, Flacco has thrown one touchdown compared to three picks.

On a day where the Ravens defense held the Steelers pretty much in check, the Ravens offense failed to contribute. The Ravens had one long drive that resulted in a touchdown, which was setup by a 50-yard Alex Collins run. Their only other points came from the Ravens defense causing a turnover inside the Steelers’ 20-yard line.

Flacco was sacked four times, but it didn’t seem like he was comfortable all day. The Ravens passing offense hasn’t really been a strength all season. If the Ravens want to prove they are for real Flacco needs to start pulling his weight. Especially for a guy who complained about not throwing it enough during their win over the Bengals Week 1.

Are the Steelers this good or are the Ravens actually bad?
Plenty of NFL experts are claiming the Steelers to be the team to beat in the AFC now. It is mostly based on the fact that the Patriots just lost to the Panthers, and they haven’t looked great defensively all season. The Raiders lost for the second straight week. Also, the Chiefs, the last remaining undefeated team, was on a bye this week.

The NFL is all about what you’ve done for me lately, but it is hard to say if a win over the Ravens is as impressive as people are making it out to be. Baltimore dominated a Ravens team without Vontaze Burfict and had an offense led by a bad coordinator. They also defeated the Browns, which is as impressive as it sounds. They followed up this 2-0 start by getting shutdown by the Jaguars and Steelers. Baltimore may not be a bad team, but it doesn’t look like they are good.

Overall it just seems like the process of elimination has led to the Steelers being thrust to the top of the pedestal this week. We shouldn’t forget their embarrassing loss to the Bears last week. The only other teams besides the Steelers with three wins in the AFC include the Chiefs, Broncos, and surprisingly enough, the Bills.

Cleveland Browns (0-4) lost to Cincinnati Bengals (1-3): 7-31

Jackson refuses rift with front office
Hue Jackson made some comments following Week 3 that led people to believe there was a rift between the coaching staff and the front office. Then this week he claims he doesn’t blame fans for leaving early according to

"It pains me. It does,'' Jackson said after Sunday's 31-7 loss to the Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium. "I see it all. I saw everything here today because we all want to give them what they deserve. We didn't today. I understand our fans leaving. I probably would have, too. We weren't playing good enough. I respect that."

It is clear Jackson isn’t happy with a 0-4 start after going 1-15 his first season. Still, he has a very young team again this season. He is also starting a rookie quarterback. He hasn’t really tried to get the run game going though. The Browns only ran the ball 12 times aside from DeShone Kizer scrambles.

Jackson has every right to be mad about not being given a roster that is able to compete, but he has some fixing to do on his end as well.

Browns need to help Kizer if they want to win
It was another rough outing for Kizer. The rookie was 16 of 34 for 118 yards. His interception came off a dropped pass by Kenny Britt, which brings up the first issue with a major reason the Browns haven’t won a game: Kizer needs help.

Kizer’s receivers continue to struggle. Even when he has time to find them and deliver a pass they drop it an outrageous amount. He seems to trust Duke Johnson Jr. through who caught nine passes Sunday.

The running game needs to be featured more. It is clear Kizer can’t put this team on his back and lead them to victory. He at least needs a balanced attack. Isaiah Crowell hasn’t been given a chance to get going all season. He had seven attempts against the Bengals.

This isn’t to say Kizer is innocent. There were plenty of times he threw passes at the ankles of his receivers, and he stood back in the pocket a little too long on occasion, but he got benched for his performance. Maybe it is time some of his weapons get benched.