The draft is over and minicamps are starting up, so let’s check in on what’s happening with the Bengals’ AFC North rivals. Browns first round draft pick Myles Garrett may have unintentionally started drama with the most dramatic team in the NFL, the Steelers. The Ravens are built to win a championship like teams did in the early 2000s, but will that same formula still work in today’s NFL? Pittsburgh’s offense won’t have any lack of talent this season, but they may be trusting a rookie with too much responsibility on defense.
After the draft finished many applauded the Ravens’ haul, while criticizing the lack of weapons the team added for Joe Flacco. The Ravens have been a “best player available” team for quite some time, but at some point you need to help out your quarterback, to whom you pay the most money. This has led Baltimore beat writers to come up with the notion that LeGarrette Blount should be a target for the Ravens.... But why?
Let’s start off with the obvious. Flacco needs someone to throw the ball to. How is Blount going to help out the passing game? Mike Wallace is fine for taking the top off the defense, and Breshad Perriman does about the same. However, unless Perriman develops into that guy who can run every route and constantly beat double coverage the Ravens passing game is in real trouble. To be fair, the Ravens have some talented tight ends, but Baltimore relied heavily on Steve Smith Sr. during his time with the team, and there is a serious concern as to who will pick up his workload.
The even more obvious issue is that Baltimore already has an incredibly crowded backfield. Terrance West who emerged last year as a major contributor in the run game just signed his restricted free agency tender to re-join the team. The Ravens also brought in Danny Woodhead from the Chargers, and they have Lorenzo Taliaferro who is a capable backup. Not to mention, they will get Kenneth Dixon back from suspension after four weeks after he had a productive rookie season.
I’m not sure where Blount fits into this equation of somehow helping the Ravens. He is a talented running back, but the Ravens already have those. The Ravens offensive concerns come directly from the receiver position and offensive line. Blount simply isn’t the missing piece.
Can a great defense and power run game still win?
The Ravens spent all offseason greatly improving their defense. It was the focus of free agency and the draft. This has left the Ravens with only one option on offense which is to try and pound the ball like an old school running team. It is pretty similar to how the Ravens won their first championship with Ray Lewis leading one of the best defenses of all time, and Jamal Lewis carrying the load on offense. But can that formula still hold true in today’s NFL?
Probably not. Simply, put it was easier to have a dominant defense back then. The NFL has changed plenty of rules to favor the offense since that time, and the league’s passing attacks have become far more wide open because of it. The Ravens will have a good defense, but it isn’t going to be that good that their offense doesn’t have to put up points consistently.
Then comes being a run-first team. It is just really hard in today’s pass-happy NFL. If done correctly, it can work, but the Ravens’ offensive line is going to look very different next season after losing a couple of starters. Whether these new guys come in and can create some running room is still a question. To be clear, the Ravens still have to be able to move the ball through the air. If they just want to ground and pound to win the time of possession battle, the most overrated stat, then it won’t work.
Last year, the Raven’s offense was far too pass happy. This season, it’s sounding like they may be a little too heavy on running the ball. They will have to find a balance to be able to take advantage of having an amazing defense.
One of the biggest headlines from the draft for the Browns was their second round pick DeShone Kizer. Surprisingly, no one cared that they had three very solid first round picks who should make some instant contributions. It is all about the quarterback.
However, this Cleveland regime doesn’t want significant pressure to fall on Kizer too soon.
"Ideally we'd be able to come in and give DeShone some time,” Sashi Brown told 92.3 The Fan. “Again, Hue [Jackson] talked about this. .. making sure he understands that he doesn't feel like he has to have the pressure on him to be the week one starter or even the 2017 starter at some point. We like Cody, we like Brock, we like Kevin and he doesn't need to feel that pressure."
That is all well and good on paper, but Kizer’s time will come this season, and it could arrive very quickly.
First off, look at the guys he is competing with. Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and Brock “I had to be packaged with a second round pick for a team to take me” Osweiler are the only guys in front of him on the depth chart. Kizer could easily climb to second on the depth chart with his only real competition being Kessler, who showed some flashes of playing well in his rookie season, while still going 0-8 in his starts.
The problem with Kessler is his durability. The guy was made of glass last season. Although he was hit quite a bit due to a bad offensive line, that aspect of the Browns’ offense has improved during the offseason. Kessler still is a likely candidate to go down at any point, and once Kizer is thrown out there don’t expect to be able to sit him.
It isn’t so bad though. Kizer was probably the most NFL ready quarterback, from a mental perspective, in this year’s draft. His man concerns come from decision making and mechanics, which Hue Jackson can easily brush up. Kizer will at least be able to run the plays, here as if they drafted Patrick Mahomes, who has been struggling with his playbook, Cleveland would probably be a little bit more concerned.
Garrett’s comments reached the Steelers loud and clear
On draft night, the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL Draft, Myles Garrett was asked which AFC North quarterback he wanted to sack first. Of course, he said Ben Roethlisberger because he is easily regarded as the best of the bunch nationally. The Steelers did notice this, and Roethlisberger even mentioned how he and his offensive line have joked about it.
“I was talking to [center Maurkice Pouncey] after Garrett called me out,” Roethlisberger said. “Pounce got a big kick out of it. All of my linemen enjoyed hearing it. They can’t wait to get started. I can’t either.”
As Bengals fans, we know how far the Steelers will go to go after a player who they think has disrespected them. While Roethlisberger’s comments don’t seem like a big deal it could easily be the seeds of something far deeper. What will the Steelers do the first few plays with Garrett. How will they react if he gets to Roethlisberger. Given the Steelers’ history with these types of things, something dramatic is bound to happen. (P.S. This is mostly joking, but would any of us really be surprised if an offensive lineman for the Steelers tried to send a message?)
Garrett isn’t the kind of person to escalate things, if we’ve learned anything from reports on his character. Still, it will be interesting if he can announce his coming out party soon, considering the Browns play the Steelers Week 1. It will be a good litmus test to see if the Browns are any closer to the middle of the NFL pack after a solid draft.
Steelers loaded on offense, again
Last season, the Steelers showed off their triplets all season long (minus a brief suspension for one of them). Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown were heavily involved in the passing game, and Bell also continued to be productive on the ground. Roethlisberger played well, but he had some low moments during the season where he struggled. It’s hard to say whether it was age or a lack of playmakers outside of Brown and Bell, but one thing is for certain: Talent won’t be a question this season.
Martavis Bryant highlights the “additions” to the offense after returning from a year long suspension. Bryant has been a very talented and well-utilized receiver opposite of Brown. The Steelers severely missed him at times last season. The team will also get tight end Ladarius Green back from injury after having him sparingly last season. Green combined with Jesse James could make for some lethal dual tight end formations. Plus the team added wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round. Smith-Schuster isn’t going to scare anyone deep, but he is a very talented possession receiver.
Simply put, Roethlisberger won’t have any excuses to not be leading one of the best offenses in the NFL this season.
Pittsburgh putting a lot of faith in Sutton
One of the weirdest things about the Steelers’ (weird) draft class was the lack of attention paid to the secondary. After the Steelers were picked apart by New England in the AFC Championship game last season, it was obvious the team needed some serious help in the secondary.
Well, the team is changing their scheme to more of a man coverage heavy defense, a defense that favors the newest member of their secondary, Cameron Sutton. Sutton seems to be on the fast track to taking William Gay’s spot, as the 32-year-old defensive back simply doesn’t fit into a man coverage defense. Sutton has a ton of experience in man coverage, but, he is a rookie. If Sutton does manage to claim Gay’s spot on the defense, expect every team the Steelers face to test him early and often. If Sutton doesn’t hold up it could be a long season defensively for the Steelers, who don’t have much of a pass rush to fall back on either.
For a team that was incredibly close to the Super Bowl last season, you’d expect the Steelers to try and solidify their biggest glaring need either earlier in the draft or through free agency. Instead, the Steelers could be trusting that spot to a rookie. It’s a bold strategy, and we’ll see if it pays off.