Two weeks into the NFL season, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have pulled away from the rest of the AFC North pack, as they both stand at 2-0. Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals sit at the bottom of the division at 0-2.
The Ravens seem to be winning a war of attrition as they place their league-worst 15th player on IR. The Browns struggled against the Ravens’ defense. Just how good is the Steelers defense after beating up on the Browns and Vikings?
Baltimore Ravens (2-0) defeated Cleveland Browns (0-2): 24-10
After adding Yanda Baltimore now up to 15 players on IR
The Ravens are undefeated, but at this rate they may not have a team to field at the end of the season. Baltimore added Marshal Yanda to IR after suffering an ankle injury against the Browns. The rest of the AFC North have a combined 15 players on IR to put this in perspective.
The Ravens aren’t that far off from when they placed over 20 players on IR in 2015. It is hard to pin it on just bad luck at this point.
Yanda is a significant loss as the Ravens seem recommitted to the run game, and it has been paying dividends as it has helped the Ravens jump to a 2-0 start. However, Yanda was responsible for a lot of that success being one of the best guards in the NFL.
The Ravens’ offensive line was already thin after Alex Lewis was placed on IR and projected starting center John Urschel unexpectedly retired before the season. The team was forced to add Austin Howard after the Raiders dropped him, but even then they are starting players they never expected to rely so heavily on at this point.
Ravens’ defense shows Week 1 wasn’t a fluke
For the second week in a row the Ravens forced five turnovers, and it is clear they have one of the league’s best defenses. It is true they mostly faced off against rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan, but they made the plays placed in front of them.
The Browns quarterbacks regularly tried to squeeze balls into tight windows, and most of the time they were punished with interceptions. The Ravens also stripped Kizer early in the game after he held the ball far too long.
It is safe to say we should start to expect a lot of games like this going forward for Baltimore.
Coleman broke his hand during loss
This is a painful loss for the Browns. Corey Coleman will miss a good portion of the season with a broken hand. Cleveland was already searching for weapons to help out their rookie quarterback, and now one of his best ones goes down for a significant amount of time.
It doesn’t help that Kenny Britt and Sammie Coates seem to not be caring about giving a full effort play in and play out.
Top of the screen is Sammie Coats (10), bottom is Kenny Britt (18). Who gave less of a shit on this play? pic.twitter.com/kEWmeIsMz4— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) September 18, 2017
That is clearly something that needs addressed. Luckily the Browns had Rashard Higgins break out during the game. He finished with seven catches for 96 yards, so the Browns will likely reward him with some more playing time. Still that cancerous effort needs addressed if the Browns hope to climb out of this 0-2 start without Coleman.
Kizer struggles against Ravens’ defense
Kizer had a rough day Sunday. He left the game at one point with a migraine, but he still finished with 15 completions out of 31 attempts to go along with his three picks and a fumble.
The major difference between this game and his debut was the inability to protect the football. His fumble came after he sat in the pocket far too long, and most of his picks were just bad throws. One came in the end zone on a pass that was way behind his intended target, and another he rifled to Duke Johnson Jr. who was about five yards away from him. The pass deflected off Johnson’s hand into the waiting arms of a Ravens’ defender. He clearly still needs to learn when to take some off of his passes.
These are the lumps you take starting a rookie quarterback. You have to hope he learns from them, and improves next week. Kevin Hogan did score the Browns only touchdown in Kizer’s absence, but he also threw the worst interception of the game when he forced it into triple coverage.
Anyone looking to sit Kizer in favor of Hogan really need to examine the situation better. The Browns aren’t a borderline playoff team yet. Hogan had one good drive. Kizer gave them a chance to beat the Steelers in Week 1. These reps will help Kizer in the long run. Just sit tight and hope for the best.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-0) defeated Minnesota Vikings (1-1): 26-9
Bryant provides boost
The Steelers came into Sunday’s game against one of the league’s best defenses. The Vikings also wanted to test their defense against one of the better offenses in the league. Although without Sam Bradford the Vikings had little hope of actually winning the game.
The Vikings did a very good job of containing Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell on Sunday, which would’ve been a recipe for a close game last season. Bell finished with 87 yards on 21 carries for a 3.2 yards per carry average, and Brown only had five catches for 67 yards.
This is where Martavis Bryant changes the game for the Steelers. He took advantage of an aging Terence Newman in man coverage for a touchdown, and he made a field position changing play on a jump ball that no Steeler on the roster last season would’ve made.
He may have only had three catches, but Bryant’s contribution helped keep the game out of reach for the Vikings.
How good is the Steelers’ defense?
It is hard to measure how improved the Steelers’ defense actually is after their first two games. They have had very favorable match ups with the Browns debuting Kizer against them, and then they faced a Vikings team starting their back up quarterback.
They have played pretty well in both instances though. Against the Vikings, the Steelers made everything difficult for them. The only touchdown for the Vikings came after two big plays and then a one-yard dive into the end zone. Other than that Minnesota failed to really move the ball all day. Pittsburgh also pressed Kizer plenty of times while sacking him seven times.
Even though the Steelers haven’t played an impressive offensive opponent yet, they have proved they are capable of dominating. It doesn’t appear they will be tested most of the season either. Especially if the Ravens and Bengals don’t figure out their offensive problems. The only other four remaining teams with good offenses seem to be the Packers, Lions, Titans and Patriots. Three of those four teams they will also be playing in Pittsburgh.
It appears Pittsburgh’s defense may have an easy path through the Regular season.