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Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations

Happy Monday, fellow MHR community members. It's time for another version of ST&NO. We're getting to the part of the offseason where I am really starting to long for the preseason to start. When you get your information from your eyes, your eyes start to miss having anything to look at. Here's hoping the next 8 weeks goes by quickly.

Today, we'll look at the AFC North, since the Broncos will play all 4 teams this season. We'll also talk about some of the few headlines around the league, and maybe talk a little Brandon Marshall. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry (if it is your wont to cry over weird things.) It will be shallow, and narrow. Ready.... BEGIN!!!

1. As previously mentioned, our around-the-league discussion turns to the AFC North this week. As I live in the first suburb west of Cleveland, I get a fair amount of exposure to the division, so, hopefully that helps me with this 8-week road show I am on. See you after the jump.

a. Pittsburgh Steelers (2008 Record 12-4, Won Super Bowl)

Smart Personnel Moves - Kraig Urbik, a 3rd round choice from Wisconsin, has a chance to start at Guard on the Steelers' terrible offensive line. He is a big, physical run-blocker, who fits the personality of the team. I think Ziggy Hood is a good 4-3 DT, but I have my doubts about him as a 5-technique DE in the Steelers' style of 3-4. Giving Kevin Colbert the benefit of the doubt, and assuming Hood's skill set translates well, he'll probably be a rotation contributor as a rookie. Shaun McDonald is an average slot WR, which is better than the Steelers have had in that role lately.

Questionable Personnel Moves - Not that Marvel Smith is a great player, because he isn't, but I don't see how you let him leave when your offensive line is already one of the worst in the NFL. Max Starks sure isn't the answer on a 1-year, $8.5 million deal. I'm also not Bryant McFadden's biggest fan, but he'll also be somewhat challenging to replace. I didn't really care for the rest of Pittsburgh's draft, but they have to hope that either Joe Burnett or Keenan Lewis can contribute at CB as rookies. I am also not sold on the full-time promotion of Lawrence Timmons or the release of Larry Foote. Truth be told, I almost never like Pittsburgh's offseasons, so take it for what it's worth.

ST&NO Outlook - The Steelers will do what they have been doing for 35 years. They'll run the ball, stop the run, and pressure opposing QBs. Their potential for improvement comes from Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed, their top 2 picks in 2008, who gave the team virtually nothing as rookies. Both are talented, and if they develop their skills, could add new dimensions to the Steelers' offense.

This team will have to keep Ben Roethlisberger healthy, which I expect they'll have some trouble doing. Their line (Did you hear? It's awful) really struggles in pass protection, and I don't expect the arrival of Urbik to substantially change that. The defense should again be good in the front 7, but I expect that a team which can pass-protect, like the Broncos, will be able to accomplish some things against their below-average secondary.

The Steelers will again be in the mix to play in another Super Bowl, but I expect them to take a half-step backwards from last season.

b. Baltimore Ravens (2008 Record 11-5, Lost in Divisional Playoffs)

Smart Personnel Moves - I like virtually their entire draft, which is typical for them. Michael Oher is a big-time talent, and I think he will eventually move Jared Gaither to RT, where he really belongs. Paul Kruger is a high-motor pass rusher, and a favorite of mine. I expect him to compete for snaps right away. Jason Phillips was an undervalued ILB from Texas Christian, and represented good value in the 5th round. I expect him to help make up for the loss of Bart Scott. On the free agency front, I liked the low-dollar signings of CB-RS Chris Carr and TE L.J. Smith, and I think both can make the team and contribute. The Ravens had to re-sign Ray Lewis, and did it eventually.

Questionable Personnel Moves - They lost the talent exchange huge in signing C Matt Birk, and letting Jason Brown leave as a UFA. Brown is a mauler, who fit the Ravens' style, and Birk is totally a finesse guy. Domonique Foxworth is a great guy, and an average CB, and there's no way he warranted a 4-year, $28 million contract. He can't replace Chris McAllister, who was cut in a somewhat weird salary dump. I also would take Jim Leonhard over Dawan Landry any day, and I think the Ravens should have tried harder to retain Leonhard.

ST&NO Outlook - I believe that the Ravens overachieved in 2008, and I expect them to take a step backwards to 8-8 or 9-7 this season. I didn't address the loss of Bart Scott in either of the two categories above, but I think it will hurt the interior of the defense. I also think the only above-average player in the secondary now is Ed Reed, and that portends for trouble. I do like the promotion of Greg Mattison to defensive coordinator. He worked as co-Defensive Coordinator at the University of Florida for 3 years, which is how I came to be familiar with him.

On offense, Joe Flacco had a very nice rookie season, and I'll be interested to see what kind of improvement he experiences in his second year. The offense isn't great, and if the defense isn't dominant, it would be hard to imagine them having a lot of comeback ability. That's the scenario which I envision for the Ravens in 2009. They'll be well-coached, but a little short on talent.

c. Cincinnati Bengals (2008 Record 4-11-1, Missed Playoffs)

Smart Personnel Moves - In the draft, I really liked the selection of TE Chase Coffman from Missouri. I think he will grow to become their best pass-catcher at TE since Dan Ross in the 1980s. On talent, you have to like T Andre Smith, ILB Rey Maualuga, and DE Michael Johnson, but all three are considered major threats to underachieve. Since we're in benefit-of-the-doubt mode, we'll just focus on the talent for now. In my opinion, Laveranues Coles is a more threatening player than the departed T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and they got him for less than Who's-your-mama cost Seattle. I liked the trade for RB Brian Leonard, which fell a little under the radar. He has some similarities to Peyton Hillis, that I think Bengals fans will enjoy. They also paid reasonable money (2 years, $7 million) for Cedric Benson, who really played pretty well for them last season.

Questionable Personnel Moves - I would have moved WR Chad Ochocinco out of town, and not thought twice about it. With the signing of Coles, and the high draft picks spent on Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell last season, Ocho isn't worth the headache that you know he is going to be. I think J.T. O'Sullivan is a big downgrade from Ryan Fitzpatrick as a backup QB, which I guess reminds you how little I think of J.T. S Roy Williams is not the answer for the Bengals secondary. He ought to just move to WLB, where he may actually be able to be a good player.

ST&NO Outlook -The Bengals are likely to struggle again in 2008. The main reason they have been so consistently bad is their cheap approach to business. Their coaches are all low-paid relative to their peers, and you don't get quality that way. The team should have fired Marvin Lewis two years ago, but money seems to have prevented that. The Bengals spend by far the least money on scouting, and they rely very heavily on The National service for their evaluations.

Offensively, the key variable is Carson Palmer. I believe that he has never been the same player since that catastrophic knee injury in the 2006 playoff game. Now, he is coming off a serious elbow injury, and he chose not to have Tommy John surgery for it. I am not terribly optimistic for him, or the Bengals' offense.

The defense will be bad against the pass, but could improve against the run, if Keith Rivers returns from injury well, and Rey Maualuga is able to help some against base personnel packages on first and second down. The Bengals need better play out of Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall at CB, as both were first-round picks.

c. Cleveland Browns (2008 Record 4-12, Missed Playoffs)

Smart Personnel Moves - Their best moves were non-moves. It was the right thing to do in holding on to Brady Quinn and Braylon Edwards. People here in Cleveland are down on Edwards, but if he plays better, that will be a distant memory. Fan attitudes in Cleveland change like the weather. I liked the acquisition of DE Kenyon Coleman, S Abram Elam, and QB Brett Ratliff in the trade for the #5 overall pick. Regular readers will note that I don't like top-10 picks, but Coleman and Elam are likely to start, and I think Ratliff will end up backing up Quinn. Brian Robiskie will be a good possession WR, even if the Browns over-drafted him. I really liked the acquisition of Mike Furrey in free agency. He is one of the best slot guys in the NFL when he is used correctly.

Questionable Personnel Moves - I didn't care for the Alex Mack pick on a couple of levels. I like Eric Wood better, but that's a difference of opinion. Really, though, the Browns needed to take Chris Wells or Donald Brown. The Browns' RB situation is abysmal, and it's hard to have an identity as a running team, without the horses to do it. Kevin Shaffer was lousy at RT, but John St. Clair is worse, so I don't see how you let Shaffer go. Sean Jones should have also been re-signed. In the draft, I was not a lover of the Mohammed Massaquoi pick. I have seen him a lot, and he is just a guy.

ST&NO Outlook - I think the Browns are on the right track, generally. If any team needs a coach to ignore the howls of the local radio idiots and their un-knowledgeable callers, it's the Browns. Eric Mangini is the embodiment of the guy who doesn't care what Mike Trivisonno thinks about anything. You hear about stuff like the rookies taking a bus trip, and coaches working until midnight, but I tend to think Mangini's prickliness is OK, because he knows how to build a program. He was on the way in New York, and he got hamstrung by the Favre expectations, and then lost his job when it didn't work out.

I am nearly certain that Brady Quinn will win the starting QB job. He is very technically sound, and he processes the game really quickly and decisively, which is the opposite of Derek Anderson. The left side of the O-Line is very good, although there are odd rumors that Eric Steinbach is out of favor, as noted in this space last week. I think that Jamal Lewis is washed-up, and that rookie James Davis may beat him out for a lot of carries.

The defense is kind of a disaster story. NT Shaun Rogers is outstanding, and I have always liked CB Brandon McDonald (who was the burnee on Eddie Royal's 93-yard TD last season.) Beyond that, I am not too fond of anybody on their defensive unit. Eric Wright has talent, and may improve, and Kamerion Wimbley could be good if he ever learned to do anything more than speed rush.

We'll see the Browns in Week 2, but they are at least one draft away from being very scary. I'd rather be them than the Bengals, though.

2. I think it is absurd that Brandon Marshall may face additional discipline if he is convicted in the Watley case, which has now been postponed until August. It seems to me that the NFL is having it two ways, and that it's unfair. Think about it like this. In the Paul Tagliabue days, the League always waited until after legal matters were resolved to levy punishments. Roger Goodell has asserted his right to rule before legal matters are finalized, and in fact, it seems that that is standard practice.

So, when Marshall was suspended last year, for getting arrested a few times, it seemed that that penalty encompassed this allegation, as well as all of Brandon's past transgressions. That the NFL is saying they can still penalize Brandon for the known allegation would not be fair. Guru said that he speculated the NFL's position to be maintenance of flexibility in the event that new allegations emerge in this trial, which would be slightly more understandable. My position is that the underlying allegation has been penalized, and that the NFL should stop saber-rattling, and do nothing further. I would say that even if we were talking about Philip Rivers.

3. Brett Favre had surgery to fix his shoulder. Good times, huh? It looks like he'll be a Viking this season. It says here that Brett will not deliver a championship for them, and that they'll struggle to even make the playoffs with him in the lineup. He is a chemistry killer at this point in his career.

4. I liked what I heard from Josh McDaniels about how he planned to use Peyton Hillis this season. I think any smart coach would look for ways to use a guy like Peyton, in both the running and passing games.

5. Coming back to Marshall, I don't think that there is very much substance to this business about him holding out for more money. It is just the kind of thing that a Pork Chop or one of his ilk will try to make a big deal about, to fill some space. While I am sure that Marshall would like more money, it's not a big deal until he starts skipping mandatory events.

6. Mike Lombardi had an interesting nugget in his Sunday at the Post column.

Word I hear out of Denver is that the Broncos are very happy with both quarterbacks. However; Kyle Orton should be the starter when the season starts. Chris Simms is getting better with each practice, speeding his game up and making decisions faster. But Orton still has the upper hand.

My goodness, two QBs who can play? Who saw that coming? How could a team be happy about Orton and Simms?

With a slow news week comes a short list. We'll see you next week, for more ST&NO. We'll talk about the AFC East, and anything that may come up this week.