AFC North Notes: Bengals, Browns, Ravens, Steelers

     

Bengals

Bengals HC Zac Taylor made the decision a few weeks ago to turn to fourth-round rookie QB Ryan Finley ahead of veteran QB Andy Dalton. The reasoning was solid, as Dalton likely won’t return to Cincinnati next season and the Bengals needed to see if Finley could show enough to justify passing on a quarterback with the possible No. 1 overall pick. Finley was so bad, however, that Taylor couldn’t justify playing him over Dalton any longer without facing tanking accusations. 

“We just want to win, and that veteran presence he has will certainly be helpful through all the things we’ve experienced on offense, and he’s got great experience,” Taylor said via Tyler Dragon of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We’ve obviously had our challenges on offense, regardless of who’s playing quarterback.”

Browns

Browns DC Steven Wilks’ praised CB Denzel Ward‘s performance since Week 8’s game against the Patriots and has also been “lights out” in practice. 

Denzel is playing lights out since he came back against the Patriots, and it starts with how he is practicing. Denzel has just been lights out in practice, and you can see that in a game,” Wilks said, via Marla Ridenour of the Beacon Journal

Ward also believes that he has played better progressively throughout the season. 

“I feel I have been playing pretty well. I still have a lot of things that I still have to work on, though, and prove that,” Ward said. “I feel that I have been playing a lot better ball than towards the beginning of the season.”

Ravens

Now that Ravens QB Lamar Jackson has surged into the lead for the MVP race, the pre-draft criticism of him as a quarterback prospect has come under increased scrutiny. Concerns about Jackson’s inaccuracy were so bad that some thought he would have to move to wide receiver in the NFL.

Former Ravens OC Marty Mornhinweg, in addition to saying he never considered playing Jackson at anything besides quarterback, said the work Jackson put in as a rookie to address that part of his game is showing this season.  

“He worked so hard on that with [QBs coach] James [Urban], every day, pre-practice, post-practice—wide base, short step, stay open!” Mornhinweg said via Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. “He’d throw across his body just a little on occasion, narrow base on occasion, all those things. Throughout the year, you’d look back at him, he’s working at it, and man alive, he made just a huge jump. And you’ve got to give Lamar the credit because he’s the one ultimately that did it.”

Steelers

Steelers RB James Conner (shoulder) said he had a “minor setback” in Week 11’s game against the Browns and could require surgery if he isn’t mindful.  

“I need to be smart. If I’m not, then surgery will need to be done. I had a minor setback vs. Cleveland. It’s killing me not being out there. The ligaments need to get stronger,Jeremy Fowler of ESPN

  • Per NFL Media’s Aditi Kinkhabwala, Steelers HC Mike Tomlin said the decision to bench QB Mason Rudolph for QB Devlin Hodges isn’t indicative of Pittsburgh’s “intended plans” for Rudolph. 
  • Tomlin said Rudolph’s penchant for turnovers at this point is why he’s making the switch: “I got a lot of patience for young guys, but one thing we got to do is protect the ball.”
  • In that area, Tomlin believes Hodges can be an improvement: “I’m not going to talk expectations. I expect (Hodges) to not kill us.” (Brooke Pryor)
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