AFC Notes: Bengals, Browns, Ravens, Steelers

     

Bengals

Last year at LSU, one of Bengals QB Joe Burrow‘s defining traits was his proficiency and aggressiveness with the deep ball. So far, though, that hasn’t translated to the next level for Cincinnati’s No. 1 overall pick. Burrow is just 1-12 on deep attempts through two games and it’s a big point of emphasis for the rookie. 

“That’s something that’s an emphasis for me this week, is just getting that right,” Burrow said via Tyler Dragon of the Cincinnati Enquirer. “We’ve also just played two styles of defenses that don’t give up big plays and keep everything in front of you and make you check it down and make you work down the field. But we’ve also missed some opportunities to put the ball down the field. We are gonna get more opportunities. We just have to connect on them.”

  • Burrow has struggled to connect with WR A.J. Green in particular. The two connected on just three of 13 targets last Thursday, with Green acknowledging his long layoff hasn’t helped: “I’m still rusty. I’m still learning in this system. Still trying to get comfortable in some of the routes I’m running. Just little things like that. I knew there would be some growing pains.” (Paul Dehner Jr.)
  • Green is currently playing under the franchise tag at $18.171 million. A second tag would be $21.8 million and likely doesn’t make sense for the Bengals. (Joel Corry)

Browns

Browns QB Baker Mayfield and WR Odell Beckham did a lot to quiet the noise surrounding the team last Thursday when they connected on a deep touchdown pass. Beckham led the team in targets but was much more efficient after catching just three of 10 passes in the opener. Mayfield thinks they have an encouraging building block to go off of. 

“Yeah, I think so,” Mayfield said via Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot. “We had a few more completions last Thursday so just continue to build that, get the ball in his hands and let him make plays.”

Mayfield also acknowledged there are a lot of weapons for the Browns on offense and just one ball. However, he’s confident the system will sort it out and not put any pressure on him to be responsible for players’ touches. 

“I would say yes but that’s something in the offseason just knowing to trust the system, go through my reads, not try and force the ball, get it in those guys’ hands and trust that we have everybody around the field that I can trust to do that,” Mayfield said. “They can go out there and make plays. . . . AVP and Stefanski have said many times to trust that their play calling will get the ball in guys’ hands to get them going, and I just do my job.”

  • In a survey of NFL analytics personnel by ESPN’s Seth Walder, the Browns were highlighted as one of the most analytically advanced teams and one of the best at incorporating analytics into their decision making. 
  • One staffer thinks the Browns have the best foundation going forward, particularly with GM Andrew Berry: “I think that Cleveland is probably positioned to be the most analytically advanced in 2020 and beyond. They have a robust infrastructure in this area that survived multiple regime changes and is now aligned philosophically with their head coach and general manager.”

Ravens

  • In a survey of NFL analytics personnel by ESPN’s Seth Walder, the Ravens were highlighted as the most analytically advanced team and the best at incorporating analytics into their decision making. 
  • One staffer credited Ravens HC John Harbaugh with embracing the analytics department: “You saw how aggressive the Ravens were on fourth down last year. It’s because Harbaugh trusts the numbers, he trusts the analytics there. What Harbaugh has done is truly amazing. He has changed the culture of the team to believe in this stuff.”
  • Former agent and CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry notes the franchise tag at $15.439 million seems the most likely course of action for the Ravens and LT Ronnie Stanley absent an extension. 

Steelers

  • The Athletic’s Ed Bouchette points out the fact that the Steelers didn’t negotiate many extensions with their pending free agents in 2021 should be a clue toward how likely they are to keep them. 
  • Bouchette thinks Steelers OL Matt Feiler and Zach Banner could be Pittsburgh’s top priorities to re-sign next offseason at the expense of WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, RB James Conner and OLB Bud Dupree, though Conner’s market might not be prohibitive to keep him and he’s a Pittsburgh homebody.
  • Per the Athletic’s Mike Sando, an NFL executive thinks the Steelers are fair for having Smith-Schuster play out his contract year: “He wasn’t as productive without Antonio Brown, and you also add in the variable of not having Big Ben. What is JuJu? That might be determined after this year. People will probably say is he is not a one, but he’s better than a two.”
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