AFC Notes: Bengals, Browns, Steelers


Two years of big investments in the draft and free agency have seemingly finally come together for the Bengals defense. They’re in the top ten in a number of key defensive stats and metrics. Big free-agent additions like DT D.J. Reader, DE Trey Hendrickson, S Vonn Bell, CB Chidobe Awuzie and CB Mike Hilton have played key roles while draft picks like Logan Wilson and Akeem Davis-Gaither seem to have shored up a long-standing weakness at linebacker. All of this will of course be put to test in a major way in Week 5 against the Packers. 

“We’ve got guys that are young and competitive and were brought into what we were doing,” Reader said via the Athletic’s Jay Morrison. “Guys are smart, selfless, players that are going to go out there and put it all on the line. You don’t have the big names that every other defense has, and nobody really talks about (us). And that’s fine. We don’t care. It’s just that we’ve got guys that are going to grind.

“That’s what we’re building our team off of. Everybody holds each other accountable. Nobody’s out there holding their feelings on their shoulders or anything like that. Everybody’s holding each other accountable. You mess up, you get yelled at. We correct it the next play and that’s the way we go about it. We always pick each other up and we’re going to tell you when you mess up. I love it. I love the accountability we have on this defense right now.”

  • Per ESPN’s Seth Walder, in a survey of NFL analytics staffers, the Bengals were dinged again as one of the organizations that embraces analytics the least: “I mean, the Bengals are an easy target. I just know how their scouting department works, and you look at their directory online. They have one guy? Their decision-making isn’t quite there yet. I don’t know for a fact that they’re worse than anyone else, but they’re an easy target, and I’m probably right.”
  • The Bengals hosted DB John Brannon and DB Michael Thomas for workouts this week. (Aaron Wilson)
  • Cincinnati signed Thomas to their practice squad. 


Browns QB Baker Mayfield continues to be critical of himself after his poor performance on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

“I’ve got to do better. It’s just flat out simple,” Mayfield said, via “There’s not much else I can say. I need to do a good job of taking advantage of my opportunities and staying on track. I pride myself on being extremely accurate. And today, I don’t know what the hell that was. (They were) good enough for us to win when I’m playing quarterback like that. Thankfully they played like that. There’s a lot of easy throws there that I think I missed.”

  • Per ESPN’s Seth Walder, in a survey of NFL analytics staffers, the Browns were far and away viewed as the most analytically advanced, toppling last year’s winner the division-rival Ravens. 
  • Browns GM Andrew Berry gets a lot of credit for that in league analytics circles: “[He has] a very unique combination of people skills, general intelligence — obviously he’s got a strong IT and data science background — and he’s trained as a scout in the league. He’s got a unique blend of all those things.”
  • Mayfield said he’s been wearing a harness on his injured left shoulder but doesn’t think it’s affected his throwing: “It shouldn’t.” (Nate Ulrich)
  • Browns HC Kevin Stefanski ruled out first-round CB Greg Newsome II (calf) from Week 5. (Scott Petrak)


Steelers DE Cameron Heyward knows that his team has struggled over the first few weeks of the season and thinks the team needs to execute better and make big plays in order to win going forward.

“I think we’re a work in progress. I think everybody understands that there are plays to be made. There’s execution and details that have to be corrected,” Heyward said, via Teresa Varley of “If we look back at our games, some are self-inflicted and then some you’ve got to understand what’s going on and understand how to do a little bit extra in those roles. Sometimes you need big plays, whether they come from the offense, defense, or special teams. We’ve been close to some big plays. But they haven’t happened. And we’ve got to make those a recurring theme so we can get these Ws.”

  • Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger said he’s dealing with some soreness but the plans to play in Week 5. (Ray Fittipaldo)
  • Regarding Pittsburgh’s 1-3 start to the season, Roethlisberger said they feel determined to turn things around: “I’m not giving up on this season. No one in this building is.” (Ray Fittipaldo)

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