Idle Chatter – Week five in the AFC North

1. Rams rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein is getting a lot of pub for his four field goals longer than 53 yards this season. Eight of his 12 field goals and three longer than 50 have come in a dome. What would people be saying about Phil Dawson if he kicked inside at home?

Pat McManamon: They’d be saying what they should say now: That he’s clearly one of the best since 1999, and perhaps one of the best ever. Dawson in a dome would make Zuerleinís 53-yarders feel like extra points. Zuerlein has some impressive kicks, there’s no doubt. But Dawson had three kicks longer than 50 yards — in one half. Please. Zuerlein has been more than impressive through five games. Dawson has been a pro’s pro and beyond impressive for 13-plus seasons. And he’s done it kicking in a stadium with lousy weather, terrible wind and a bad surface. His away games in the division? They’re no picnic either. If Dawson’s name isn’t on the Browns Ring of Honor one day, then the team should just move to Ketchikan.

Zac Jackson: Zuerlein appears to have a rocket for a leg, and favorable conditions certainly help. Dawson is not only a picture of consistency but he seems to better now than he’s ever been while doing something so few can do well for any sustained period of time. Dawson does not get his proper due nationally because of the Browns’ struggles, but there are few teams that wouldn’t take him in a minute. Maybe next March they’ll get their chance, but either way Dawson has put together a career that’s been nothing short of remarkable. 

2. Is Greg Little saveable?

McManamon: Well, Torrey Smith of Baltimore had the dropsies as a rookie, and Smith was taken one pick ahead of Little. This season, Smith is catching everything he can get his hands on. So with approach, dedication and concentration a guy can improve. That being said, Little hasn’t. And he’s showing no signs of improvement. The more he drops the more he’ll be asked about it. The more he’s asked about it the more it’s in his head. And the more it’s in his head the more he’ll drop. This is called, technically speaking, a dangerous cycle. Little needs a drop-less game soon. Very soon.

Jackson: Tough questions this week, eh? This season, and with this current team? Probably not. All the change at Berea has not only led to too many draft reaches like Little was 18 months ago, but to a team that just doesn’t have the overall maturity and leadership the best NFL teams do. A veteran receiver might help, and Little still is basically a kid living in a very grown-up world, but receivers who do not catch the ball consistently are generally doomed to short(er) careers and constant struggles to stay confident and produce. 

3. Conversely, A. J. Green. AFC Player of the Month. Three touchdowns. Averaging 15.9 yards per catch. What’s the ceiling for this guy?

McManamon: It’s hard to forget him in the locker room the day the Bengals lost to Houston in the playoffs last season, saying “I’m ready to go right back to work.” And he did. Green is a special player with the right approach. By the time his career is over he could be among the game’s elite. Until that happens, he’ll keep making Andy Dalton look really, really good.

Jackson: The moon? Green has all the gifts, that extra gear and a business-like approach. Plus, he has a quarterback and an offensive coordinator that trust him and constantly feed him the ball, and rarely does he let them down. Green drops one every now and then, needs to get stronger and has some learning to do, but he’s a joy to watch and a true Grade-A weapon in a passing league. Stay tuned. His career could really be one to remember. 

4. Pittsburgh’s game with the Eagles Sunday means all AFC North teams have reached the quarter-pole of the season. What’s the biggest division surprise to date?

McManamon: That the Bengals offense, led by Dalton and Green, is so effective. There were reasons to believe it would be good, but the way the Bengals are playing it’s not far-fetched to think they can win the division. Pittsburgh has age and speed issues. Baltimore’s defense is clearly not all-that anymore. The Browns Ö well. Cincinnati has an opportunity to build momentum with its early schedule, and take that momentum into the tougher part of the season. If it carries through, Cincinnati could be the champs.

Jackson: That the Steelers are going to be 1-3 or 2-2. The schedule didn’t exactly work in their favor, but not many saw a loss in Oakland coming. There’s time, and with a new offensive coordinator and key veterans returning from injury it’s entirely possible that the Steelers will eventually run off five or six wins in a row. The Bengals needed to put wins together early — and they have. The Ravens easily could be 4-0. The Browns are — well, see above. The Steelers not yet being the Steelers is probably the division’s biggest surprise. 

5. Browns at Giants, Bengals vs. Dolphins. What happens on Sunday?

McManamon: The Bengals pick is easy. Cincinnati wins as the offense continues to roll and Geno Atkins continues to prove he is one of the league’s best defensive tackles. In New Yor…err…Jersey there seem to be a lot of things that favor the Browns. Philadelphia ran for 191 yards on the Giants last weekend. The Giants secondary is struggling. This could be a chance for the Browns rookies to get something done. But they still are facing Eli Manning, and though the Giants are banged up at receiver Manning always finds a way to get things accomplished. New York can’t afford to let this one get away, not after starting 2-2. The Browns will play hard and compete, but New York wins by a touchdown.

Jackson: The Bengals will have to work for what they’ll get against a tough Miami front seven, but the combination of Green and the Dolphins being on their second-straight road game will lead to the Dolphins wearing down. Jay Gruden, Andy Dalton and Green are in a groove, and the return of Carlos Dunlap has helped the pass rush and the defense as whole. The Giants come in banged-up but angry. The Browns come in 0-4 and off a little extra rest, but we’ve seen little — and Little — the last three weeks to indicate the Browns could build and sustain a lead here. Giants by 10.