The Black and Blue Division? Maybe a few years ago.
It’s still not for the weak, but the AFC North Division is changing. There might still be a few low-scoring December games in the snow, but teams are being built for big plays and plenty of scoring — and defenses are being built to combat that.
The new AFC North is a passing division, and Thursday night’s first round of the NFL Draft reflected that.
The Cleveland Browns took a pass rusher in Barkevious Mingo because their new administration believes they can never have enough of them; the Browns have also been trying to bring down Ben Roethlisberger since approximately 2004.
Could they have taken a cornerback? They sure need one. But they have Joe Haden, and that whole not-tackling-Roethlisberger thing looms large, especially as the Browns switch (again) to a 3-4.
The Pittsburgh Steelers got Jarvis Jones at pick No. 17 Thursday night because that’s what the Steelers do, and because they need to get to opposing quarterbacks.
The Cincinnati Bengals seem to have reached the stage of being able to take their favorite available player instead of addressing a particular need, and there was a certain strategy in their selection of tight end Tyler Eifert.
The Baltimore Ravens a few months ago gave Joe Flacco the password to all their private and public bank accounts after he threw a bunch of touchdowns and helped the Ravens win the trophy everybody plays for. Money issues forced them to give away Anquan Boldin and watch Ed Reed walk, but they signed Elvis Dumervil and hope to have a healthy Terrell Suggs to rush the passer.
The defending champions closed Thursday’s first round by picking Florida safety Matt Elam. He’s probably more ready to contribute against the run right now, but the Ravens historically know what they’re doing. And they know what got them the trophy they just got.
There’s still room for Ray Rice and Trent Richardson, among others, to make game-changing runs. And the Browns, for one, still wish they knew what they were getting from their passing game. The NFL is a passing league — even if this isn’t a quarterback’s draft — and teams have to adjust and select players accordingly.
In Jones, the Steelers got a highly productive college player who fell out of the draft’s top tier due to a medical condition (stenosis) and a subpar pre-draft workout. In Pittsburgh, he’ll plug right in to an outside linebacker spot in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense and be asked to go get the quarterback, an act with which he’s very familiar.
If everybody’s healthy, the Bengals will boast a receivers group headlined by Pro Bowlers A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham that also includes Eifert, a productive and intriguing 2012 rookie before suffering a season-ending injury in Mohamed Sanu, diminutive but dangerous Andrew Hawkins in the slot and two more 2012 rookies with potential in Marvin Jones and tight end Orson Charles.
The Eifert pick was about making opposing defenses pay for playing a deep safety to Green’s side — and probably about getting maximum effort from Gresham all the time, too.
That’s a stacked lineup. It’s time for Andy Dalton to deliver.
There’s plenty of drafting still to do, and each team has needs to address. The Steelers need to improve their running game to help their passing game. The Bengals need a safety, the Browns need a safety and multiple cornerbacks, and the Ravens can keep drafting the best players still available.
They have their quarterback — and their formula. The other three AFC North teams are trying to catch up in what shapes up as a very interesting arms race.