AFC North Notebook: Rushing yards hard to come by

BY foxsports • October 18, 2013

The weather is slowly changing, and the really big games that will decide the AFC North Division are yet to be played.

If the AFC North teams don't start running the ball better, some of those games might be of the 6-3 variety.

Six weeks into the season, the Steelers have the league's second-worst rushing offense. The Ravens aren't much better at No. 27, and the Browns had their best running game of the season last week to climb to No. 22.

Only the Bengals are averaging more than 100 yards per game on the ground at 110.3 on a very pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry. Rookie Giovani Bernard has injected some pop into the Bengals running game and has also been a threat in the passing game out of the backfield; Bernard has accounted for four total touchdowns on 60 rushing attempts and 20 catches; he leads all NFL rookies with 438 yards from scrimmage.

With 230 rushing yards, Bernard is the AFC North's leading rusher. The Ravens have the next two, with Bernard Pierce (206) and Ray Rice (197), Willis McGahee has 164 yards to lead the Browns, who ran five times for just 11 yards in the second half last week vs. the Lions.

LOOKING BACK: Bernard was drafted with the second-round pick the Bengals got in the Carson Palmer trade with the Raiders, which happened two years ago this week.

The Bengals are the only AFC North team that hasn't made an in-season trade this season. The Browns moved Trent Richardson to the Colts for a 2014 first-round pick after two games. The Ravens moved two mid-round picks to Jacksonville for tackle Eugene Monroe, and the Steelers sent a conditional pick to the Cardinals for tackle Levi Brown.

That didn't work. Brown got hurt during warmups for last week's game at the Jets after the active roster had already been submitted. Brown has since been placed on season-ending injured-reserve. The Steelers now list Kelvin Beachum as their starting left tackle; Ohio State alum and 2012 second-round pick Mike Adams is his backup and was inactive last week after starting the Steelers first four losses.

GETTING IT FIXED: Some of the running woes across the division can be chalked up to teams playing good defense -- both the Browns and Ravens have top-10 run defenses at this early stage -- and opportunity. When the 1-4 Steelers finally had a chance to put a game away last week, they had 61 of their 73 rushing yards in the second half against a very good Jets front.

Second-round pick Le'Veon Bell missed the Steelers first three games but has 16 attempts in each of his two games since returning and looks to be the starter going forward, though so far he has just 91 rushing yards.

Besides two short touchdown runs in a loss at Buffalo two weeks ago, Rice has played well below his standard with the Ravens. He missed one game with a hip injury and offensive line struggles have plagued the Ravens, who have also been playing from behind more than they're accustomed to. The Ravens for the season are averaging just 2.7 yards per rush, lowest in the league for any team besides the Jaguars.

The Steelers rank in the bottom third of the NFL in rushing defense this season but have only allowed seven 100-yard rushing games since 2008; Rice has two of them.

WHAT'S AHEAD: The Bengals (4-2) will try to win their third straight game this weekend at Detroit, which won in Cleveland last week to allow the Bengals to move into first place alone. The Browns (3-3) go to Green Bay for the first time since 2005, when they got then-coach Romeo Crennel his first win.

The Ravens (3-3) visit the Steelers having won three straight regular season games in Pittsburgh, each by three points. In the last 10 regular season games in the series, each side has won five, the average difference is score is fewer than three points and the difference in average total yards is also fewer than three.

So, buckle up. And expect it to come down to the finish.

BY THE NUMBERS: It's been ugly for the Steelers, but Ben Roethlisberger leads the division with a 65.6 completion percentage, ahead of much-maligned Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week, at 65.1. Joe Flacco is at 57.9 percent completions for the season, and Brandon Weeden is at 56.2.

The touchdown to interception ratios aren't pretty: Dalton is best at 8-to-6, with Roethlisberger at 6-to-5. Flacco has thrown seven touchdown passes and eight interceptions, while Weeden has three touchdown passes and four interceptions. In his two-plus games with the Browns before tearing his ACL, Brian Hoyer threw five touchdowns and three interceptions.

QUICK HITS: Since 2010, the Steelers are 14-1 when Roethlisberger's passer rating is above 100. It was 113.8 vs. the Jets last week... That Steelers offensive line will look to keep Roethlisberger upright against a Ravens pass rush that has 22 sacks on the season, second-most in the NFL... Browns tight end Jordan Cameron's 38 receptions through six games are the most by any Browns pass-catcher in team history... The Browns and Texans are the only teams not to allow a 100-yard rusher or a 300-yard passer this season... Counting playoffs, Sunday marks the 100th consecutive start for Flacco... The Ravens are off next week and play at Cleveland on Nov. 3, which is the next AFC North intra-division game.


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