Jason Whitlock analyzes why the AFC North is ‘the most physical division in football’

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Whitlock says Ray Lewis and the Ravens set the tone

- Alright, Cowherd. Is AFC North football dirty?

- No, I think people are confusing physical with dirty. What Gronk did this weekend, that was dirty.

- Agreed, agreed.

- Gronk was dirty. I told you, I'd have suspended him multiple games. Is SEC football dirty? No, but when I watch Bama Auburn, and Alabama-LSU, that's intense. Don't confuse intense and physical with dirty. Bill Laimbeer was dirty. Karl Malone was physical. OK, there's a big difference to to me.

- A huge difference. I want to go really big picture now, and I'm glad Ray's here. AFC North football is the Ray Lewis, Dick Butkus division. It's the most physical division in all of football, because of what Ray and the Ravens established in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Ray and them came in with that defense and you had to react to it. Marvin Lewis was the defensive coordinator. And you know how Cincy reacted to it? Let me get Marvin Lewis. Teach us how to play the way the Baltimore Ravens play.

Then Mike Tomlin comes and joins the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dick LeBeau. And he's like, well, the only way to survive in this division is to meet the physicality of Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens.

- Exactly

- It's the most physical division in football. Sometimes, the Steelers and the Bengals get dirty. They did in a playoff game a year or two ago, and it was a disgrace. Monday Night Football, there was one dirty hit in my opinion. Iloka in the endzone--

- That to me, that wasn't dirty. That was illegal, not dirty.

- I think the Juju hit, illegal, not remotely dirty. If I'm a coach, I'm patting him on the back and he never buys a drink in Pittsburgh ever again. But it's the Ray Lewis division--

- Yes. What you're basically saying is there is a culture. Listen, in the SEC, Steve Spurrier was an exception. But mostly, can you run the football and are you good in the trenches? That's Southern college football. When Chip Kelly came up in the Pac 12, everybody started saying, make your linebackers smaller, it's a track meet. That was the culture that was created. I agree with you. I think he helped create a division. It's cold weather, it's sleet, it's raining, it's physical.

- Me and ED was just talking about this. Do we understand physics in football? Eddie George is 245 pounds. I'm 250 pounds. Eddie George running a 4.4 at me and I'm running a 4.4 at him? That's not ending well. That's just not ending well. But when you talk about-- I'm listening to the game. And I'm saying, I'm hearing words like disgusting and this and that. Gruden, stop that. You coached John Lynch. You coached one of the hardest hitters in football, tone setters. And that play that that safety made in the endzone-- that's a tone-- me and ED was talking about it.

- The physics of it. It's just too hard to change direction.

- You can't change direction.

- Once we take off as a defender, and AB grabs the ball, sees the defender, and ducks, he ducks into my target zone.

- Remember that Iloka was not looking at AB to hit him. He's looking for the ball, right. He's trying to make a play on the ball. So in the last second, he has to change direction, redirect, and try to dislodge the ball. And do you think he's aiming for his head or the ball to get the ball out? Now, as he compacts himself, now the target is lower, he gets hit in the head. And that's why I'm saying, judgment. Think about what a player is trying to do. I don't think it's a dirty play. Is it an illegal play, yes, they've said it's an illegal play. The crack back block, they're trying to take that out. I get that. I understand you want to throw a flag on it. Is this dirty? No. Football, defensive football, when it's played properly, it's going to hurt. People are going to get hard hits. Now do I think-- now, this is what I'm going to say. Do I think that's dirty? No. Do I think the league's suspending people because of dirty play? No, they assessed the stupid tax. That's what they did. They're are, like, guys, we can't keep having all these penalties and personal fouls and everything. Now, I understand you guys are physical, but we don't want-- and it's because of what the announcers were doing. We don't want to hear all that.

- By the way, this was a standalone game. Ryan Shazier, terrifying early injury. The tone from the announcers was, OK, we could have a paralyzation situation here. I think that set the tone for the broadcast booth to be let's just slow down the game, because we're all terrified here. And I think it changed the game.

- We're all here boxing fans. How many times have you saw Sugar Ray and Hearns fight?

- Love to watch it.

- Why do you love to watch it?

- Because the brutality of it.

- Because the brutality of it. They're going to give you everything they got.

- I'm not going to let Gruden and McDonough off the hook. Because again, I'm going to say this, and I get Shazier put everything in a bad spot. As a viewer, I was sitting there. But when they're paying you the money that they're paying you to broadcast these games, you're there to handle the tough situation. They don't pay you, oh, when the game is easy to call, they pay you all that $6.5, $7 million because when the stuff hits the fan, you can handle that. They handled it poorly. To me, tried to demonize the Bengals and the Steelers. And it just was wrong. There was to me one dirty hit. There weren't extracurricular fights and tackles and plays like that. There weren't coaches on the field. That game--

- Even the Juju play. If Juju doesn't stand over him--

- If you don't stand over him.

- There's nothing.

- Should be noted that Juju after the game was doing an interview. Antonio Brown--

- In the background.

- --was yelling in the background, "Karma!" They loved that hit.

- And let me tell you why. If me and Eric Davis is walking into our locker room after delivering one of those hits, I may be getting a nice little gift this week.

- He's celebrating.

- I'm celebrating. I'm celebrating for that.

- Look, and I'm just going to keep it all the way 100. There are pictures of Burfict stretched out on that stretcher getting passed around among Pittsburgh Steeler players. Burfict has a history. He had the dirty hit on Antonio Brown that cost them a playoff game. And so, you know, we're trying to present this very sanitized game that everybody who has a casual interest in football will love. Preach the game to me, I love football, but don't worry about the casual fan.

- Ratings up 30% for the game. America loved it.