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AFC North Spin cycle: Here comes Pittsburgh

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Posted Oct. 29, 2012 @ 1:55 p.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Here come the Steelers. And hey, look, the Browns won! We recap how the two AFC North teams in action Week Eight fared in PFW’s “Spin cycle.”

BROWNS

What we learned: The Browns (2-6) didn’t play close to their best — and they still ground out a 7-6 win vs. San Diego on Sunday. Give the Browns’ defense heaps of credit; the offense could get little going in rainy and windy conditions after Trent Richardson’s 26-yard first-quarter TD run, but the Chargers never found the endzone. The Chargers missed some opportunities, with WR Robert Meachem’s drop of a likely TD pass in the third quarter the biggest mishap. Overall, though, the Browns’ defense was sound and strong. The Browns' offense, for its part, did barely enough. It didn’t turn the ball over, and on its deepest advance into San Diego territory, it scored. Richardson (24 carries, 122 yards) had a very good game, considering his rib injury and the conditions. The passing game was limited and conservative, but QB Brandon Weeden (11-of-27 passing, 129 yards) made a few nice throws, and his arm strength was a key asset, given the weather. It appeared he was a little more well-suited for the conditions than the Chargers’ Phillip Rivers, whose longer passes have some loft to them. With the win, the Browns are now 1½ games behind the Bengals (3-4, on bye in Week Eight) for third place in the AFC North.

What’s in store next: In the final game before their Week 10 bye, the Browns host the Ravens (5-2). In the first meeting between these teams on Sept. 27, the Ravens won 23-16, but the Browns were competitive in defeat. The Ravens have dominated this series in John Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach, winning all nine meetings, but Baltimore was well off-form before its Week Eight bye. The Ravens’ defense, usually a great strength, is now a weakness. Also, the Ravens have been a far better team at home this season. The Browns will have to step up their play to upset the Ravens, who are quite a bit better than San Diego, but their best game could give Baltimore quite a scare if the club’s pre-bye problems persist.

What the heck? The Browns’ offensive play-calling struggled to strike the right balance. After a botched double reverse squandered great field position given by a fumble recovery late in the first quarter, the play-calling was predominately conservative. It was also a little predictable, and the Chargers’ defense time and again forced Cleveland into punting situations. The Chargers also played it safe on offense, but they seemed to do a much better job of mixing some variety into the play-calling. The Browns, by contrast, really seemed to be limited in what they felt comfortable running.

STEELERS

What we learned: The Steelers, who knocked off the Redskins 27-12 on Sunday, are honking the horn and waving at the Ravens, who can now see their division rivals right behind them. Pittsburgh (4-3) is starting to get into gear, and just as Baltimore (5-2) tries to sort out a list of pressing issues too long for comfort. The Steelers’ manner of victory Sunday was full of healthy signs. The defense held a strong Washington offense to 255 yards and one TD. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III completed just 16-of-34 passes for 177 yards and a score, and he was held to eight yards rushing. On offense, the Steelers again got a big performance from third-string RB Jonathan Dwyer (17 carries, 107 yards). QB Ben Roethlisberger (24-of-33 passing, 222 yards) threw three TD passes and wasn’t sacked once. What’s more, the Steelers didn’t commit a single turnover.

What’s in store next: The Steelers have the tough task of facing the defending Super Bowl-champion Giants (6-2) on the road. As formidable as the Giants are, however, they can be streaky. On Sunday, they let a 23-0 lead at Dallas completely slip away before rallying for a 29-24 win. The Giants’ biggest problem is their defense, which generally struggles vs. the run but faltered vs. the pass in Week Eight. The Steelers’ improved balance on offense could present some challenges for New York.

What the heck? PR Antonio Brown’s backpedal into the endzone on an apparent third-quarter punt-return TD would have cost his team 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct on the ensuing kickoff. Alas, the touchdown was wiped off the board on Curtis Brown’s penalty for an illegal block above the waist. It was an all-around poor play for the Steelers on a day full of highlights. 

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