John Steigerwald: Measuring Steelers, Browns, Ravens delusions
Whose fans (and, in some cases, media) are more delusional, the Cleveland Browns’, the Baltimore Ravens’ or the Pittsburgh Steelers’?
The fans are fired up in Cleveland because the Browns have one of those “Quarterbacks of the Future,” and they won more than two games last season.
The Sporting News picked them to win the AFC North.
Baker Mayfield looked like a solid NFL quarterback by the end of last season. The Browns won five of their last seven. He had 17 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, three of which came in his last game. They added Odell Beckham Jr., and they’ll have a rested Kareem Hunt for the second half of the season.
In case you’ve forgotten, the Baltimore Ravens are the champions of the AFC North.
They won it by going 6-1 in their last seven games while the Steelers were throwing up all over themselves, losing four of their last six.
Steelers fans and quite a few in the media like to dismiss the Browns, either because they’re the Browns or because they’re from Cleveland or both. They were better than the Steelers in the stretch run.
Steelers fans and quite a few in the media like to dismiss the Ravens because they have a running quarterback and their coach, John Harbaugh, said he plans to revolutionize NFL offenses with Lamar Jackson.
Did I mention that they finished 6-1?
Jackson was the starter and never threw more than 25 passes in that stretch, with no interceptions in his last five games. He ran the ball 129 times in those seven starts. After a terrible first half in the wild-card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, he finished strong with a chance to win at the end.
Ben Roethlisberger averaged 47 passes in his last seven games, including two losses when he threw more than 50.
Steelers fans and many in the media seem to be convinced the Steelers will be better without one of the best wide receivers in the league and his 104 catches, 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns. They’re even more convinced that they’ll be better without Le’Veon Bell again.
James Conner had a great year. The Steelers would have been better last season with Bell and Conner.
There is no way they win nine games without Brown.
So, who’s more delusional? I’d call it a tie right now.
The Browns being competitive sure makes it a lot more interesting.
• You’ll have to excuse me for rooting for the Ravens offense to succeed. All NFL fans should if they’re tired — which they should be — of the league’s dink-and-dunk offenses.
Give John Harbaugh credit for having the guts to try something different. He’s staked his career on it.
The Ravens drafted Jackson with the sole purpose of building a completely different offense around him.
How often have NFL teams drafted QBs like him and then tried to force him to use less of his talents?
Remember Kordell Stewart? Twenty years ago the Steelers had an offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride, who would yell at him after long runs because he ignored what Gilbride considered to be an open receiver.
Stewart was a better runner and a better passer than Jackson. He was about 15 years ahead of his time.
Harbaugh is smart enough to have Robert Griffin III as Jackson’s backup. Too often NFL teams start a mobile quarterback and have a guy who can’t get out of his own way as his backup, which limits the ability to totally commit to building the offense around the starter’s mobility.
Remember Kent Graham?
Maybe Jackson will get hurt because of all that running, but quarterbacks are just as likely to get hurt in the pocket.
Harbaugh went as far as inviting former Georgia Tech and Navy coach Paul Johnson, who’s an expert on the triple option, to OTAs.
Talk about breaking up the monotony.
Here’s what Harbaugh told ESPN: “We’re probably doing iPhone 1 now. We have a whole new idea. It’s not that there is anything new in there, concept-wise, that has never been done in football before. But the way we put it together, to me, is unique and different.”
If you like the NFL, you should be rooting for unique and different. There sure hasn’t been a lot of that going around lately.
John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.