After two weeks of the 2022 NFL season, are you not entertained? If you are a Ravens fans, you probably didn’t find last week’s fourth quarter very entertaining, but besides that, this has been a weird, exciting start full of drama. Good on the field drama with thrilling finishes and big plays, not the off the field drama that was so prevalent this past offseason.
It seems like all four fanbases in the division are grumbling and have valid reason to do so.
The least upset seems to be the Cincinnati fans. Disappointed, sure-they ought to be at 0-2, but they remain hopeful, probably still basking somewhat in the glow from their unexpected Super Bowl trip last season. A lot of things went right for them last year.
So far this season, plenty has gone wrong. Losing their long snapper during the Steelers game almost certainly cost them a win. There is no way Bengals kicker Evan McPherson, a post-season hero as a rookie last year, misses a game-winning extra-point and 29-yard field goal with normal snaps.
It looks like training camp work actually is meaningful, which is my theory on QB Joe Burrow’s sluggish start. Burrow threw four interceptions vs. the Steelers, one of them a pick-six, and averaged a paltry 5.5 yards per pass attempt in Dallas. WR Ja’marr Chase, a big-play receiver who averaged 18 yards per catch in 2021, sits at only 12.2 in 2022.
Perhaps the most troubling sign for Cincinnati is the pressure defenses continue to put on Burrow when he drops back to pass. The new, improved offensive line looks a lot like last year’s deficient one, allowing 13 sacks in the first two games. According to ESPN, that the most to start a season in at least the last 20 years. It’s not just about keeping Burrow upright, even though that is vital. He needs to have the confidence in his line to stay in the pocket and let his receivers run their routes downfield that turn into big plays.
Until then, the offense will likely stay in neutral, and the Bengals could be flirting with disaster.
The Cleveland Browns are already there. Their defense, anticipated to be a strength of the team, has twice lost late two-score leads to open the season. Their rookie kicker Cade York bailed them out with a 58-yard field goal to sneak them past the Carolina Panthers (and Baker Mayfield, whose 75-yard touchdown pass had put them ahead late) in the opener.
The Browns were not as fortunate last week, when they lost to the Jets by scoring a touchdown. Yes, star RB Nick Chubb scored on a 12-yard run to put Cleveland up 30-17, which should have been insurmountable, even after last week’s hero Cade York missed the extra point. Unfortunately for the Browns, if Chubb had not scored, the Browns could have run out the clock since New York was out of timeouts.
Enter Joe Flacco. Remember him? Of course you do, and fondly I expect. He didn’t seem like much of a threat against the Ravens in week 1, but when the Jets got the ball back with 1:55 to go in Cleveland, Elite 2012 Playoff Joe made an appearance. His 66-yard touchdown pass to Corey Davis pulled them within six, and he led New York to the winning touchdown after they recovered an onside kick. Flacco wound up with 307 yards and 4 touchdown passes in the Jets’ stunning 31-30 win. Please watch this video of Flacco in the postgame locker room acting like the homecoming queen had just said she would go to the prom with him. You’ll enjoy it.
Chubb admitted his mistake, but star DE Myles Garrett was upset…at the fans for booing after they blew the game. Myles, given the Dawg Pounds’ history, you should be happy they were just booing. A fan was arrested after the game for throwing a water bottle at Browns owner Jimmy Haslam. Police expect the fan was intoxicated. Really? What were the odds of that. Stay classy Cleveland fans.
Speaking of annoying fan bases, Steelers Nation is not at all happy with their offense, or rather lack of such. Starting QB Mitch Trubisky has been rather meh so far, averaging only 5.1 yards per pass attempt with a dismal 76.1 QB rating. Pittsburgh fans did not even make it through their home opener, a 17-14 loss to New England, without chanting for rookie QB Kenny Pickett, the local college hero.
The question being debated about the Steelers’ offense is who should receive the blame. Trubisky? Offensive coordinator Matt Canada, a favorite target of the fans? What about head coach Mike Tomlin? It seems to me that Canada and/or Tomlin are not showing much trust in Trubisky and calling a very conservative game. They have good weapons in their wide receiver room but are not taking shots down the field. If they don’t trust Trubisky, then give Pickett a shot, but it seems like they should at least give their QB a chance to make plays.
Trubisky made a huge clutch throw in overtime against Cincinnati which kept their game winning drive alive. Their defense is good, but without T. J. Watt for at least several weeks with a pec injury, they’re probably not good enough to carry the team. The Steelers need to cut loose and find out what their offensive playmakers can do instead of focusing on them avoiding screwups.
Speaking of playmakers, the 2022 Baltimore Ravens have them, and will have more when J. K. Dobbins and others return from injury. Lamar Jackson got off to a slow start against the Jets but was clearly hitting his stride against the Dolphins. After two weeks, he owns the longest completed pass and run from scrimmage in the NFL. I did not share the concern others had about Baltimore’s WR room, and I’m feeling rather vindicated so far. Rashod Bateman is a stud, and Devin Duvernay is a solid receiver and an explosive kick returner.
Ah, the defense though. Sigh. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but injuries are thinning out the outside linebacker and secondary groups. With Josh Allen and Joe Burrow coming up in weeks 4 and 5, that needs to get fixed in a hurry! I’m confident this team will shake off the meltdown against Miami, although that will be quite a test for rookie defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. That, as they say, is why they get the big bucks.
Two important Thursday night games are coming up, Pittsburgh at Cleveland in week 3 and Miami at Cincinnati in week 4. The winner of the Steelers-Browns game will find themselves, somehow, tied for first in the division, but likely not for long. Flip a coin. The Bengals need Burrow to get back to form if the Dolphins offense continues to roll. I have to lean Cincinnati since they are at home, but not with any confidence at this point.
The Ravens travel to New England in week 3 before hosting Buffalo in week 4. Baltimore really needs to beat what looks to be a mediocre Patriots team. They do NOT want to be 1-2 when the Bills come charging in. After watching Buffalo destroy the Rams and Titans, I can’t pick against them.
The Bengals travel to New York to take on Joe Flacco’s Jets in week 3. Cincinnati really needs to win that game, and they should. A loss would further shake the confidence of that team, and it should.
In week 4, Pittsburgh hosts the Jets as New York finishes its tour of the AFC North. Again, this is a game the Steelers need to win and should, but I don’t have any confidence in them and would personally love to see Flacco continue his hot hand. Cleveland heads to Atlanta in week 4. No team should lose to the Falcons this year, and the Browns will have extra prep time. I can’t pick against the Browns here, but I also acknowledge that team’s ability to screw this game up.
Note from the North
With their week 1 win against Pittsburgh, Cleveland broke an amazing streak of not winning their opener since 2004 (against the Ravens). They kept another streak alive-the franchise has not won their first two games since 1993 when their coach was Bill Belichick and their QB was Bernie Kosar.
Cincinnati is the first defending AFC champion to start 0-2 since Denver in 1999. The Broncos were breaking in a new QB after John Elway had just ridden off into the Rocky Mountain sunset.
Lamar Jackson ran for over 100 yards for the 11th time against Miami, breaking Michael Vick’s career record for a QB.
Until next time, you can follow me on Twitter @jimjfootball and check out my other work at jimjfootball.com
Jim Johnson spent most of his life in Maryland, growing up with the Orioles, the Colts, Terps, and later Ravens. He started his sports writing career as “The Courtmaster,” covering the Terps and ACC hoops and was a frequent guest on Bob Haynie’s old WNST show and other sports talk across the region. He is currently in his second run at BSL. After previously covering Maryland and Big Ten Football, he now writes about the NFL, primarily the action in the AFC North. Jim covers both current and historic stories, seeking perspective and having fun in the process.