Now that mini-camp is over, the Pittsburgh Steelers are off until they report to training camp at St. Vincent in Latrobe on July 25, 2012. While our focus will constantly be on the Steelers, it is time to do an early preseason positional breakdown of the AFC North as a whole, to see how the Steelers stack up. First on the list for review it the quarterbacks.Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Big Ben is the top quarterback in the AFC North and a top-five quarterback in the league right now. With a career passer rating of 92.1, he appears to be hitting his prime poised to build on an already solid foundation including two Super Bowl rings and three AFC championships. Over the past three seasons, Roethlisberger has completed over 61 percent of his passes and averaged 3,868 yards and 21 touchdowns per season, a great feat for someone who is injured as often as he is. With a new offense built to allow him to stay healthy, his numbers could be even better in 2012.
2. Andy Dalton, Bengals: Number two on the list is the Red Rifle himself Andy Dalton, who last season became the only rookie quarterback in NFL History to throw 20 or more touchdown passes, while winning eight or more games as a starter. His only issue last season came in the form of the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, whose defenses shut him out with a 0-4 record. The rest of the league was much easier for the rookie quarterback, leading the Bengals to an impressive 9-3 record (9-7 overall) and a Wild Card Playoff birth while accumulating a solid 80.4 passer rating. With the addition of a few more weapons on offense and a full offseason in the system, a sophomore slump should not be in Dalton’s future.
3. Joe Flacco, Ravens: Third on the list is Joe Flacco, the final experienced and known starting quarterback going into the 2012 season in the AFC North. Flacco, is an enigma for fans and coaches alike. While he has one of the better winning records as a starting quarterback to this point in his career (44 wins in his first four NFL seasons), he still cannot get over-the-hump. In fact, he takes the blame in the public eye every time the Ravens lose (even if the team lacks an offensive identity) because of the teams’ solid running game and superior defense. Yes, it does not help that he has been the poster boy for inconsistent quarterback play over his career, with last season being another roller coaster with four 300-yard passing games to only be shadowed by seven games where he threw less than 200 passing yards. If the Ravens develop a consistent identity, Flacco could move up on the list, but until then he is solidly behind Roethlisberger and Dalton in the AFC North.
4. Brandon Weeden, Browns: Fourth on the list is Brandon Weeden, who has yet to be declared the starter for the Cleveland Browns, but all signs point to it happening in the near future. While Colt McCoy did not set the world on fire during his time as a starter, he did play in an offense that lacked weapons, and it is somewhat a head-scratcher that the Browns would pull the plug so quickly (especially for a quarterback that turns 29-years old before taking a regular season snap as a rookie). Fans will see that Weeden does fit the scheme and has the size and arm strength to develop, but it has been unseen if his age and poor decision making under pressure will outweigh that in the NFL.
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