Totally Biased Feature: Numbers Don’t Lie [AFC North]

In the second of eight articles, our resident NFL writer, Travis Rand, takes a look at the true stars of the AFC North!

After the success of my first piece in the Numbers Don’t Lie series, I am here to deliver the second installment, featuring the very defense heavy AFC North. With players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Reggie Nelson, Haloti Ngata, Troy Polamalu, and Lamar Woodley currently occupying roster spots in this division, you might be expecting a clean sweep of the offense. Not too fast. I’ve dug up some gems that deserve a little bit of credit on the other side of the ball.

Be sure to let me know what you guys think with some comments below. And as always, thanks for the support!

Just in case you missed them:
#1. Numbers Don’t Lie [AFC East] … Published October 13th (Through Wk. 5)

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Cincinnati Bengals: Vontaze Burfict, LB

There are more than a few players on the Cincy squad who are putting up phenomenal campaigns thus far. Wide receiver wunderkind AJ Green has made it his mission to make corner backs to look as foolish as possible, and Geno Atkins is probably having the best season of any interior lineman in the league.

However, it’s undrafted rookie Vontaze Burfict whom I have chosen to highlight here. An animal on defense for Arizona State, Burfict saw his draft stock plummet prior to the 2012 NFL Draft when concerns arose over his character, discipline, and oddly enough, whether or not he played the game too hard. The Bengals are often on the losing end when they taken chances on players with red flags, but sometimes they are able to take advantage and find studs even after the draft has ended.

Through the first three games, Burfict had only seen the field 47 times, and was far from making an impact. However, in week four against the Jaguars, Burfict had a bit of a coming out party, leading the team with seven tackles, and collecting his first career sack. Burfict was rewarded the following week, as he led the Bengals in a more important category, being on defense for a whopping 67 snaps. He has morphed into a great run stopper, and with seasoning, the Bengals could have another key cog on defense

Pro Football Focus Says: Burfict’s run defense ranks 15th for 4-3 linebackers, despite his snap count falling much lower at 24th.

Baltimore Ravens: Marshal Yanda, RG

When you’re unsure if a six year veteran in the NFL has a Wikipedia page, chances are, he flies a bit under the radar. Fret not, Yanda does, but I’m sure that’s the last thing on his mind. The first thing however, is most likely creating Mack truck sized holes for Baltimore’s offensive gem, Ray Rice.

A third round pick in 2007, Yanda is coming off a Pro-Bowl year, with a new payday to boot. He’s making the Ravens front office very happy with their 32 million dollar investment, sporting an enormous +12.1 rating on offense according to PFF, a solid 4.3 points higher than signal caller Joe Flacco. With big injuries on defense to Ladarius Webb and inspirational leader Ray Lewis, it will be up to Yanda and the rest of the Ravens offensive line to help the offense become the toast of the town.

Pro Football Focus Says: Yanda’s +10.1 on run blocking is also the total of the four other members of the Ravens offensive line, and fullback Vonta Leach, combined.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, QB

Sometimes, albeit rarely, the quarterback might not be getting enough of the credit. In Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger is doing almost nothing wrong. Amassing ten touchdowns in the first six games, Big Ben has only tossed two interceptions. He’s been dealing an extensive amount of damage straight down the middle of the field. On throws from 0-20 yards, in between the numbers, Roethlisberger is an astounding 65-81, with 787 yards, and three scores. Big Ben’s passing rating is +14.9, which places him 4th, behind Matt Ryan, Tom Brady, and Eli Manning, and only one spot ahead of Aaron Rodgers. Well, I’d say that’s solid company to be in.

What’s more interesting, is how Ben’s wideouts have been performing, or, not performing. Matt Ryan has Roddy White, who comes in only behind Percy Harvin for the top spot for wide receivers. Tom Terrific has his ace in the hole, Mr. Welker, rounding out the top ten, and newcomer Brandon Lloyd at 20th. Eli’s has both Domenik Hixon and Hakeem Nicks, 17th and 18th respectively. To find Roethlisberger’s first wideout, you’ll have to look down a bit. Antonio Brown ranks 41st in the wide receiver rankings. Yikes. And yes, that is behind Julio Jones, Victor Cruz, and Ramses Barden.

Pro Football Focus Says: To be fair, tight end Heath Miller is the third best tight end in the passing game. So, there’s always that.

Cleveland Browns: Joe Thomas, LT

It’s been a tough season for Cleveland so far, but they’ve got some great performances to help pick up their spirits. They played the defending champion New York Giants tough on the road, and put on a good show for the home crowd against the division rival Bengals just this past Sunday. Without a doubt, the offense’s MVP is Joe Thomas.

Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has had a few things to worry about. He has to learn an NFL playbook, adjust to the speed of the NFL, and alongside newcomer Trent Richardson, try and pick up a flailing franchise. One thing that Weeden does not need to concern himself with is the left side of his offensive line.

While his run block has taken a hit as of late, Joe Thomas is sporting a robust +9.5 pass block rating, which is good enough to place him 5th among all left tackles. Perhaps the craziest thing about Thomas, and you might want to sit down for this one, is his durability. Since being drafted in 2007, Joe Thomas has not missed a single offensive play.

Not. One. Snap

Joe Thomas is hit on perpetually every single play, and still manages to never watch from the sidelines. Seriously, think about that. He hasn’t had his shoe come off, and needed a trainer to lace it back up. He hasn’t gotten the wind knocked out of him, and needed a quick hit of oxygen. He hasn’t rolled his ankle, and requested extra tape in the middle of a drive. If that isn’t the definition of a warrior, then I really-actually no, no arguments. That’s a warrior. Plain and simple.

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Now, more than ever, I am totally open to any constructive criticism. This is just the start of what should be a fun and revealing series. I hope you enjoyed part two of eight, and continue to check out the future pieces! And if anyone would like to request the next division I’ll cover, comment below!

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