AFC North quarterly report: Where do the Ravens, Steelers, Browns and Bengals stand after four weeks?

The 2020 AFC North is the anti-NFC East.

While the NFC East through four games has struggled to field a team with a .500 record, the AFC North has three at the quarter-point of the regular season with winning records, the most of any division in the NFL.


Coming out of a coronavirus-induced Week 4 bye, the Steelers are one of six teams with an undefeated record. The Ravens, while not looking like last season’s juggernaut, can match their best start since 2012 with a win Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Cleveland Browns rebounded from a Week 1 blowout to the Ravens and are 3-1 for the first time since 2001. And while the Bengals are 1-2-1, they’d still be tied for first place in the NFC East.

Here’s at a look at where each AFC North team stands after four weeks:



Record/standing: 3-0 (first in AFC North)

What has worked? The pass rush. The Steelers had one of the league’s best defenses in 2019, even as they shuffled through quarterbacks while veteran Ben Roethlisberger was sidelined with a serious elbow injury. In 2020, they’ve taken it to another level. Pittsburgh blitzes more often than any unit in the NFL, on 51.2% of opposing dropbacks, and leads the league by a wide margin in pressure rate, disrupting the quarterback on 46.5% of dropbacks. Bookend edge rushers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, who have a combined six sacks in three games, lead the way for a well-rounded unit.

What hasn’t worked? Downfield passing. Roethlisberger has played well in his return (seven touchdowns, one interception) but hasn’t stretched the field like we’re accustomed to seeing throughout his career. In three games, Roethlisberger has attempted 14 “deep passes” — passes in which the target is at least 20 yards downfield — but has only connected on three, according to Sports Info Solutions. And according to NFL Next Gen Stats, Roethlisberger’s average completed air yards and average intended air yards rank in the bottom half of the league among qualified passers. This could just be a result of Roethlisberger getting comfortable in the offense after rehabilitation from a serious injury to his throwing arm, but it’s something to monitor as the season progresses.

ESPN Football Power Index chance of winning division: 18.3%


Record/standing: 3-1 (second in AFC North)

What has worked? Lamar Jackson. Jackson entered the 2020 season under a considerable amount of scrutiny for a reigning Most Valuable Player. But when a quarterback’s season ends as disastrous as his did in the playoffs, it comes with the territory. Through four games, Jackson has performed well but is still searching for more success on downfield passes, which he in training camp cited as an area for improvement. He’s completed just five of 16 deep passes, according to Sports Info Solutions. Jackson is still the Ravens' most dangerous offensive threat — as displayed in his career-long 50-yard touchdown run against Washington — and leads the team in rushing, again. The Ravens will go as far their young superstar takes them.

What hasn’t worked? The pass rush. The Ravens invested heavily in their front seven in the offseason — trading for Calais Campbell, signing Derek Wolfe, drafting Patrick Queen — but have yet to see the returns in their pass rush. The Ravens blitz at a higher rate than any other team but the Steelers. However, their pressure rate ranks in the bottom half of the league.

ESPN FPI chance of winning division: 69.5%


Record/standing: 3-1 (third in AFC North)

What has worked? The offensive line. Cleveland made upgrading that unit a priority in the offseason, as the Browns signed right tackle Jack Conklin and drafted left tackle Jedrick Willis Jr. with the No. 10 overall pick. The unit has coalesced in first-year coach Kevin Stefanksi’s zone run scheme. According to ESPN, the Browns are second in the NFL in team run-block win rate and they lead the league in rushing. Running back Nick Chubb will miss an extended period of time with a sprained MCL, but Kareem Hunt is more than capable of shouldering the load as the No. 1 back.

What hasn’t worked? The secondary. While the offensive is finding its identity under Stefanski, the defense has struggled to stop teams. The Browns are allowing over 30 points a game and the third-most passing yards in the NFL, despite disruptive forces along the defensive line in Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi. The secondary has dealt with injuries in the first few weeks, but it has the talent to turn things around.

ESPN FPI chance of winning division: 11.6%



Record/standing: 1-2-1 (fourth in AFC North)

What has worked? Joe Burrow. The No. 1 overall pick was thrown into the fire with a rebuilding team and has been impressive, given his circumstances. Despite playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL, Burrow has been asked to throw 177 times through four games, which ranks second in the league. He’s responded to the challenge, completing 68% of his passes and throwing for 300 yards in three straight games, the first rookie to do so in NFL history. Cincinnati has several positions to shore up, but it appears that it has the most important one locked down.

What hasn’t worked? Everything aside from Burrow. Running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver Tyler Boyd are great talents who will help Burrow for years to come, and the Bengals have some solid contributors at other positions, but this team is still by and large a work in progress. Cincinnati has allowed 15 sacks, second most in the NFL to Houston’s 16. The front seven remains a problem, registering the worst pressure rate in the league and struggling to stop the run. Cincinnati has still been competitive in each of its four games, but that’s more of a testament to the maturity of Burrow early in his career.

ESPN FPI chance of winning division: 0.4%

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