The AFC North is known for hard running, hard hitting, and hard play. The Steelers have personified this style of play in the Super Bowl era, with the Steel Curtain of the 70’s and the great defenses of the past decade. The Baltimore Ravens built their team on this same philosophy, winning a Super Bowl with good game management and a great defense. Even the Bengals, who haven’t had many successful seasons over the past 20 years, did have good defenses in the years that they did win. The running game is another calling card of the AFC North. Controlling the ball on offense is a big part of the game plan in the division, with the passing game as a way of accentuating the run. For years, this is the way it has been in the division that is often the most competitive in the NFL.
Although many people still think of the AFC North as a division won by running the ball and playing defense, it has evolved along with the rest of the NFL. The Steelers won two recent Super Bowls, and made another one, and the passing game has become their main weapon. Ben Roethlisberger has weapons like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. In Baltimore, Joe Flacco has Anquan Boldin and an emerging deep threat in Torrey Smith. Ray Rice, while effective as a runner, also is a huge weapon receiving out of the backfield. Both teams have discovered that, while running the ball and playing defense is important, in today’s NFL throwing the ball is a must. Pittsburgh was 10th in the league in passing yards this past season. Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore were all three in the top half of the league in passing touchdowns. The two Steelers WRs (Wallace and Brown) were both in the top 15 in receiving yards, and Roethlisberger continued to establish himself as a top 5 quarterback.