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AFC North big issues in the 2014 NFL season

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Continuing our trip around the divisions lets take a look at what are some of the key issues that need to be solved in the AFC North.

Can Gary Kubiak rebuild the Ravens offense?

Last season the Ravens went from Superbowl champions to 8-8 also rans that failed to even make the playoffs. A big reason for this was the offense which was terrible.

QB Joe Flacco set a team record with 22 intercepted passes, Ray Rice made only 3.1 yards per carry (his worst ever), Torrey Smith finished the season with a personal low of 4 touchdowns and the offensive line gave up 48 sacks - more than every other team save the hapless controversy mired Miami Dolphins.

The Ravens have now brought in Gary Kubiak to change this. The conventional thinking is that, as an ex-NFL QB, Kubiak will have the respect to demand more from Joe Flacco.
Whilst his play actions pass schemes should open up more space for Rice and his favored zone blocking schemes should suit the Ravens athletic offensive linemen.

The Ravens better hope the conventional thinking is correct, otherwise they are looking at another season of at best mediocrity.

Is Andy Dalton a franchise QB?

Coming into the last year of his contract the pressure on Andy Dalton to prove himself is hotting up. Dalton has been vocal about wanting a new contract a fact which is understandable given that he is set to earn only just shy of $1.7 million this year.

Since Colin Kaepernick's recent deal the suggestion has been that Andy Dalton's new contract would not be far behind. The Bengals however might be tempted to hold on a bit and give Dalton a carrot to chase into the opening weeks of the new season. After all few things can motivate like the prospect of a big fat stack of cash.

Alternatively, they might just think Dalton can't lead them to a Superbowl victory.

Can the Cleveland running game be a game changer?

The quarterback competition between Hoyer and Manziel may be getting all the media
attention but in the short term the running back competition is almost certain to have more of an effect on the Cleveland Browns then the QB position.

Why is this?

Shorn of top wide receiver Josh Gordan and choosing between either a rookie (Manziel)
or the unspectacular Brian Hoyer at QB, new Head Coach Mike Pettine is likely to put his faith in the running game.

Prior to the draft the thinking of many analysis was that the Browns would seek to use
Ben Tate as a workhorse back. Post draft though the Browns have added highly thought of third round pick Terrance West and the immensely talented undrafted free agent Isaiah Crowell.

This group of players could be the making of a potentially strong rushing trio that sees the Browns go to a running back by committee approach. Rookies West and Crowell will have to step up at training camp though if this is to happen.

Will Le'Veon Bell make the step up?

In 13 games last season, Steeler Le'Veon Bell rushed and received for 1,258 yards and
picked up eight touchdowns. Initially, those figures are pretty impressive but then you see that when the receiving yards have been subtracted this leaves behind 860 rushing yards.

Not awful off 13 games but these yards came off 244 attempts meaning Bell averaged only 3.5 yards per rush.

Given the high hopes everyone has for Bell this year though that low averages yards
per carry is definitely worrying. If Bell doesn't improve that number his rookie season may be as good as it gets for the promising running back. If he does increase his yards per carry though then Bell could be seen as one the NFL's top running back this time next year.

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Cleveland Browns
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals
Baltimore Ravens

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