NFL Team Reports: AFC North

Several times a week, The Trenches will present team reports from Sporting News’ 32 NFL correspondents. Check back each day for the latest news on your team.

Cincinnati Bengals
If ever there was a time to unleash rookie RT Andre Smith, Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh is it. The team needs his size, strength and road-grading blocking skills to push the Steelers off the line, create running lanes for RB Cedric Benson and protect QB Carson Palmer.

RT Dennis Roland deserves to start, but Smith’s presence would help in short-yardage situations when the team deploys an unbalanced line. Don’t be surprised if Smith reports as an extra tight end and the tackles flip-flop with LT Andrew Whitworth moving to the right side, sandwiched between RG Bobbie Williams and Smith. It would make for a formidable, if not unstoppable, attack. …

Look for the team to make a late-week move that involves promoting practice-squad WR Maurice Purify to the 53-man active roster at the expense of backup TE Daniel Coats, who survived the first half of the season despite poor ball security.—Chick Ludwig

Pittsburgh Steelers
[HIGH-LIGHT]RB Rashard Mendenhall(notes) has rushed for 526 yards in his past five games as a starter, a total eclipsed by three other players during a similar period—Tennessee’s Chris Johnson (608), Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams (588) and Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson (544). But, among the NFL’s top 35 rushers, only Johnson (6.7 yards per carry) has a better average than Mendenhall (5.73).[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Mendenhall has been able to break a number of long runs since replacing Willie Parker. Mendenhall had runs of 24, 28 and 36 yards Monday night at Denver, giving him seven runs of 20-plus yards this season. Only two players have more—Johnson (12) and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson (eight).

Mendenhall is quick enough to hit the hole and bounce runs outside, and once he’s on the second tier, at 230 pounds, he is tough to tackle.—Gerry Dulac

Baltimore Ravens
It didn’t take long for K Steve Hauschka to comprehend the delicate job security of an NFL kicker. After Hauschka misfired on an important field-goal attempt Sunday, the Ravens brought in two kickers for tryouts. Mike Nugent and Billy Cundiff were given a look Tuesday, but neither walked away with a contract.

Coaches remain hopeful Hauschka will correct his flaws and prove he’s the right man for the job. Hauschka is 8-for-11 in field-goal attempts, but his misses include a potential game-winning 44-yarder against Minnesota and the 38-yarder Sunday at Cincinnati that would have gotten Baltimore within a touchdown with six minutes left. Coach John Harbaugh blamed Hauschka’s misses on bad technique.—Associated Press

Cleveland Browns
Now that Brady Quinn has been re-inserted as the starting quarterback, every effort must be made to fix the disconnect between Quinn and coordinator Brian Daboll.