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AFC North Recap: Le'Veon Bell Returns for Steelers, Ravens' Poor Start, Bengals Won't Bench Hill

This week's AFC North Roundup revolves around the return of running back Le'Veon Bell to the Pittsburgh Steelers' lineup, the 0-2 start for the Baltimore Ravens and whether or not Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill remains in the coaches' doghouse.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been without starting running back Le'Veon Bell for the first two weeks of the season as he served a two-game suspension for a 2014 violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. His backup, DeAngelo Williams, has performed well in Bell’s stead, totaling 41 carries for 204 yards and three scores and averaging just under five yards per carry.

But don’t expect Bell to cede many carries or much playing time to Williams upon his regular-season debut on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. Head coach Mike Tomlin was matter-of-fact when discussing Bell’s usage on Tuesday, saying via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette that, “I’m going to play Le’Veon Bell.” He said nothing of Williams’ expected playing time on Tuesday.

That doesn’t mean Williams isn’t in the Steelers’ plans. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spoke on his weekly radio show about the running back situation and said, “I think there’s multiple things we can do without giving away too many of those secrets that we want to try and do,” adding, “Le’Veon doesn’t like to come out of the game… But I think it’s still beneficial not just to him [or] to this team in the short term, but in the long term. You’re talking about a long season. If every third series, every fourth series, whatever it is, let DeAngelo come in.”

In 2014, Bell was the NFL’s second-leading rusher, with 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns on 290 carries. But he was also a fixture in the Steelers’ passing game, catching 83 passes for 854 yards and three more scores. That receiving ability in particular should be on display early and often in Week 3. And it could come about with Williams on the field. Roethlisberger continued, “The other thing I think we can do is we can put them both on the field at the same time. I think Le’Veon is so dangerous out of the backfield, you know, put them both on the field and use one as a screen, the other as a runner, who knows? I think the possibilities could be endless.”

Ultimately, Bell’s return means an added dimension to the Steelers’ offense and does not diminish what Williams can bring to the table despite being relegated to backup duties once again. The Steelers’ offense has already been dangerously productive through two games and should only get better with Bell back on the field.

Baltimore Ravens: Ravens Off To Worst Start Since 2005

You have to go back a decade, to the 2005 season, to find a year where the Baltimore Ravens opened with an 0-2 record. That season, with Brian Billick as head coach, Rex Ryan as defensive coordinator, Jim Fassel as offensive coordinator and Mike Pettine as outside linebackers coach, ended with a 6-10 record and a rare year of missing the playoffs.

Why was it the case? The Ravens had one of the more putrid offenses in the NFL despite boasting one of its better defenses and one side of the ball could not carry the other. And the same reasons apply to why the Ravens are winless up to this point.

Baltimore’s defense is giving up a good deal of passing yardage this season, but they are being stingy in rushing yardage as well as total touchdowns allowed. That would be good news had the Ravens offense been performing up to its 2014 level; but it’s not, and again, one side of the ball cannot carry the other, much as in 2005.

Further, the defense isn’t getting enough stops, owing in part to trading defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in the offseason to the Detroit Lions as well as the torn Achilles’ tendon suffered by linebacker Terrell Suggs in Week 1’s loss to the Denver Broncos. The Ravens defense has a combined five sacks and just two interceptions. 

Meanwhile, on offense, the Ravens have one of the worst red-zone touchdown percentages in the league, at 28.57 percent, despite getting into opponents’ red zones more often than most other teams. Not taking advantage of these opportunities has hurt them sorely, especially given the struggle the offense is having in finding playmakers and maximizing their talents.

The good news? The Ravens spent the first two weeks of the season on the road and a home game on Sunday may just be the thing they need to bounce back and turn their fortunes around. The bad news? They are hosting AFC North rivals the Cincinnati Bengals, one of the best teams in the NFL at present and who boast a 2-0 record. On one hand, it will make a major statement should the Ravens win, but on the other, it would be even better for them to face a less fearsome opponent in their home opener.

Cincinnati Bengals: Bengals Won’t Give Up on RB Jeremy Hill

Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill lost two fumbles in the team’s Week 2 defeat of the San Diego Chargers, leading to Hill being benched in the third quarter of the game. Fellow back Giovani Bernard finished the game as the Bengals’ primary back, ultimately earning 123  yards on his 20 carries. But Hill hasn’t relinquished his starting job to Bernard just yet.

Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said on Monday, via ESPN’s Coley Harvey, that, “Yeah, I'll put him back in. It's a new game. That one's over and done with. We're 2-0, so we're moving on. We're moving on to the next game.” Head coach Marvin Lewis also confirmed that Hill is not in the doghouse, adding, “Jeremy will be fine. He will get back at it and earn our trust as it goes. But we can't have the ball on the ground.”

Jackson admitted that he made the call to pull hill and that Lewis agreed with him, but also noted that benching a player for fumbles won’t be a regular occurrence: “If you're going to turn the ball over too many times, you can't play. That's with any of our guys. It's just the way it goes. I'll still be lenient maybe with other guys. I don't want anybody to hold me to the standing of saying, 'OK, well he just turned it over, too. You better get him out.' No, there’s a process to it.”

Instead, the benching was more of a teaching tool for Hill. Lewis added, “Jeremy's been a running back his entire life, so he understands taking care of the football is of utmost [importance]. You can't have the ball stripped, and the second one is easy—catch the football before you run. That is junior high school teaching there.”

Hill is still penciled in to be the Bengals’ starting back when the team takes on the Ravens on Sunday, with Bernard his complementary backup. But Hill is clearly on notice, given he was yanked from the win over the Chargers a week ago.

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