AFC North Roundup: Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's Season Done; Steelers Injury Update; Who is A.J. Green?

In this week's AFC North Roundup, the latest on Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta's chances to play in 2015 and beyond, injury updates for the Pittsburgh Steelers and an attempt to unravel the mystery that is Bengals receiver A.J. Green.

The news is not good for injured Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta. Pitta, who has been on the Physically Unable to Perform list after suffering a second broken and dislocated hip in 2014, was placed on Injured Reserve on Wednesday. He had been practicing in a limited fashion in hopes of being able to play at some point this year, but it may have to wait until 2016—that is, if Pitta can even play again.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh left the decision to play or not play this year up to Pitta, even though Pitta had been told by his doctors that it would be unsafe for him to ever play football again. But, according to ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, Pitta still has veto power over those doctors’ wishes, though it won’t lead him to playing this season.

Pitta is not ready to retire just yet, saying to Hensley on Wednesday that, “I'm a football player and that's what I've always wanted to do. I have a sense of duty to my teammates, the team and to this organization. This organization has given me a lot over the last few years." He continued, “I really want to play. This is what I feel like I want to do and should do. I’ve wanted all along to do everything I can to be out there and that’s why we’ve gotten to this point. If it wasn’t for my desire to get on the field, I wouldn’t have even been on the practice field for these last few weeks.”

In his career, Pitta has caught 139 passes for 1,369 yards and 11 scores, with his breakout 2012 season (61 catches, 669 yards, seven touchdowns) his last healthy one. He’s 30 years old, turns 31 in June, has had two back-to-back injuries to the same hip and does not have a guaranteed salary in Baltimore next year. Meanwhile, the Ravens have a trio of tight ends in Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams and @Nick Boyle. This means that if Pitta truly does want to continue his NFL career in 2016 and beyond, he may not be able to do so in Baltimore.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Injury Bug Bites Again

The Pittsburgh Steelers have not had the worst injury luck in the league, but those they have suffered have been high-impact. From quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffering an MCL sprain and bone bruise in Week 3 that cost him four games to running back Le'Veon Bell’s season-ending knee injury in Week 8, key players have suffered major injuries at the wrong time. And now, Roethlisberger is hurt again, suffering a mid-foot sprain in Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders that should sideline him for at least Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns, if not longer.

Though Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin won’t completely rule out Roethlisberger for Week 10, it’s easily 90 percent likely that Landry Jones will get the starting nod. But there’s another injury that the Steelers are concerned with, as well—the inflamed foot of running back DeAngelo Williams. The inflammation is not surprising—Williams had 27 carries and two receptions in Pittsburgh’s Week 9 defeat of the Raiders, and he totaled 225 yards from scrimmage, all while running on 32-year old feet.

Williams hasn’t looked his age on the field this year, to be sure, but that heavy workload has taken a toll. While it’s not enough to keep Williams sidelined against the Browns and their league-worst run defense on Sunday, it could limit his time on the field, meaning Jordan Todman and Isaiah Pead could get more playing time. 

Williams has been impressive in his relief of Bell, first in the first two weeks of the season when Bell was serving a league-mandated suspension and he ran 41 times for 204 yards and three scores. And that high-level of play continued in Week 9. But, the Steelers need to be careful about wear and tear on Williams’ body moving forward; if they lose him for any extended period of time, Todman and Pead, while complementary backs, aren’t going to reproduce Williams’ or Bell’s production.

Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green, Man of Mystery

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is one of the most heralded players at his position presently. Through four and a half seasons, he had 379 catches for 5,576 yards and 39 scores and already this year has caught 50 passes for 702 yards and four touchdowns. He’s reached the Pro Bowl ever season he’s been in the league, and currently ranks third in the league in yards per touch, at 14.0. Still, not many outside of the Bengals know much about Green; cracking the code on this man of mystery was ESPN’s Coley Harvey’s task this week.

Harvey noted that while Green has a number of high-level endorsement deals—Nike, Beats by Dre, Champs Sports—he never says a single word in any of his commercials. He’s reserved when speaking to reporters and doesn’t showboat or crow at defenders on the field. Simply put, he likes his body of work to do the talking for him, but that doesn’t mean he’s reserved around his teammates.

Fellow Bengals receiver Marvin Jones said of Green, “Oh, he talks. He's a guy that once we're all together, he always has something to say.” Running back Giovani Bernard called Green “normal,” adding, “He's not like Mr. Big-Time, I can't talk to anybody. He's not Mr. $60 Million, I don't want to talk to anybody in here.” Bernard also noted that Green, his locker-mate, “always steals my lotion and my soap and stuff, so he's going to have to start paying me for that. I know he's got the money,” referencing Green’s summertime contract extension. 

His coordinator, Hue Jackson, says that Green’s most obvious trait is that, “Winning is more important to him than stats, contrary to what everybody might think.” And Green’s wife, Lauren Mulkey, also noted that the conceit of the “diva receiver” is not one that Green puts on, saying, “I think A.J. appreciated just being treated as one of the guys and not being always singled out for his amazing abilities… He really would say, 'So what you're A.J. Green, so what you caught the ball. That's your job.”

The Bengals used to boast receivers like Terrell Owens and Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, who never shied away from the opportunity to speak their minds. But for Green, that’s just not his disposition. He’s one of a new era of NFL receiver, one that does his job, does it well, and puts the team and helping it win ahead of everything else. 


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