AFC North: Ravens Place Perriman on IR, More

In this week's AFC North Roundup, a Ravens rookie heads to injured reserve, the Steelers' remaining schedule is far easier than it first seemed and the Bengals aren't worried about their run game.

The Baltimore Ravens have been holding out hope all season long that their Round 1 2015 draft pick, wide receiver Breshad Perriman, would at some point be available to play this year after he suffered a partially-torn PCL on the first day of training camp in late July. When the injury occurred, head coach John Harbaugh said that, “It’s not serious. It’s all sound. He’ll be back as soon as the knee feels a little bit better. It could be as early as tomorrow, or a couple days at most.” 

But the days stretched into weeks, and the weeks into months. And now, the waiting game is over: The Ravens placed Perriman on injured reserve on Tuesday, ending his rookie season before it ever really began. The frustration on behalf of both the Ravens and Perriman had been growing with every week the wideout has been sidelined. Harbaugh said in late August that, “It’s slower healing than they expected, and [team doctors] really don’t have a timetable right now.” Perriman had tried to test the knee in pregame warmups late in September, but suffered a setback in doing so, with Perriman revealing on Thursday that he had a “minor” arthroscopic surgery to repair the damage done during the warmups, and it revealed that the tear in the ligament had widened. 

Perriman said that the mental aspect of dealing with the injury has been the hardest part to overcome in the past few months. He said that “It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever been through,” adding “Just a huge disappointment for me and I feel like I’m letting [my teammates] down as well because I feel like I do have a role on this team. I don’t know how much I can help, but I can help somewhere.” He said that, for a time, he was in a “dark hole,” one in which he “shut everyone out,” causing his concerned parents to visit him in Baltimore to help try to lift his spirits. 

Now, being placed on injured reserve, Perriman knows his season is over and now has to focus on next year. That’s the next challenge, because, as Perriman said, “That’s really been the hardest thing for me is staying positive and knowing next year is going to be my year.” At this point, it does not appear that he will need further surgical intervention and that the doctors have told him that, “once I get this thing back 100 percent that I’ll be good and I should be fine for the rest of my career.”

Perriman was brought on to be a deep-threat replacement for Torrey Smith, who left the Ravens for the San Francisco 49ers as a free agent in the spring. It’s been an aspect of the Ravens’ offense that has been lacking this year, leading to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco struggling in ways he hasn’t in seasons past. But now, Perriman has the time to heal without the pressure of his coaches and players wondering when he’ll be back and able to contribute in 2015. As long as the physical setback doesn’t lead to more mental setbacks for Perriman, he should be ready to meet the expectations the Ravens had for him this year.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Remaining Schedule Getting Easier

Before the 2015 season started, the six games on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ schedule following their Week 11 bye seemed like their most daunting stretch of the year. In Week 12, they travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks, a team that has been to the last two Super Bowls, winning one. After that is a primetime meeting with the Indianapolis Colts, a preseason Super Bowl favorite this year. Then, they travel to Cincinnati to face the Bengals before playing host to the Denver Broncos. Then, they cap off their season on the road, first at the Baltimore Ravens and finally at the Cleveland Browns.

Not only are four of these final six games on the road, all but Week 17 are against 2015 playoff teams. It was a murderer’s row of opponents if there ever was one in today’s NFL. Except, today’s NFL has changed drastically since the schedules were released in April. Suddenly, these six remaining contests don’t seem so challenging.

The Seahawks are a dangerous team, to be sure, especially when facing them on their home turf. But they aren’t the same team as they were in 2013 or 2014. The defense has been able to get caught, particularly in the secondary where cornerback Richard Sherman isn’t shutting down receivers at his typical rate. And Seattle’s offensive line is a porous one, giving an advantage to a Pittsburgh front seven that has already totaled 28 sacks so far this season.

The Colts aren’t likely to have quarterback Andrew Luck back on the field in Week 13, as he’s dealing with a partially torn abdominal muscle and a kidney laceration; Matt Hasselbeck will be his replacement, behind yet another questionable offensive line. In Week 15, the Broncos may continue to turn to Brock Osweiler if Peyton Manning’s lisfranc foot injury is still bothering him too much to allow him to play; meanwhile, Denver’s league-leading defense has been faltering down the stretch. The Ravens, with two wins, are already dead in the water, as are the two-win Browns. Only the 8-1 Bengals seem to be real threats to the Steelers’ ability to win out to close the season.

The Steelers have a 6-4 record heading into their bye week and are currently the fifth seed in the AFC playoff picture. If they can win five of their remaining six, that would give them an 11-5 record to close the season. Depending on how well the Bengals can bounce back from their Week 10 loss to the Houston Texans—which could prove difficult given the Sunday night contest ahead against the Arizona Cardinals—Cincinnati’s vice grip on the AFC North title may loosen considerably. Either way, what looked to be a tough road to the postseason for the Steelers is now turning into a much smoother one. 

Cincinnati Bengals: Hue Jackson Sick of Run Game Critics

Given the one-two punch of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill at running back, one would think that the Cincinnati Bengals would have more than just 1,037 rushing yards at this point in the season. But Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is sick of hearing criticism about his team’s ability to run the ball, especially between the 20s. Jackson, via ESPN’s Coley Harvey, said this week that, “We're trying to win games. It's not about running the ball. Please. That's not the only thing we do. We throw the ball, too. You asked me about running the ball and you said, 'Are we going to jump-start the running game?' And I said, 'We're running the ball.' So I don't understand what it is that you guys are looking for.”

It’s true that at just 3.9 yards per rush, the Bengals aren’t exactly doing what they had set out to in the run game this year. But that’s not the only area in which the run game matters. The team has 10 rushing touchdowns this year, with four of Hill’s five coming in the red zone. Bernard has 547 yards on his 99 carries and even quarterback Andy Dalton has seen his fair share of runs—designed and not—for 93 rushing yards and two scores.

Still, there have been questions surrounding Hill’s production, in particular. In 2014, Hill had 1,124 rushing yards and averaged five yards per carry; this year, he’s ran 111 times for just 359 yards and is averaging 3.2 yards per carry. This hasn’t concerned Hill, however, who attributes the developments to being dictated by “game flow,” adding, “When our passing game is hitting like that, you have to stay with the hot hand. If Andy's [Dalton] hitting down the field, you can't take it out of his hands. You've got to let him continue to make throws down the field and make plays. We understand that as running backs. We understand that as an offense that every game you're not going to have 150 yards rushing.”

So far this year, the Bengals have had six games with a combined 100 or more yards rushing, but have had a 100-yard rusher only once: Bernard, with 123 yards in Week 2. Hill noted that the Bengals have played some tough run defenses this year and that Jackson has tweaked the game plan accordingly: “The smarter OCs in this league, they don't get stubborn and try to force it down. You've got to take what the defense is giving you, and we've done that this year. Again, this week we'll try to establish the run, but if it's not happening that way, you've got to make throws down the field and you've got to back those guys up a little bit.”

Clearly, Jackson would rather have the focus on his offense as a whole—which is working well, to say the least—rather than what the run game is or is not doing. And his backs are backing him up on that matter. As far as Jackson is concerned, everything is going to plan; it’s the outside observers who are picking at unworthy nits.

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