AFC North Roundup: Key Steelers Hurt for Divisional Round, Bengals Tried to Keep Jackson, Ed Reed Enters Coaching Ranks

In this week's AFC North Roundup, key Steelers players are injured heading into Sunday's Divisional playoff matchup with the Denver Broncos, the Cincinnati Bengals made a last-ditch effort to keep Hue Jackson and former Ravens safety Ed Reed heads into coaching

It’s not looking like the Pittsburgh Steelers offense will be at full strength when they take on the AFC’s top-seeded team, the Denver Broncos, in the Divisional round of the playoffs on Sunday. 

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has not thrown all week since being sacked by Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict late in the third quarter of Pittsburgh’s Wild Card win, causing a sprain to the AC joint of his throwing shoulder along with two torn ligaments. In Thursday’s practice, he was extremely limited, saying before the session to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Mark Kaboly that, “I will do some handoff work and stuff like that.” He did not practice Wednesday and has yet to attempt to throw a football.

Meanwhile, receiver Antonio Brown remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol following a fourth-quarter blow to the head by Burfict that led (among other violations) to Burfict being suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season (pending appeal). He did not practice on Thursday and has yet to even be cleared for light work, which means he’s not likely to pass the protocol in time to play on Sunday.

While this will yield an apology from Bengals cornerback Adam Jones, who believed that Brown was faking his concussion but agreed to backtrack from that assertion if Brown does not play, it does mean that even if an injured Roethlisberger is on the field against the NFL’s top defense, the Steelers will be without their most crucial and effective receiving weapon. 

Roethlisberger may choose to take a painkilling injection on Sunday to ease the soreness in his shoulder and allow him to throw the ball more effectively. But what Roethlisberger says the decision will ultimately come down to is whether he feels he can lead the team to victory, saying to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo that, “I don’t want to be out there if I hurt the team. If you can’t throw the ball 25 or 30 yards down the field, you’re hurting your team. I don’t think we’ll put ourselves in that situation. If we can, any way possible, pain medicine whatever it is, if I have to be in pain the next day, then I’ll deal with it.”

Regardless of whether Roethlisberger can play, his bad shoulder and Brown’s concussion are going to make it very difficult for the Steelers to defeat the Broncos and head to the AFC Championship the following weekend.

Cincinnati Bengals: Bengals Tried Hard to Keep Hue Jackson

Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is now the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. And while the Bengals wish Jackson all the best with his new team, that didn’t prevent them from making a last-ditch effort to keep him on their coaching staff. NFL Network’s Mike Silver, a close friend of Jackson’s, said that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis offered to make him the next man up for the Bengals’ head coach job when Lewis eventually steps down.

But given Jackson is already 50 years old and ready to get back into the head coaching ranks now, the proposal didn’t work. It likely gave Jackson pause—he highly regards Lewis as a coach and a friend and came aboard there as a defensive backs assistant simply to get a chance to work with Lewis and the Bengals back in 2012.

Jackson was hotly pursued, not just by the Browns, but also the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants for their respective head coaching vacancies before Cleveland gave him an offer he accepted on Wednesday. He was highly regarded for his work with the Bengals’ offense, not only establishing a solid run game but also incorporating creative plays and formations and building up Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton into a far more confident and capable passer. 

Now the Bengals have to find the man to replace Jackson. If it’s an in-house hire, ESPN’s Coley Harvey sees quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese or receivers coach James Urban as the top two potential promotions, otherwise they could hire from outside. Jackson will be difficult to replace the fact that the Bengals made an 11th-hour attempt to not have to shows how much he meant to the organization. 

Baltimore Ravens: Former Raven Ed Reed a Coaching Assistant in Buffalo

Former Baltimore Ravens legendary safety and sure-fire Hall of Famer, Ed Reed, has joined the Buffalo Bills coaching staff as a defensive backs assistant, the team announced on Wednesday. Bills head coach Rex Ryan said of the hire that, “Ed Reed is going to be such a great asset to our team," said head coach Rex Ryan. "Obviously he's played in this system and been an MVP caliber guy in this system. He's going to be such a great asset for players. He's a real student of the game as well and he's going to be a phenomenal coach.”

Reed played for Ryan twice in his 12-year career, first with the Ravens from 2005 until 2008, when Ryan served as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator, and again in 2013 with the New York Jets, Reed’s last season in the NFL. Reed is a five-time First Team All-Pro and nine time Pro Bowler, with 64 career interceptions (seven returned for touchdowns), 11 forced fumbles, 13 fumble recoveries (two for scores), six sacks and well over 600 tackles. He spent 11 years with the Ravens, and split his 2013 season between the Jets and the Houston Texans. His 64 interceptions is sixth all-time in the NFL.

Reed is not the only new addition to Buffalo’s coaching staff. The Bills also brought aboard Rex’s twin brother Rob, formerly the New Orleans Saints’ defensive coordinator, to serve as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. 

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