- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:
The fact that they don't have to face Peyton Manning certainly helps the Cleveland Browns' chances of avoiding an 0-2 start for the fourth straight season. But as The Plain Dealer's Tony Grossi points out, the Browns can't forget there is a Peyton who is suiting up -- running back Peyton Hillis.
In the season-opening loss to the Bengals, the Browns handed the ball to Hillis 17 times for 57 yards. On Sunday, Cleveland will be facing an Indianapolis run defense whose ranking the past three years has been: 25th, 24th and 24th.
"I don't know if it's time, but to run the ball at people would be nice," Hillis told The Plain Dealer.
Hensley's slant: Other than playing catch-up in the second half, there is really no reason for Hillis to get less than 20 carries per game. He probably should get 25 carries against the Colts. The best way to negate pass-rushers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis is a strong running game. The Colts gave up 167 yards rushing to a Houston Texans team that was playing without NFL rushing champion Arian Foster.
RAVENS: Players and coaches scoffed at Chris Johnson's claim that the Ravens intended to hurt the Titans' speedy running back in a playoff game three years ago. Johnson had 100 yards from scrimmage before leaving with an ankle injury. Said Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano: "They've been playing a certain brand of football and defense here for a long, long time, so I don't take offense to it. It's just how we roll. It's straight up, it's clean, it's physical. We try to [impose] our physical and mental will on people. There's going to be some casualties." Hensley's slant: The Ravens might not intend to take out running backs, but they have a history of doing so. Ray Lewis ended the season of Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall a couple of years ago. In last year's playoffs, the Ravens removed Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles from the game after mammoth nose tackle Terrence Cody landed on him.
BENGALS: Durable defensive end Robert Geathers is considered questionable after missing his second straight day of practice with a shoulder injury. If Geathers is sidelined, Carlos Dunlap is expected to replace him in the starting lineup at Denver. Hensley's slant: Being short-handed on defense pales in comparison to what the Broncos are going through. Five Denver starters have missed practice Wednesday and Thursday: Champ Bailey (hamstring), Elvis Dumervil (shoulder), Knowshon Moreno (hamstring), Brandon Lloyd (groin), and D.J. Williams (elbow).
STEELERS: James Farrior is dealing with a rotation with Larry Foote at linebacker. He paced the sideline after getting pulled for the last three possessions of the first half in Baltimore. "We understand that part of the business," Farrior told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "but I'm not going out easy." Hensley's slant: Transition can be difficult with veteran players, especially when it involves popular leaders in the locker room. But one of the Steelers' strengths has been knowing when to make the transition. They've successfully done it before and they'll do it again.