The Ravens run defense already got its fill of Le’Veon Bell in the regular season and will not face the Pittsburgh Steelers running back unless the teams meet in the playoffs. But the unit could face a back with Bell-like qualities in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.
Running back Giovani Bernard had 168 total yards from scrimmage and one touchdown in Sunday’s 26-17 win against the Detroit Lions and figures to be the primary backfield option if an ankle injury continues to bother rookie Joe Mixon. Although Bernard had dropped behind Mixon on the depth chart, Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams warned that Bernard should not be overlooked.
“I would say he’s got Le’Veon Bell tendencies to where if you let him, he can get out and make plays,” Williams said Wednesday. “He’s shifty and can catch passes out of the backfield, all of that stuff. He’s kind of like a jack of all trades. So definitely, you’ve got to stop him.”
The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Mixon leads Cincinnati in carries (160) rushing yards (530), and touchdown runs (four). But the 5-9, 205-pound Bernard’s 4.3 yards per carry is one more yard than Mixon’s, and Bernard has gained 406 yards on 65 fewer attempts.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said Bernard mirrors Bell in his ability to fall forward and gain an extra yard or two. But Bernard’s ability to accelerate after a pause is what really reminds Pees of Bell.
“The one thing those guys can do is they can be at a dead stop, and with one step, they’re at full speed,” he said Thursday. “That’s the thing that’s really exceptional about them. Bell always comes to that line of scrimmage and he almost comes to a dead stop sometimes, being patient, and then boom, he’s gone. Well, Bernard’s the same way. It’s not quite the same style, but when you watch him make a cut, when he makes that cut, he’s gone, he’s at top speed. Some guys are build-up speed guys or downhill guys, and this guy can bounce it out, and he can really make guys miss.”
There is a little mystery on which player will start Sunday. Mixon was upgraded from no practice Wednesday to limited participation Thursday, while Bernard was limited for the second day in a row. But outside linebacker Matthew Judon said the defense will prep for both backs.
“They run the same runs with both of them,” he said. “They both can hit it inside, and they both can hurt you on the edge. You’ve got to prepare like you’re getting any of their backs.”