Before I even begin I must provide the caveat that this is no knock on Le’Veon Bell. I’d be silly to make such an assertion that he can’t be successful in any given week. But on paper, this matchup versus the Baltimore Ravens’ defense is going to be one of the toughest all year.
Of course, the rivalry and physical nature of these Steelers-Ravens games provides one obstacle for the offenses. But really, the Ravens defense has been extremely solid against running backs so far this season. They’re allowing the fourth fewest rushing yards per game to opposing teams this year, and with a 3.5 yard avg., it’s hard to get much going against them.
But the Steelers have the unique athlete that is Bell. If there’s one running back in the league that could combat this defense and defy the stats, it’d be him. Just look at some of his incredible numbers he’s posted so far this year.
Rushing (At least 50 carries)
Avg YPC: 5 (6th)
Avg YPG: 86 (5th)
Yards: 344 (24th)
Obviously his three game absence has a lot to do with his low yardage total, but it’s still impressive that he’s almost in the top 20 despite the suspension and a bye.
Receiving (At least 15 catches)
Avg YPC: 8.2 (13th among RB)
Avg YPG: 61 (1st among RB)
Receptions: 30 (5th among RB)
Yards: 235 (8th)
This is where Bell separates himself from the rest of the league. Averaging over 60 yards receiving each game is incredible for a running back, and he’s already recorded thirty catches! This bodes well for any matchup in any week.
But the Ravens aren’t just stopping the run, they’re stopping running backs altogether. According to junkyardjake.com, the Ravens are in the top half of the league in terms of giving up receiving yards to running backs. They’ve only allowed 277 yards through seven games. Now I’m not completely familiar with the website, so you can take those statistics with a grain of salt, but those stats are hard to come by in general. The point is that the Steelers will need to do some unique things in order to provide opportunities for Bell and company.
The good thing is that they have such a special talent in Bell, they can do things with him most other teams cannot. He possesses the unique route running ability from the slot position that most running backs simply can’t execute. I see some great opportunities to have DeAngelo Williams and Bell out there at the same time, drawing a linebacker to the slot with Bell and opening up some gaps for Williams. Bell can take on those linebacker matchups all day, and Williams can block well or find those holes to exploit.
With the recent news of Elvis Dumervil being ruled out, this can only help the Steelers in these efforts, as the Ravens won’t be able to rely on their pass rushing ability as much as they normally would be. And with their porous secondary, the Ravens hopefully will be forced to run more zone, allowing for the running backs to expose some holes. And it Ben Roethlisberger is out there, they’ll be forced to respect the pass even more, making it a difficult call for any defensive coordinator.
If the Steelers get up early, I see this run game having a good afternoon, but if they keep it close as the Ravens often do, it may be much more difficult despite the talent on this roster.