There appear to be many who believe that the Pittsburgh Steelers are a cornerback away from being able to be the top team in the AFC, which would allow them to get past the Patriots to the Super Bowl. They advanced to the AFC Championship game during the 2016 season only to be unceremoniously sent packing in Foxboro after the Patriots controlled them and exploited their mistakes.
Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell also feels as though they were a player away from winning that game—only he believes that he was that player. In so many words, he recently told reporters that Pittsburgh would have beaten the Patriots had he not been injured.
And his reasoning wasn’t simply pure braggadocio, but rather an observation of how things unfolded. “Their game plan was so different just because of the fact that I was out there”, he told reporters. The Patriots were able to play the offense differently after he left the game.
“If I go out there healthy and we go out there and do what we do, the way we’ve been going it the whole season, especially in the playoffs, running the ball, running play-action, leaving [Antonio Brown] one-on-one”, he said, “I think the outcome would have been different”.
I’m not so sure how many share Bell’s hindsight, although he does have a point that the offense was not able to do some of the things that had allowed them to build a nine-game winning streak that got them to the point where the season ended in the first place.
Defensive issues aside, there were some notable opportunities that the offense failed to exploit, such as failing to get a touchdown at the end of the first half, and multiple turnovers in the second half completely buried any opportunity of making the end of the game competitive.
“We’ll get back to that next year”, Bell said about his vision for the offense in 2017, referring to the running, play-action, single-coverage elements that he talked about earlier, and he believes that getting back to that will be the key to being able to take the next step.
The Steelers have worked this offseason to ensure that their team will remain intact, particularly their offensive triplets, signing Brown to a four-year extension and applying the franchise tag to Bell, who already said that he will play under the tag this year if they can’t work out a long-term extension in time.
It certainly is nice to think that the team already has the firepower to take down the Patriots and win the Super Bowl—and in truth, when the offense is really clicking the way it can sometimes, it’s certainly hard to doubt. But there was little Bell could do whenever Tom Brady had the ball.