While there is a not insignificant portion of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ fanbase who wonders what sort of running back we will see out of Le’Veon Bell on the field today, one person who thinks he knows exactly what to expect from the two-time All-Pro is the man who is ultimately responsible for stopping him, Cleveland Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson.
Earlier during the week of preparations leading up to today’s game, the second-year Browns coach was asked by Cleveland reporters if he thought that the running back’s holdout would affect his performance on the field. Bell did not participate in any activity all year going back to OTAs until officially signing his franchise tag just six days ago.
“No”, was his response, amidst laughter at the question. It’s worth keeping in mind that Jackson had already seen Bell twice a year—and even three times in 2015—while serving as a coach with the Bengals, so new knows the running back quite well and what he can do.
“I expect to see him every play”, he continued. As a refresher, Bell is the only running back in the league who saw 90 percent or more of his team’s snaps on the field last season in the games in which he played.
“He is a good football player. I think we know that. He is very talented, and I’m sure he is ready to go. He will show up and play, but we will be there. We are going to play, too. That is the way football works”.
As the Browns’ head coach, Jackson has actually only seen him once so far, and in that game, Bell rushed for 146 yards on 28 carries with one touchdown and another 55 yards receiving on eight catches for a total of 201 yards from scrimmage.
Jackson was also asked about Bell’s unique running style, mixing patience with short-area quickness and power. “He is good. We had Jim Brown here, remember”, he said. “That is one of the greatest ever. This guy is good, yeah. We can talk about the era all you want. You said running style. That was the best ever. This guy is good, but at the same time, he can’t beat 11 guys by himself”.
It’s certainly not impossible for Bell to be stopped, although it’s not particularly easy. The Ravens are the only team that really managed to do so a year ago in their first meeting. He had just 32 rushing yards on 14 carries in that game, with 38 more yards on six receptions, for a total of 70 yards from scrimmage. That was by far his lowest.
We will soon know whether or not he picks up where he left off before his groin injury last year, but Jackson is certainly wise to plan accordingly. If I were tasked with going up against him, I would not take for granted that he will be rusty. He had 144 rushing yards on 18 carries in his first game back from a three-game suspension in 2016.