The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: How big of a difference will a healthy Le’Veon Bell make in facing the Patriots?
Since the Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell, they have faced the Patriots four times. They have lost each of those four games. But Bell missed all or most of two of those games, one due to a suspension and the other due to injury. In another, they were missing Ben Roethlisberger, limiting the balance of the offensive attack. The other game was in his rookie season.
This will be the first game between the two teams since Bell’s rookie season that they will have had both him and Roethlisberger on the field together while healthy. The running back did narrowly escape an ugly injury in the last game, but seemed no worse for the wear in the second half.
In fact, minus Marcus Gilbert, who has been ably replaced by Chris Hubbard, and perhaps Vance McDonald, the Steelers should be able to field as complete an offense against the Patriots as they have in some time as they look to match New England’s offense point for point, plus one.
The Patriots love to use their running backs in the passing game, and Bell is arguably the best back in the NFL as a receiver. He has been at his best in that area especially lately, and could provide the offense with some easy mismatches in coverage.
New England is also allowing a league-worst five yards per carry, even though they have given up the fewest rushing touchdowns in the NFL. But if Bell can get them down the field, the Steelers have been inclined to throw within the red zone anyway. Bell has never had more than eight rushing touchdowns in a season.
During the AFC Championship game last season, the Steelers only had him for about a quarter. After that, it was basically the Antonio Brown show. Now they have Bell, Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant, with Jesse James coming off a career day. But they are at their best when Bell is the straw that stirs the drink, and they haven’t gotten to stir much against the Patriots lately.