The Pittsburgh Steelers will be seeing a familiar face on the opposite side of the ball on Sunday—regardless of whether they are playing on offense or defense. While they have already faced the New York Jets with Steve McLendon front and center, however, they have never had to try to tackle Le’Veon Bell outside of practice.
Bell, who last played for the Steelers in a playoff loss in January of 2018, skipped the entirety of the 2018 season after he and the team were unable to reach an agreement on a long-term contract, leaving him with only the option of signing his franchise tag or not playing at all.
He opted for the latter, signed with New York in free agency, and here we are. And here Bell is, at 3.3 yards per carry on a five-win team. They have, however, won four out of their last six games, even if their two recent losses have come against AFC North opponents—even the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Steelers can complete the AFC North sweep of the Jets on Sunday, but they know that one of the keys to doing so is leaving Bell grounded. That is something that Mike Tomlin talked about yesterday during his pre-game press conference.
“On the offensive side of the ball, you know we’ve got to be ready to deal with the talents of Le’Veon Bell”, he started. “He’s got a complete game. He can run inside, he can run outside. He’s a big-time inclusion in their passing game, whether it’s out of the backfield or whether they remove him from the backfield and he’s route-running in empty sets and so forth”.
On the season, Bell has carried the ball 204 times for 676 yards and three touchdowns. He has caught 57 passes for 404 yards and one receiving touchdown. He is unquestionably having his least productive season of his career, outside of health; but that doesn’t mean he can’t still make plays.
“We’ve got to minimize his impact on the game”, Tomlin admitted. “When the ball is going through him, and he’s being productive, they’re a tough nut to crack in terms of getting behind schedule and creating the type of negativity that we need to create”.
Bell is still among the league leaders in forced missed tackles, but with the quality of the offensive line play, that has been necessary. He is still a dynamic talent who can make something happen on any given play—even if his longest play, rushing or receiving, is just 23 yards this season.
During his five seasons in Pittsburgh, Bell rushed for 5336 yards and recorded 2660 receiving yards. His 7996 all-purpose yards was the most through 62 games in NFL history, but his per-game numbers have suffered greatly in his 13 games with the Jets, with just 1080 yards from scrimmage on the season.