Bengals vs. Steelers key matchups: Le'Veon Bell vs. Vontaze Burfict

Jared Wickerham

Two of the league's rising stars will do battle on a few pass plays when Pittsburgh has the ball Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers found a good pass receiver when they selected running back Le'Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. One could see the fact he averages more catches per game (3.8) than he does yards per carry (3.4), but it fits with where this offense is going.

He's a versatile weapon out of the backfield, and he's shown more than a few times this year how effective he can be on a drive-per-drive basis.

Getting him in space is going to be a challenge for Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, along with Bell. Expect Bengals weakside linebacker Vontaze Burfict to look to follow Bell on passing downs.

Burfict has upped his game this season in terms of coverage, making himself one of the better defenders at the linebacker position in the league. He swallowed up Chargers RB Ryan Mathews in a huge 17-10 win for the Bengals in Week 13, and spread that effectiveness all over Cleveland's running backs and tight ends in a Week 11 whipping of the Browns.

Bell, more than the Steelers' tight ends, needs to be able to get himself open and most importantly, hang onto the ball. He failed to bring in a few catchable passes toward the end of the Steelers' Week 14 loss to Miami. Not that those plays mark his young career, if anything, they show Roethlisberger isn't afraid to get him the ball in crunch time. But considering how tough Cincinnati's run defense is, even without Geno Atkins, getting the Steelers' short-pass running game going is essential.

The Bengals didn't see Bell in their Week 2 win over the Steelers. His presence, along with the emergence of Antonio Brown as one of the most dynamic receivers in the game, has propelled the Steelers' passing offense to seventh in the league, averaging over 266 yards per game. The Steelers can pass effectively on the Bengals if they stick to a shorter, rhythm-based scheme.

Much of that supposed success will depend on Bell's ability to get open in space, and secure the ball.

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