For whom the Bell tolls.
That is exactly what the New England Patriots must be thinking as their anticipated showdown with the 11-2 Pittsburgh Steelers approaches. This is not a metaphorical bell, by the way. No this bell wears the number 26 and is considered to be the best all-around running back in the league.
In a game that will determine the top spot in the AFC, there’s one overall factor that this author can say will be most important in order for the Steelers to topple (for now) the best team in the conference over the past 16 years.
Le’Veon Bell must dominate Sunday. Without a great running effort by the kid from Reynoldsburg, Ohio. And I said run, not catch, although I’m certain any yards gained won’t hurt.
Simply put, the biggest determining factor for beating the Patriots, in my honest opinion, is a big running day by Le’Veon Bell. There are a few factors that go into my thought process regarding this.
- It’s easy to say Ben Roethlisberger has to have another big day passing.
- It’s easy to say the front-seven of the defense has to disrupt Tom Brady, get in his face and apply pressure.
- It’s easy to pop off about Antonio Brown having another huge day.
None of the above will matter much if the Steelers don’t run Bell, run him often and, most importantly, effectively.
New England is awful against the run. By the math, they have the worst run defense in the league after 13 games, giving up a hefty 5-yards per rushing attempt.
So how are they 10-3, you say?
Why are the Pats about to win their ninth-straight AFC East Division crown, an NFL record in case you didn’t know?
But the GOAT can’t play defense, and if you run the ball effectively, control the pace of the game, even slow it down some by keep the GOAT, and his nameless bunch of plug-n-play teammates, you have a chance.
Now, the Patriots losing on Monday night didn’t do the Steelers any favors. Even Vegas sees this game unlike those wearing black-and-gold-colored glasses. You see, under Bill Belichick, when the Pats are coming off a loss, New England is 38-11 straight up. That’s a winning percentage of nearly 78%.
But back to Bell, as he’s the focus of this column. Yes, I know he’s having a down year when it comes to yards per attempt, checking in at 3.9 per rush after 13 games. It’s his lowest number since his rookie season when he gained just 3.5 per carry.
Although I’m not thrilled at the total overall number, I still can see Bell being effective in this game by sheer volume. Bell can mix in those 2-, 3- and even 4-yard gains by churning out some 7-, 9-, or 13-yard totes. Bell can control the game for the Steelers by hitting 35 carries for 136-yards, which is still less than a 4-yard average, but that could easily be a key to a Steelers win.
Ben is still going to go for over 300-yards through the air—that much is certain. It wouldn’t shock me if he hit the 400-yard mark.
Just as long as Le’Veon Bell can make the numbers I laid out, I feel it will keep New England limited in terms of time of possession. Keep the GOAT on the sideline as much as possible, and, in effect, your defense that just got torched—a defense that’s missing it’s engine (not to mention several defensive backs due to injury).
Miami had the ball for 36-minutes on Monday. That kept their defense fresh all night long, and it showed. The Patriots had 13 total possessions in the game. Twelve of them went six plays or fewer.
Run Bell early.
Run Bell often.
Run Bell until the clock strikes zero and, with any luck, with a Steelers win.
John Phillips has been a member of the BTSC community since 2014. You can follow JP on Facebook if you can find him. You won’t find him on Twitter because any time spent Tweeting is you know, dumb.