Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell ain't no rookie anymore. After two weeks, he's the league's leader in yards from scrimmage with 308. That's about 25 percent of the production he had through 13 games last season. Impressive stats, without a doubt. The only problem is, neither Bell nor the Steelers have faced a team with a linebacker the caliber of Carolina's Luke Kuechly.
We knew Bell would be a yards-from-scrimmage machine this season, and the only thing keeping him out of the top half of the first round was injury concerns as well as potential end-zone vulturing from backup LeGarrette Blount. Through two games, Blount has taken a red zone touchdown away from Bell, but only has six other carries, gaining seven yards.
That kind of stat line wouldn't be shocking for Bell early in this game, as the Panthers' run defense should be considered one of the best in the NFL. They have athleticism and strength along their defensive line, Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei in particular, providing support for Kuechly to roam free and do his thing.
Getting the ball to Bell in space is the key to his game. He's a much smarter runner this season than he was last year, showing a much-improved level of vision and burst. He dropped around 20 pounds this off-season, and the added agility is something defenses don't appear to have expected. He already has left a few defenders lunging on the ground after cutting to his right in particular, and the Panthers' game plan will likely need to be centered on getting him to the ground. Bell will continue to cut back and forth as he goes through the line of scrimmage, making it key for the Panthers to keep fighting to bring him down.
It's not an easy task, but the Panthers certainly have the ability to do it. It will depend on how often the Steelers use their primary weapon. Turnovers and a lack of consistency got Bell only 16 touches against Baltimore, down from 27 against Cleveland in Week 1. Ideally, he's going to be around that 25-touch mark. One of the keys to this game will be whether the Steelers can possess the ball long enough for him to reach that point.
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