The last two Steelers' opponents noticed in their film review prior to the game Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is a load.
After going off for 185 yards in a will-exerting fourth quarter display of dominance over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 14, both the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs sold out to stop him. They succeeded.
By succeeded, I mean, they lost the game. They won the Battle of Stopping Bell but left open passing lanes for Antonio Brown, who had 17 catches for 195 yards in those two games. Without safety help in the deeper middle portion of the field, tight end Heath Miller had back-to-back 68 yard games, catching 11 passes on 13 targets. Ben Roethlisberger didn't turn the ball over once in that time, and even if Bell, the team's MVP, is the straw that stirs the Steelers' powerful offensive drink, shutting him down does not stop the success of the Steelers' offense.
Observer-Reporter's Dale Lolley spoke to Bell about his limited production the last two weeks.
"I wouldn’t say (it’s) frustrating," Bell told Lolley. "Teams are obviously trying to slow down the run a little bit but they can’t stop the pass when they do that.
"Pick your poison."
Poison, indeed. The firepower of the Steelers' offense has met, for the first time in years, a level of focus and stamina affording them the ability to close games out. They've outscored opponents 35-16 in the fourth quarters of their three-game winning streak, something Cincinnati knows plenty well. A Bengals team that competed hard with the Steelers through three quarters had their doors blown off by the Steelers over the final 15 minutes.
Cincinnati took a 21-17 lead into the fourth quarter, only to see the Steelers put on 25 consecutive points on two touchdown runs by Bell, a 44-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham and a 94-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant.
By the fourth quarter, the Steelers' offensive line has shown one scheme, but the versatility and experience the offense now possesses gives them the ability to reach a bigger hand into a wider bag of plays, giving them an element of surprise to throw at weary opponents. The role LeGarrette Blount was assumed to have this offseason has been handled perfectly fine by Bell, and the team - unlike years in the past or even games earlier this season - is able to slam the door shut on its opponents.
A legitimate deep, vertical threat in Bryant is turning into a solid inside route-runner, and he's being utilized at a high rate. He's caught passes of at least 14 yards in his last three games, including the 94-yard touchdown and a 44-yard grab against Kansas City that helped set up a field goal. Miller's contributions against Kansas City made big impacts, and Roethlisberger and the offensive line, despite playing against a defensive front seven boasting three Pro Bowl players (outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali and defensive tackle Dontari Poe), only took one sack.