Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell to face stout Kansas City defense in 2016 debut


On Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back, Le’Veon Bell, will make his 2016 debut. After serving a three-game suspension, Bell returns to make an impact in the Steelers’ offensive backfield.

DeAngelo Williams performed extremely well in Bell’s stead. In three games, Williams rushed for 258 yards on 66 attempts. Targeted 21 times in the passing game, Williams hauled in 14 of them for 89 yards. He reached the endzone twice on the ground, and once through the air. His role on the offense will decrease significantly, but will be ready should the unmentionable happen.

For Bell, 2016 marks the second year in a row he has not been available week one due to suspension. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Bell will be out to prove he is worth a contract extension despite his off the field concerns. His first test will be a Kansas City front seven that has not allowed a running back to rush for one-hundred yards against them this season.

In the first three weeks of the season, Kansas City has limited the likes of Melvin Gordon, Lamar Miller, and Matt Forte to double digit rushing yards. Gordon rushed for 57 yards on 14 attempts, Miller recorded 83 yards on 25 attempts, while Forte tallied 65 yards on 15 carries. In total, running backs against Kansas City’s defense average 3.9 yards per attempt.

In Bell’s last meeting against the Chiefs, he steamrolled Kansas City’s defense for 121 yards on 17 carries. He averaged over seven yards per carry in each of those attempts. This occurred after Bell’s first four games of the season, with 86 attempts already under his belt. With fresh legs under him, Bell will see “a lot” of action on Sunday night.

Bell’s return to the starting lineup comes at a time when the offensive needs it the most. After a 34-3 drubbing handed to them by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Steelers’ offense is in need of a spark. While Williams is still a capable running back, he doesn’t have the youth or finesse of Bell. With Bell in the backfield, the Steelers will not be so quick to abandon the run if they are trailing.

Kansas City looks to build of off the momentum they established after holding the New York Jets’ offense to a field goal last weekend. Headlined by defensive tackle, Dontari Poe, Kansas City’s defensive front will attempt to stymie the attempts of a one-hundred yard rusher for a fourth straight game. With the likes of Jaye Howard, Allen Bailey, and 2016 second-round pick, Chris Jones, the Chiefs have the tools necessary to do so.

Bell’s return also adds another threat in Ben Roethlisberger‘s passing game. Markus Wheaton‘s first game of the season was an extreme letdown, as he was able to haul in only one of his five targets for a grand total of two yards. Wheaton’s inability to produce, and a foot injury to Eli Rogers that could sideline him for the game against Kansas City, limits Ben’s options at receiver to Antonio Brown or Sammie Coates.

The Steelers would do well to take a page out of their past two opponent’s playbooks. Combined, Giovani Bernard and Darren Sproles caught 15 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers’ defense over the past two weeks. In 2014, the last season Bell played in all 16 regular season games, the running back caught 83 passes for 854 yards and three touchdowns.

Averaging 10.2 yards a catch, along with 4.6 yards a carry, Bell proved himself as the most versatile running back in the NFL that year. With Bell’s suspension to start the year, and his eventual loss due to a knee injury later in 2015, it didn’t completely put the Steelers’ offense in a bind, but it was a noticeable setback.

When asked what Bell brings to the passing game in his return, Roethlisberger wasn’t shy when it comes to how he feels about his All-Pro running back, and had this to say:

"“He is one of the best in the business at what he does. He can block, he can catch, he can run after the catch. I’m excited to get him back out there.”"

Bells’ presence in the passing game should be well utilized against the Chiefs. Brown will have his hands full with sophomore cornerback Marcus Peters, Jesse James will contend with the likes of Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry, and Coates will be covered by Phillip Gaines. With so many playmakers on the Steelers’ offense, Bell could be left unaccounted for at times.

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Le’Veon Bell’s future with the Steelers is shrouded in mystery at this point of the season, but, for the time being, he is once again an important piece of the Steelers’ offense. The Steelers need a good game against Kansas City to prove they are still relevant in the AFC, and Bell will play a pivotal role in a win on Sunday night in Heinz Field.