The Pittsburgh Steelers have appeared in three playoff games since 2014. Due to injuries, Le’Veon Bell has been unavailable for all three of those post-season appearances. At long last, Bell will finally suit up for a playoff game on Sunday.
In week seventeen of the 2014 season, in a game against the Bengals that decided the fate of the division, Bell hyperextended his right knee in the third quarter of regulation. The Steelers won that night, but their victory was squandered by the fact that Bell’s injury was quite serious.
The Steelers signed Ben Tate as a last-minute act of desperation, but he failed to prove reliable. Tate and Josh Harris combined for 44 yards on fourteen carries. The Steelers went on to lose 30-17 in their first playoff appearance since their loss to the Denver Broncos in 2011. The next year would prove just as disastrous for the young running back.
Bell only appeared in six games in 2015 before yet another knee injury kept him out of the Steelers push for the playoffs. The Steelers placed the running back on their injured/reserve list, and he eventually had surgery to repair his torn MCL. Bell missed the Steelers’ two playoff games in 2015 against the Bengals and Broncos with DeAngelo Williams filling in for him.
He returned with a vengeance in 2016, recording 1,268 rushing yards and 616 receiving yards in twelve games.
That’s 93 less rushing yards and 238 less receiving yards than what he posted in his only sixteen game season in 2014. Bell’s performance played a huge factor in securing the AFC North and the 3rd seed playoff berth to send the Steelers back to the post-season.
Bell’s first post-season appearance will be against an opponent he has already faced this season. The Miami Dolphins will travel to Pittsburgh for their first playoff appearance since 2008. Many feel that since Miami already defeated Pittsburgh 30-15 in week six, they will do so with ease once again. This time they will face a Le’Veon Bell that is more determined and hungry than ever before.
Only mustering 53 yards on ten rushing attempts, Bell was quite limited on the ground due to Pittsburgh playing from behind early. The tone of the game will be different this time around. The Dolphins’ offensive line is hampered by injuries and their secondary is missing key members. The Steelers are not without their own injuries, but are more of a complete team than they were in October.
In six of the seven games Bell started during their winning streak, he amassed 835 rushing yards. In only one of those games did he fail to surpass the one hundred yard mark. Bell has proven that the durability issues which surrounded him at the beginning of the season are behind him, and he could be a valuable asset to the Steelers’ offense for many years to come.
Many are excited to finally see how Bell’s performance in a post-season game can affect the Steelers’ ability to stay in contention for playoff victories.
He has proven to be a powerful force in the regular season, but the playoffs are much different. According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bell relishes the fact that he could finally help contribute to a potential seventh championship for the Steelers.
"“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do the last four years, I’m glad this year i’ll actually be able to.” – Le’Veon Bell"
There is no doubt that the Steelers’ organization, as well as Steelers’ Nation, are excited to finally have Bell available to contribute in meaningful January football. DeAngelo Williams has served as a great back up in Bell’s absence, but the veteran could never emulate the astounding feats that Bell performs week in and week out.
With Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Bell entering the playoffs relatively healthy, the Steelers have one of the best chances of returning to the Super Bowl that they have had in quite a while. With their defense getting better as the year has progressed, they are no longer the liability they were at the beginning of the season.
Le’Veon Bell’s future with the Steelers has been discussed often throughout the season, but what’s most important at this time is a playoff run that has the ability to end in Houston. Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh will be the beginning of the biggest stage in Bell’s career, and he will surely be up to any challenge he is faced with.