Good news, Pittsburgh. Le’Veon Bell is back.
Bell rushed for 179 yards on 32 carries in the win over Kansas City, moving the Steelers to 4-2 and giving the Chiefs their first loss of the season. The Steelers defense stood strong all day, holding the Chiefs on their final drive to secure the win, but Bell was the story of the game, and he just might have put Pittsburgh back in the upper echelon of AFC contenders.
Sure, sure, we said Bell was back two weeks ago when he rushed 35 times for 144 yards and two scores in a win at Baltimore. Yes, the following week he was held to just 47 yards on 15 carries in a home loss to Jacksonville. So, admittedly Steelers fans should take this with a huge grain of Todd-Haley-is-calling-the-plays salt. But good news! Le’Veon Bell is back!
Okay, so Bell came back against a run defense that, heading into this week, was giving up 118 yards per game, yes, but that’s tied for 11th-worst in the league, with puts them near the bottom, but almost a third of the league is worse against the run. That includes the Steelers, who held the Chiefs in check much of the game Sunday, after entering the contest giving up 136.6 rushing yards, sixth-worst in the NFL. The Chiefs finished Sunday’s game with just 29 net rushing yards.
Bell entered the game averaging nearly a yard and a half below his per-carry rate last season, tallying just 371 yards rushing on 102 carries this season. Sure, the holdout of the entire preseason got him off to a dreadful start this year, with just 32 yards on 10 carries in the opening win against the Browns, but he had just 87 yards on 27 carries the following week in a win against Minnesota and only 61 yards on 15 carries in the overtime loss to Chicago.
It’s really simple: In Pittsburgh’s two losses, Bell rushed the ball 15 times. In three of the team’s four wins, Bell had 27 or more carries.
It’s been that way his entire career, which is why it’s so infuriating when Haley, Ben Roethlisberger and the offense don’t just hand the ball off and let Bell dominate. In games Bell has carried the ball 20 or more times in his career, the Steelers are 26-3, including the playoffs. In games Bell has 23 or more carries, the Steelers are 17-0.
Sunday marked the 16th time in his career Bell rushed for 100-plus yards in the regular season, having rushed for 100-plus in two of his three playoff appearances as well. Bell’s 179 yards Sunday were the fourth-most he’s had in his career, and the sixth time, including playoffs, he rushed for more than 150 yards. And it could have been more.
Even without his 25-yard run that was called back because of a hold, Bell torched the Chiefs defense for more than 170 yards for the second time in 2017. Twice in this calendar year the Steelers have gone into Kansas City and won, riding Bell the whole way. In the playoff win this past January, Bell rushed for 170 yards on 30 carries, narrowly eclipsed by today’s output in both yards and rushes. He had two catches in that playoff win, adding three in Sunday’s victory.
The Steelers beat the Chiefs last October as well, and Bell led the way with 144 yards on just 18 carries that day, adding another 34 on five catches. That means in Bell’s last three games against Kansas City, he’s rushed 80 times for 493 yards, an average of more than 6.1 yards per carry, with more than 530 yards from scrimmage.
The Steelers won all three.
Should these two teams meet in the playoffs, and unless New England has something to say about it, they should, the Chiefs are going to have to figure out a way to stop Bell if they want to advance past the Steelers. All Pittsburgh has to do is hope Haley calls No. 26 more than 20 times. The rest should take care of itself.