Le’Veon Bell’s dominant performance puts the Steelers in good position for the stretch run. Plus, answering reader questions about Nick Saban’s NFL viability, Tom Coughlin’s job security and the leader in the offensive rookie of the year race
Nothing is forever in football, and the capper to Week 11 put an exclamation point on that. A night after New England upstart Jonas Gray did something totally uncharacteristic in this aerial circus of a passing season—rushing the ball 38 times for 199 yards to steamroll the Colts on Sunday night—Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell did the same to the Tennessee Titans on Monday night. Putting up the first 200-yard rushing day of the 2014 season, Bell ran it 33 times for 204 yards in Pittsburgh's 27-24 win in Nashville.
The numbers are stark enough. But it's how Bell did it too. In the final 17 minutes of the game, Bell carried 15 times (for 113 yards) while Ben Roethlisberger threw only eight passes. Bell's style is powerful and thoughtful; he waits for his blocking and for the hole to develop (for a reasonable amount of time, but doesn't dawdle), and he attacks the hole with a vengeance. Some of the hits he takes, and dishes out, leave you wondering if he's going to get up and walk back to the huddle. But on Monday night he always did. Now Bell gets the late Week 12 bye to heal up for the final five games. After the Monday night workload, he can use the rest.
As for the Steelers, they are in in the middle of the tightest division race in the league, the jam-packed AFC North. The way the division shapes up, with important tiebreakers, as the regular season gets crucial:
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh play twice in the season's last 22 days.
Now onto your email:
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SABAN IN THE NFL. Do you really recommend an NFL team take a flyer on Nick Saban? Here’s a guy who quit on the Dolphins with several years left on his contract. He also chose Daunte Culpepper’s knee over Drew Brees shoulder, which crippled the franchise. He bears most of the responsibility for the 1-15 debacle that followed in 2007. In my mind he’s just a small step above Bobby Petrino in hanging a team out to dry.
—Todd Habiger, Shawnee, Kan.
Good points. But I can’t help but wonder how history would have been different if he had made just one simple different choice—at quarterback. Had he gone against the recommendations of the Miami medical staff, which advised that Culpepper would be a better medical decision because of the risks involved with Brees's reconstructed shoulder, I believe Saban would still be coaching the Dolphins today. But I do understand your point about how he abandoned the franchise. That’s exactly what he did. And Wayne Huizenga, the owner at the time, was too nice a guy to insist he fulfill his obligation with the team.
My point is not that if Saban expresses some interest, an owner should hand over the keys of the franchise to him. But if Saban has some itch to coach pro football one more time, I would want to at least discuss it with him. The reason Saban left Miami is because he didn’t think he could be immediately competitive there. What would happen if a team with a good young quarterback and some other building blocks in place went after him? I’d love to see Saban in a situation where he takes over a team with a good chance to win today. My feeling is he’d add a win or two right away to any good team.
ONE MORE LOOK. You briefly mentioned the controversial special teams play in the Lions-Cardinals game, but I am very curious if it was called correctly. I didn't agree that Justin Bethel had control of the ball, but even if he did, doesn't he need to maintain control without going into the end zone? He was clearly falling into the end zone, which was why he tried to bat it to his teammates. If anything, shouldn't the ball have been placed on the 20-yard-line, rather than the 1?
—Brent, Grand Rapids, Mich.
The way the rule works is that if the officials (and in this case, the New York replay center because the call was reviewed) find that a player has control of the ball before falling into the end zone and tosses it back, the ball cannot be advanced by the receiving team. This is no different than if a player was diving and retrieved the ball and in mid-air tossed the ball back into the field of play before hitting the ground in the end zone. If it was ruled that he had possession of the ball before any part of his body was on the goal line or over it, the ball would be downed inside the five-yard line, wherever it landed. That is what happened here. I know it is a bitter pill for the Lions because it cost Detroit about 44 yards of prime field position at a time when they desperately needed it, but I think the end result of the play was fair.
GONE COUGHLIN? Against the 49ers, it seemed as though every time the Giants defense did something good, Eli Manning found a way to mess things up, especially with that awful interception late in the game deep in San Francisco territory. Letting your team down with five horrible decisions makes him the real goat of the week. With the way the Giants' season is going, do you see Tom Coughlin coming back next year? Can an Eli Manning-led team ever win a Super Bowl again?
—Chris N., Stamford, Conn.
The way the Giants’ season is trending, it looks to me that the team will make a coaching change after the season—but not before. It’s always difficult after a team has had the kind of success Coughlin’s Giants have had to discuss firing a guy who still wants to coach. But I just don’t see John Mara being patient enough to give Coughlin one more year. As for Manning, I do believe that it would be in the team’s best interest to retain Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator and continue to run his style of the West Coast offense. Until Sunday, Manning was making excellent progress in mastering it, and with a good group of receivers and Victor Cruz likely returning in 2015, I think the Giants have some good offensive pieces in place. If I were them, I would prefer to spend my free-agent resources and high draft picks on defense and the offensive line.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE RACE. Has an Offensive Rookie of the Year race ever been this electric sans quarterbacks? Kelvin Benjamin and Mike Evans seem like the frontrunners, but Jeremy Hill is coming on late along with some outside shots like Brandin Cooks in New Orleans and Branden Oliver in San Diego. And then there's Zach Martin destroying everything in his path in Dallas. This could be a very interesting finish. Where does The MMQB stand?
—Tony, Weymouth, Mass.
This is going to be an extremely difficult Offensive Rookie of the Year vote. It would be hard to not pick Mike Evans right now, although after Week 10 my vote would have gone to John Brown of the Cardinals because of his three game-winning receptions in the fourth quarter for the team with football’s best record. The last six weeks should provide a good ebb and flow in this race, and I agree with you—I don’t remember one with this many good candidates.
PLAYER-MEDIA OBLIGATION. Why should Marshawn Lynch (or any other player) be forced to talk to the media after every game? He clearly suffers from some sort of social anxiety. In these times of political correctness, why can't we quiet types get some respect?
That’s a very good question, and I do have respect and empathy for those who struggle in social settings. The reason this media rule is in place is simple: If teammates see that Marshawn Lynch is given a pass and doesn’t have to speak to the press, then other teammates will say, “I don’t want to talk to those idiots either. So I’m not." After a while, theoretically, you would have some or many players on every team who wouldn’t speak to the press. Player silence would affect us in the media, but it would also hurt you, the rabid fan.
When uncooperative players hide from the press, they’re essentially saying to fans: It isn’t worth our time to connect with you. I know that players connect with fans in other ways, but for many the lifeline between players and the public is the media's coverage of the team during the week and the television networks' coverage of the games on the weekends. I'm probably a little old-fashioned when it comes to this. But even for players who don’t want to deal with the press for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to be a difficult commitment to answer a handful of questions during the week and a handful after the game, if asked.
CLEAN HIT. Where do you stand on the terrible call made by the officials in the Rams-Broncos game, when the Rams' Rodney McLeod was flagged for a personal foul for his hit on Emmanuel Sanders? Yes, it was a very hard hit, but it was shoulder to shoulder, and Sanders was not hit in the head or neck. And McLeod didn't launch himself or use his helmet as a weapon. I think the refs have become way too cowed over issues of concussions and are now way too quick to throw a flag on a big hit, even when it's not warranted under the rules.
I thought it was a hard but clean hit. It did not appear to me that it was a helmet-to-helmet hit. In this age of caution when it comes to debilitating hits on receivers, the emotional reaction to hard hits should not determine the way the officials on the field call the play. As painful a hit as it was, I would not say it deserved a penalty.
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