Against an Offense That 'Starts with The Run' the Steelers Are Excited for a Le'Veon Bell Reunion
PITTSBURGH -- It's been two years since Le'Veon Bell carried a ball for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A storied ending many would like to forget, the running back's departure from the Steel City was filled with attacks, labels and rap disses. Now, for the first time since 2017, his former teammates will meet him on the gridiron, but this time as opponents.
"Seeing what he does against opposing teams you always want your shot to play against him and we have that chance so it's going to be a fun one," Mike Hilton said with a smirk.
A year after sitting out a season because of failed negotiations, things between the Steelers and Bell have calmed. An out-lash of Antonio Brown, a few apologies/messages to the fans and social media support to his former teammates, have brushed any hard feelings aside.
In Week 16, the New York Jets aren't fighting for a postseason birth but their running back will be itching for a strong performance. In his first season since 2017, Bell has wracked up 1,080 total yards and 4 touchdowns as he's become the forefront of his new offense.
Against his former team, Bell won't be looking to take it easy, and the Steelers locker room knows it. When asked about the Jets offense, the stayed on the same path we were talking - Le'Veon Bell - and how it starts and finishes with the running back's versatility.
"[Sam] Darnold has been playing well the last couple games but it all starts with the run game," Hilton said. "They want to get 26 involved and find ways to him space and let him be the playmaker he is, so we've got to find ways to turn him back and put the ball in Darnold's hands."
It's been awhile since the Steelers defense saw Bell in person. Even with the gap, though, they all remember exactly what type of runner he is. His unique style has been a primary factor in his success throughout his career. A patient ball carrier who can find wholes and make people miss posses threats to every defense, but it's something Pittsburgh's see plenty of times during his time with the team.
"We know what kind of running back he is, we're kind of familiar with him so we know what he's going do be doing," Bud Dupree said. "We know what type of style he is, we know how patient he is so you know you can't give open plays because he'll make you miss and we know we've got to count him as a receiver too. They're going to try and make the offense go around him the whole time."
Having seen his play-style transform during the beginning of his career, the Steelers could have a keen sense of how he's going to attack each play.
An advantage? Against a player like Bell it's hard to say any team holds an upper hand because of readiness but Pittsburgh's learned his ways enough to have a clearer understanding of what's to come. And to Mike Hilton, that's a reason to believe they have strong chance to shut him down.
"I actually do," Hilton smiled as he explained how being former teammates helps against Bell. "I feel like going against him in practice you've got a good feel of how he likes to read things stuff like that. Of course, it's easier said than done but we feel like with the speed we have we can get a lot of guys around him and kind of use that patience against him."
It comes down to execution. For the Steelers to gain leverage on the Jets offense they'll need to slow down the source of their game plan. It moves through Bell and makes mistakes through Darnold. Pittsburgh knows that and has one thing in mind on how to take control in Week 16.
"We know that they've got to go through Le'Veon so if we stop Le'Veon it opens up a lot more opportunities to make them pass it and create havoc," Dupree said.