Le'Veon Bell

Le'Veon Bell: If I wasn't hurt, Steelers would've beat Patriots in AFC title game

Le'Veon Bell: If I wasn't hurt, Steelers would've beat Patriots in AFC title game

In this week's edition of Patriots opponents' revisionist history/wishful thinking, we have Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell.

Bell told ESPN's Stephen A. Smith on "First Take" on Friday that if he had been healthy against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, it would have been a Steelers-Falcons Super Bowl. 

MORE

New England, of course, won its fifth Super Bowl title with a record 25-point comeback against Atlanta, with help from Lady Gaga, if you believe Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu's theory from last week. 

Bell left the Steelers' 36-17 AFC title game loss to the Pats with a groin injury after gaining just 20 yards on six carries.

"I think we beat them," Bell said, when asked what the outcome would've been if he hadn't been hurt. 

MORE PATRIOTS

"When I was out there, I wasn't feeling well at all," Bell said. "Their game plan was so different just because of the fact I was out there. If I go out there healthy and we go out there and do what we do, the way we've been doing it the whole season, especially in the playoffs, running the ball, running play-action, leaving [Antonio Brown] one-on-one ... I think the outcome would have been different. We'll get back to that next year."

In the Patriots' Week 7 visit to Pittsburgh they held Bell to 81 yards rushing (though he had 10 catches for 68 yards receiving) in a 27-16 New England victory. The Steelers were without starting QB Ben Roethlisberger for that game. 

The Patriots will visit Heinz Field again in the 2017 regular season. 

Curran: Will NFL punish 'transparent' Steelers for hiding Le'Veon Bell injury?

Curran: Will NFL punish 'transparent' Steelers for hiding Le'Veon Bell injury?

Back in October, Mike Tomlin was asked why the Steelers ruled quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out of a game with the Patriots so early in the week.

“We’re a transparent group,” said Tomlin. “We don’t hide. We are who we are."

The statement seemed a little sanctimonious and could easily be construed as a thinly-veiled shot at the Patriots, who share what they have to when they have to and little more.

Now the statement is hypocritical to boot. The groin injury that forced Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell from the AFC Championship Game on Sunday was a long-standing one that the Steelers may have been hiding on their injury reports.

Teams are on the hook to list any significant or noteworthy injuries to players on their practice participation and injury reports.

Tomlin has framed Bell’s groin injury as being insignificant.

As Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk points out:

Here’s the problem with that argument. Bell had been missing practice time. Each of the three Wednesdays before the team’s playoff games, Bell didn’t practice. Last Thursday, he missed practice for ‘personal reasons.’

"The circumstances put the league office in a tough spot. If Bell missed no practice time, the folks at 345 Park Avenue could say, ‘The injury wasn’t significant, and Bell participated in all practices and games.’ Since Bell missed four of nine practices over a three-week period with the ‘not injury related’ designation at a time when Bell had a groin injury, the league will have a hard time burying its head in the sand on this one.”

Additionally, while the injury may not have been significant, the best back in the league having a tender groin is noteworthy and warranted disclosure. There was a lot of clucking a few years back when the Patriots listed Tom Brady on their injury report every week with a shoulder situation. Significant? He didn’t miss many games with it. Noteworthy? Absolutely.

In a statement released after the Ravens were fined for injury-report chicanery, the league maintained: The Injury Report Policy states that, “All players with significant or noteworthy injuries must be listed on the report, even if the player takes all the reps in practice, and even if the team is certain that he will play in the upcoming game. This is especially true of key players and those players whose injuries have been covered extensively by the media.”

With the NFL possibly opening up shop in Las Vegas in the next couple of years, it would behoove them to make sure every franchise is as “transparent” as Tomlin proclaimed the Steelers were back in October.

The reason the NFL injury report exists is, in large part, so that gamblers can’t profit from insider info. No NFL franchise is more attuned to making sure gambling interests aren’t served than the Steelers. In 2008, after the NFL looked the other way for decades while the Rooney family maintained control of the Steelers and several racetracks, two Rooney brothers divested themselves of Steelers ownership so they could maintain the family’s gambling interests.

So the appearance of fudging Bell’s injury isn’t just a bad look for the coach, it’s an awful look for the Steelers. And, if the NFL does nothing after having docked the Seattle Seahawks a second-round pick for an injury report infraction, it will give rise to the perception the league office is giving Pittsburgh preferential treatment. Which would be the second time this season that could be alleged, given the way the league swept away accusations from Giants personnel that the Steelers were using deflated footballs in a game earlier this season.

It’s a tangled web they weave, ain’t it?

 

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

steelers-patriots-leveon-bell-011817x.jpg

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test.