NFL Wire News

Bell’s injury thrusts Williams into critical role for Steelers

on

The Sports Xchange

The gang was back together again for about 20 minutes on Sunday. Now the Pittsburgh Steelers must figure out a way to make a push for the playoffs without one of their best offensive playmakers.

All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell was placed on injured reserve Monday afternoon, one day after he injured his right knee in a 16-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Bell’s season is over, and the Steelers must compete for a playoff berth in the AFC with veteran backup DeAngelo Williams carrying the load at tailback.

Sunday marked the first time since the 2014 regular-season finale that Bell, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receivers Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant were on the field at the same time.

“It’s always an emotional blow when you lose any guy, let alone a guy like Le’Veon Bell,” Williams said. “I just want to step in and try to do my job as best I can do my job, not like Le’Veon does his job because we’re two different runners. He brings a different dimension to the team as well as I do. I just have to go in there and be productive in the backfield and take the pressure off Ben.”

The Steelers can draw some confidence from the fact that Williams led the AFC in rushing after the first two weeks of the season, when he filled in for Bell while he served a two-game suspension. Williams had 204 yards in the first two games against the Patriots and 49ers, and the Steelers went 1-1 in those games.

This time, Williams must fill in for the long haul.

“He’s more than capable,” veteran tight end Heath Miller said. “He’s a great player in his own right. When he steps in the huddle we know we have a big playmaker in him as well.”

The Steelers had better hope Williams has some playmaking ability left in his 32-year-old body. At the moment they are on the outside looking in of the AFC playoff picture.

The Steelers’ hopes for repeating as AFC North champions pretty much died when they fell to Cincinnati. They are 3 1/2 games behind the Bengals with eight games left. Their best chance now is to earn one of the two wild cards from the conference.

Right now, the New York Jets (4-3) and Oakland Raiders (4-3) are the fifth and sixth seeds in the AFC. The Steelers (4-4) are right behind them and can vault the Raiders this week when they visit Heinz Field.

The problem for the Steelers is they are 1-4 in the conference while the Raiders are 4-2 and the Jets 3-2. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head, but the second tiebreaker is conference record. The Steelers do not play the Jets this season.

That’s why the Raiders game feels like a must-win for the Steelers. They already lost a head-to-head matchup with another AFC West team – the Kansas City Chiefs, who improved to 3-5 with a win over the Detroit Lions in London.

“We have to continue to stay together and continue to be strong and commit to be the difference and find a way to win,” Brown said. “It’s not over yet. We have to continue to stand and fight. We have a good opponent coming in the house this week.”

The Steelers signed veteran running back Isaiah Pead to replace Bell on the 53-man roster. They also have Jordan Todman, who can serve as a backup to Williams.

REPORT CARD VS. BENGALS:

–PASSING OFFENSE: D. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 262 yards, but he was intercepted three times, including twice in the fourth quarter. He finished with a 57.8 passer rating. Cincinnati was committed to stopping Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, who had six catches for 47 yards and four catches for 49 yards, respectively. Tight end Heath Miller was open underneath and had 105 receiving yards to lead the team. Miller had the longest reception for the Steelers, a 25-yarder.

–RUSH OFFENSE: B. The Steelers rushed for 116 yards on 19 attempts for a healthy 6.1 average. DeAngelo Williams led the team with 71 yards on nine attempts after he took over for an injured Le’Veon Bell, who had 45 yards on 10 carries before a knee injury forced him from the game. It was a solid overall rushing performance considering Bell’s importance to the offense, but in the fourth quarter when the Steelers needed something positive from the ground game they only got seven yards on three carries.

–PASS DEFENSE: B. The Steelers intercepted Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton twice, including one in the end zone that was returned 42 yards in the fourth quarter to thwart a scoring drive. They held the Bengals to 231 passing yards, well below their season average, and kept top tight end Tyler Eifert in check with only four catches for 39 yards. But the Steelers were not able to contain receiver A.J. Green, who had 11 receptions for 118 yards, including the winning 9-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter that gave the Bengals the lead for good.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus. One week after allowing 138 yards rushing to the Kansas City Chiefs the Steelers rebounded by yielding just 78 yards on 23 carries to the Bengals. The Steelers tweaked their front seven after the Chiefs game. With Stephon Tuitt out for a second consecutive week with a knee injury, defensive coordinator Keith Butler started nose tackle Steve McLendon at defensive end and benched top defensive end reserve Cam Thomas. Second-year player Daniel McCullers took over at nose tackle. Whether it was that move or something else, the stout rush defense allowed the Steelers put the Bengals in some tough situations.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus. The Steelers got next to nothing from their return game and received inconsistent efforts from punter Jordan Berry. Kickoff returner Dri Archer continues to struggle. He had two returns for 34 yards and made a bad decision early in the game when he decided to bring out a kick that was five yards deep in the end zone. He only got to the 10-yard line. When Berry was called on to punt after the offense failed to get a first down, Berry delivered a line drive 43-yard punt that was returned 18 yards. Those special teams failures set up a Bengals field goal that cut the deficit to one point. Cam Heyward did block a field goal and Chris Boswell made his eighth consecutive field goal since joining the team in Week 5, but those plays were not enough to overcome an otherwise substandard performance from the specialty units.

–COACHING: C-minus. Head coach Mike Tomlin was taken to task for his clock management late in the game when he allowed 38 seconds to run off before the two-minute warning when his team trailed by three points. Tomlin countered that he’d rather have an extra timeout for the final drive rather than the extra 38 seconds. After the Bengals kicked a field goal with 1:51 left to make it 16-10, the Steelers drove to the Bengals 16 with four seconds remaining, putting Tomlin’s decision in the spotlight. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley had to deal with an in-game injury to All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, but the Steelers did not score another touchdown after their first series. The strong defensive performance from coordinator Keith Butler’s unit saved this grade from being lower. The Bengals’ high-powered offense was held in check and never got untracked against a unit that produced two turnovers and three sacks of Andy Dalton.


About The Sports Xchange

Since 1987, the Sports Xchange has been the best source of information and analysis for the top professionals in the sports publishing & information business