By Matthew Marczi
Some surprising news surfaced late yesterday from Jay Glazer, who reports that the Pittsburgh Steelers believe that the recovery of Le’Veon Bell’s foot injury is ahead of schedule and that they expect him to make his NFL debut in London this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.
It will certainly be a moral boost for the Steelers to see one of their prized draft picks finally take the field after essentially missing the preseason and much of training camp, but that lack of football activity will likely cause head coach Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff to limit his workload right off the bat.
Because the Steelers have their Bye following the game against Minnesota, it gives the team the perfect chance to evaluate just where Bell is, as they can afford to test him some and then see how he rebounds during the week without the risk of a minor setback causing him to miss the following game.
One must wonder, however, just what Le’Veon Bell will be able to provide the Steelers as an offensive threat this week.
In reality, the Steelers actually did have some success on the ground during Sunday night’s loss to the Chicago Bears. The problem was that they were simply playing from behind almost immediately and were never able to ride the running game, instead turning to an aerial assault that saw Ben Roethlisberger have his first 400+ yard game since the team’s victory over the Green Bay Packers in 2009.
Roethlisberger, however, was just as big a part of the team abandoning the run as anybody, as he contributed significantly to the team’s woes with his four turnovers. He had the ball knocked out of his hands twice for strip sacks, the second of which was returned for a touchdown. He also threw two interceptions, the first one being taken all the way for a score as well.
Playing from behind—first down 17-0 and then 24-3—the Steelers had little choice but to go to the air early and often, with Roethlisberger throwing 41 passes. When they did turn to the ground, however, it was not Isaac Redman, who did not carry a single time during the game.
Instead, it was Felix Jones, until he put the ball on the ground, and then it was Jonathan Dwyer. All told, the Steelers rushed for 80 yards, which was more than double their total through the first two games, and most of that could be attributed to sporadically improved blocking, which had been the bane of the backs’ existence. Dwyer gained only 39 yards on 12 carries, but he also was able to break a couple, including one for 25 yards. Jones also added 34 yards on his seven carries and showed himself to be a good zone runner.
If the Steelers quickly fall behind as they did last week, Le’Veon Bell may not even have much of a chance to have an impact. As the blocking continues to improve, however, he could certainly find some success on the ground if the game remains close. We have not seen much at all of him other than media reports, however, so it is impossible to forecast what to expect from the second-round pick’s NFL debut.