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My Way Too Early Speculation of Where Le’Veon Bell Will Land in 2019

Le’Veon Bell’s time in Pittsburgh is clearly coming to an end. But, where will the All-Pro, all-purpose back land in 2019?

It’s clear the Pittsburgh Steelers and All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell are headed for a divorce. At this point the relationship appears unsalvageable after his teammates, specifically the offensive line, recklessly spoke about his contract situation and reluctance to show up for their week one matchup against the Cleveland Browns. He’s even been removed from the depth chart for week two’s matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bell hasn’t signed his $14.5 million franchise tender, and will be docked $850 thousand for each game his misses. He wants a contract that will reset the market for top-flight running backs. Similar to what the LA Rams signed Todd Gurley to; 4 years, $60 million with $45 guaranteed. The 3-time All-Pro is two years older and unlikely to get that money from the Steelers, especially with the way his replacement, 2nd-year pro James Conner has performed so far in his absence in week one against the Cleveland Browns and training camp.

Bell’s not likely to get a long-term deal because of his age, but he’s a perfect match for teams that are in win now mode. Honestly, that’s the type of team he should be looking for, especially if he’s going to leave a franchise in Pittsburgh that’s always in the championship race.

So assuming it’s really over for Bell in the 412. Where could he land? Who needs him? Who could/is willing to pay him what he desires? Here is my way too early speculation of where he might land in 2019.

New York Jets. The Jets were in the hunt for quarterback Kirk Cousins and willing to pay him top dollar (I know QB money and RB money is different) before he chose the Minnesota Vikings and they drafted Sam Darnold with the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. They also were interested in acquiring Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders before he was eventually shipped off to the Chicago Bears. My point for bringing up those two players is to show that the Jets organization has the money and appears willing and desires to make a splash. Now that they appear to have a franchise QB in Darnold on a rookie contract, and their defense looks to be more than formidable, they’re only missing a top flight back. The three best friends for a young quarterback are an elite tackle to protect his blindside, a stout defense and a strong running game. Bell would help the team check the final box. Also, it’s New York. Bell likes the spotlight, and an offer anywhere near Gurley’s, even if it doesn’t top it, would likely pique his interest and make the Jets a strong contender in the AFC.

Indianapolis Colts. They’ve been trying to pair Andrew Luck with a running back since the day he was drafted to replace Peyton Manning. They’ve tried just about everything. Last season it was then 35-year old Frank Gore. In previous seasons they went as far as trading for Trent Richardson when he flamed out with the Cleveland Browns after being drafted two slots behind Luck in the 2012 draft. Nothing has worked. The Colts finally have invested in their offensive line to protect their wounded franchise QB. The other way to further that protection, get him an elite running back. Bell is worth the money if the Colts really think Luck is the championship caliber QB to lead them.

Green Bay Packers. The Pack desperately needs to get a running game to compliment Aaron Rodgers. Even though he is superhuman, at some point you put him at too much risk, being predictable by allowing him to drop back and sling it all over the field. They need balance. Green Bay was also interested in acquiring Khalil Mack before he was traded to the Bears. So they too are in win at all cost mode, NOW. Bell would give them a dimension they’ve NEVER had in A-A-Ron’s time under center in cheese country. A balanced attack would make the best QB in the game even scarier.

DARK HORSES

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Who knows what Jameis Winston’s future is in west Florida, but if they keep him beyond his rookie contract that ends in 2019, and he improves on and off the field, their offense has everything but an elite running back. The combination of DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans at wide receiver positions and OJ Howard at tight end is lethal. With Bell they’d have better weapons than what he’s currently apart of in the Burgh. Tampa Bay’s defense led by Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Brent Grimes is stout. Bell would make the Bucs the favorites in the best division in the NFL, the NFC South. A division that has been represented in the Super Bowl 2 of the last three seasons.

Seattle Seahawks. When Russell Wilson was at his best, he had “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch behind him. Even though he’s improved each season, their offense has been very predictable and Wilson playing sandlot ball. Now, they just spent their 2018 first round pick (27th overall) on Rashad Penny out of San Diego State who led FCS in rushing with 2,027 yards in 2017. So this is less likely than the other teams I have mentioned. However, Bell is a different animal, and if you can get him, YOU. GET. HIM.

Bi-Polar Steelers Strike Again

Zeke Elliott rushed for 114 yards, had 95 receiving yards and 3 total touchdowns to defeat the Steelers 35-30. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The Pittsburgh Steelers have to be the most bi-polar team in the NFL this season. When they are good, they are New England Patriots unstoppable good. When they are bad, they’re Cleveland Browns bad! The difference in how this team played in the first half versus the second half is a microcosm of this up and down season. Especially on the defensive end.

Everything started out so well when the defense kicked things off doing two things on its first drive they’ve struggle to do all season; sack the quarterback and force turnovers. The sack, and forced fumble by Anthony Chickillo, recovered by Ryan Shazier set the Steelers offense up at the Cowboys 38-yard line.

It was clear on that first drive, that Le’Veon Bell was on a mission to prove why many say he’s the best back in the League, even though Ezekiel Elliott may very well finish the season with the NFL rushing title and the rookie rushing record. I’ll get to Zeke in a moment.

The message was clear what offensive coordinator Todd Haley wanted to do. Bell gained 28 of the Steelers 38 yards on the scoring drive (3 carries for 14 yds and 2 catches for 14 yds and his first touchdown). In the first quarter he rushed for 37 yards on 7 carries. In the first half Bell earned 4 first downs (3 on the ground, 1 receiving), carrying the ball 12 times for 46 yards and caught 5 passes for 39 yards. For all of Ben Roethlisberger’s abilities and experience and Antonio Brown’s  skills, Bell is the best player on this unit and needs to be its driving force.

Roethlisberger carried the momentum from his near 4th quarter comeback at Baltimore into the game going 9 of 11 for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 1st quarter. For the half he was 21 of 26 for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. During the week he called on the young guys to step up and deliver with all the defenses attention and efforts going towards stopping Brown, and they did.

Eli Rogers had 4 catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. Jesse James had 4 catches for 59 yards and a huge catch and run that set up the Steelers last score that appeared to be the game winner. There effectiveness helped as it forced Dallas to readjust, and when they did Brown got loose finishing the evening with 14 catches for 154 yards and what appeared to be the game winning touchdown with 42 seconds remaining in the game. What appeared to be the game winner.

That’s the good, that the offense we know and love that can put up 30 points is still in those uniforms. Then there’s the bad.

Anthony Chickillo’s strip sack of Dak Prescott set the Steelers up for their first score of the day. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Face it, Blitzburgh defense is dead! This Steelers defense can’t, and won’t win them a game. Especially if they are playing an offense that ranks in the top half of the league. It’s embarrassing to watch them play.

Aside from the 83 yard screen pass and run touchdown scored by Elliott, they held the Cowboys offense in check in the first 30 minutes. Dallas was 1-5 on 3rd downs in the first half and 0-1 in the red zone, and Elliott ran for only 34 yards on 7 carries. This allowed the Steelers offense to control the ball for 17:45 minutes of the 30 minutes in the first half.

As much as the first half was controlled by the Steelers, the second half was equally controlled and dominated by Dallas. Dak Prescott led the Cowboys offense to 6-7 on 3rd downs in the half, he finished 22 of 32 for 319 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Cowboys flipped the time of possession battle in their favor holding the ball for 17:36 minutes in the second half, and for the game won 30:24 to 29:36. Elliott ran for 80 of 114 yards rushing and 2 rushing touchdowns in the second half. This is the problem with this team, not the offense, not special teams, but the defense or lack their of. I wouldn’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Keith Butler doesn’t finish the season, and honestly if this teams is going to turn it around, a shake up of that magnitude may be necessary.

And I don’t want to hear fans in Steelers Nation bash Mike Tomlin and call for his job for going for 2-point conversions after every touchdown. When it’s working, you all say that you “love the aggressiveness” of the team. So don’t be upset when it doesn’t work 100% of the time as it did the first two times they did it this season, or have the high percentage of success they had last season. Either way, if they kick field goals and make them all, that is 4 points and they still lose the by one point. So get off it.

Even with the loss the Steelers still have a chance to win the AFC North and get into the playoffs. They have another meeting with division leader Baltimore in Pittsburgh, two games against the winless Cleveland Browns, and another in Cincinnati against the Bengals. Now is the time for a greater sense of urgency.

Next up, at the Cleveland Browns. Kickoff is at 1:00 pm. If they lose to the winless Browns, then panic.

OTHER NOTES

  • Roethlisberger passed the 45,000 passing yard mark. He’s the fifth fastest in league history to do so (179 games).

When Killer B’s Attack

Sammie Coates (14) catches his first of 6 passes on the day for a 72-yard TD. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The start of the second quarter of the season for the Pittsburgh Steelers got off to a stinging start, for the visiting New York Jets. Decked out in their 1934 throwback jersey’s that many NFL fans call the “Bumble Bee” uniforms,  the trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell led the swarm against the Jets for the 31-13 victory.

It wasn’t the first offensive play from scrimmage like last week, but the third when Ben Roethlisberger connected with Sammie Coates on a 72-yard touchdown on 3rd and 7. I always say third down is one of the three most important statistical categories that indicates a win or loss. The only thing better than moving the chains on third down, is scoring on it.

Here’s why the Steelers won. The offense was 5 for 10 (.50%) on 3rd down, while the defense held the Jets to 2 for 11 and 0 for 1 on 4th down. You have to stay on the field on offense and get off the field on defense to win in this league. The dominance on third down allowed Roethlisberger and the offense to win the time of possession battle 31:50 to 28:10. In total the Black & Gold made 30 first downs (23 passing, 3 rushing, 4 to penalties). The last indicator of a victory is the turnover battle, which Pittsburgh lost 1-0. But, if you win two of those three, you win the game. I guarantee it. It’s the same story every week, that’s why I say it every week.

But, it also doesn’t hurt when you have arguably the best quarterback in football, and without a doubt the best overall running back and wide receiver in the game. In most cases, the only people that can stop this trio is themselves. Roethlisberger 34 of 47 for 380 yards and 4 touchdowns. Bell once again was dominant overall gaining 154 yards from scrimmage (66 rush, 88 receiving) a stat he’s led the league in per game average since he entered the league. While Brown didn’t have a monster game by his standards, his 9 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown were more than enough to draw the focus and attention of the New York secondary allowing Coates to go off for 139 yards on 6 catches and two touchdowns himself. Although, he should’ve had a day reminiscent of the one Markus Wheaton had last season against the Seattle  Seahawks when he went for 200+ receiving yards, had he caught a few more passes.

The old vets James Harrison (92) and Lawrence Timmons (94) have help the Steelers D finally turn the corner. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The defense also showed up, earning three more sacks in consecutive weeks after only having one in the first three games. Fitzpatrick was held below 300+ passing yards (255) which had been a problem for the Steelers even in the 3 previous wins. The Jets only amassed 316 total yards on the day (244 passing, 72 rushing).

The two major disappointments of the day are the Steelers D is the only unit that hasn’t picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick this season. The Jets QB came into the game leading the league with 10, and just threw 3 last week to the Seattle Seahawks. The second disappointment and more concerning one, is Cam Heyward left the game with a hamstring injury in the first half.

With the Baltimore Ravens 16-10 loss to the Washington Redskins, the Steelers are now in first place alone in the AFC North. Next up for the ‘Burgh, the 1-4 Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida next Sunday. Kickoff is set for 1:00 pm.

OTHER NOTES

• Sammie Coates earned his first career 100+ receiving yard game. On his first catch of the game he caught his sixth pass of over 40 yards on the season for the 72-yard touchdown.

• Ben Roethlisberger extended his streak of throwing at least 1 touchdown pass in a game to 41, the 2nd longest streak in NFL history, and with his 3rd touchdown pass of the day, to Antonio Brown, he earned his six consecutive 3+ TD pass game at Heinz Field.

Redemption and Domination in the 412

Coach Tomlin called Sunday night’s game “Redemption Sunday”, his team responded in a big way. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

“During this particular course of the journey, you have an opportunity to learn about yourself in terms of how you respond to adversity.” – Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin after last week’s 34-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

What I think we all learned is, that in the words of the late Minnesota Vikings head coach Dennis Green, “the Steelers are who we though they were” when many predicted they would have the most explosive offense in the NFL and earn a trip to the Super Bowl 51 in Houston this coming February.

Just like last week’s first quarter set the horrific tone for the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, this week’s first quarter was a complete 180 in the Steelers favor. Pittsburgh got out to a 22 point lead thanks to the much maligned defense creating 2 first quarter turnovers (1 fumble, 1 interception), that led to 15 points, while also forcing Kansas City to punt 3 times. That is why I have to give a game ball to defensive coordinator Keith Butler. I didn’t see that “bend, but don’t break” mentality Sunday night when the game still mattered. Butler’s unit pressure the quarterback throughout the night and held the Chiefs without a point for 49:49. For the game, they sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith 3 times, all by defensive end Cam Heyward. The defense only had 1 sack coming into the game. Kansas City gained 357 yards (270 passing, 87 rushing) for the game. But, through 3 quarters when the dogs were still hunting, it was 25 rushing yards and 228 passing yards.

My other game ball goes to offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Haley countered the Chiefs aggressive defensive by being aggressive himself attacking them down field, especially last season’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, Marcus Peters, who currently leads the league in interceptions (4). On the Steelers 1st offensive play of the game, Ben Roethlisberger went up top to Sammie Coates for a 47 yard gain, his 5th catch of over 40 yards already this season. “Lethal Weapon 7” was 7 of 9 for 135 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first 15. At one point he had thrown 3 consecutive passes for touchdowns. Haley and the offensive stayed aggressive the rest of the game. At the half Roethlisberger was 14 of 17 for 210 yards and 4 touchdowns and finished the night 22 of 27 for 300 yards and 5 touchdowns. Roethlisberger looked inspired to top Atlanta Falcons quarterback, and reigning NFL Player of the Month, Matt Ryan’s big day (503 passing yds, 4 TDs).

The Steelers offense had a little extra “Juice” in the lineup that aided their bounce back 43-14 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

I can’t leave out Le’Veon Bell who returned to the field in explosive fashion running for 144 yards on 18 carries, for the most in the NFL this weekend, while also adding 34 receiving yards on 5 catches. The team got much needed “Juice” scoring 43 points while gaining 436 total yards (287 passing, 149 rushing).

My last game ball goes to Cam Heyward who had 3 sacks to go along with 6 tackles (6 solo). He also batted the pass that was intercepted and returned by linebacker Jarvis Jones setting the Steelers offense up inside Chiefs 5 yard line.

The redemption wasn’t just about the loss last Sunday to the Eagles. Last season the Chiefs dominated the Steelers in Arrowhead Stadium (23-13) without Roethlisberger, who was nursing a knee injury. Beating a 2015 playoff team this way is the type of deodorant Pittsburgh needed to wash away the stink of getting housed by a rookie QB, from division I-AA, who was expected to redshirt this season. I’m not going to overreact and say this game was a must win, but coming off last week’s beatdown, the Steelers played with a hint of desperation and dare I say NEEDED this win if they truly want to be the Super Bowl contenders they and many believe they are. They couldn’t finish the first quarter of the season, 2-2 and expect to keep up with the Denver Broncos (4-0), New England Patriots (3-1), and the Baltimore Ravens (3-1) for a chance at home field advantage in the playoffs and the AFC North title.

Next up for the Steelers, the New York Jets (2-2) at Heinz Field.

OTHER NOTES:

Roethlisberger has now won his last 4 starts against Kansas City. With his 31-yard touchdown in the 1st quarter (7:27) to Darius Heyward-Bey, he has now thrown a TD pass in 40 straight home games, the 2nd longest streak in NFL history. He also now has 5 straight home games with 3+ touchdown passes and, six times now he’s thrown 3+ TDs in a quarter, which is 5th most in NFL history and he surpassed the 300 passing yards mark for the 47th time in his career.

Steelers-Bengals: Old Fashion AFC North Football 

Xavier Grimble catches his first career pass for a touchdown to give Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Pittsburgh against Cincinnati, in the rain, on a sloppy field. Just like the heated 2015 AFC Wild Card game. It’s the matchup everyone has been waiting eight months for since the final buzzer sounded on that quirky, bizarre ending in the Queen City back in January.

It was a ugly, just not in the way most expected. With the increased sensitivity by the NFL and officials based on the last testy meeting between these teams, the players were on their best behavior, and the only ugly was in the play.

There were a combined 17 punts on the afternoon. Steelers punter Joe Berry, who punted 8 times for an average of 47 yards, pinned the Bengals inside their own 10-yard line five times. That great field position put the Steeler defense in an advantage.

The Pittsburgh pass defense still makes me nervous with this “bend, but don’t break” method that allowed 330 yards to Kirk Cousins of the Redskins on Monday night. Even though they held A.J. Green to only 2 catches for 38 yards, coming off his explosive 12 reception 190 yard 1 touchdown day at the New York Jets last weekend, Andy Dalton still threw for 359 yards and a touchdown. The Steelers D didn’t register a sack, but the constant pressure in Dalton’s face forced him into several erratic low passes and his completion percentage (30-53, .566%) was abysmal.

But, the D also let Dalton off the hook with two dropped potential interceptions by Jarvis Jones and Ross Cockrel that would have ended drives that eventually led to Bengals points. You get those turnovers and this game likely becomes a rout. I’ll say it again, if this team has hopes of winning Lombardi number seven, you can’t give up 300+ yard passing days, even in this era of pass happy football. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson will pick this defensive philosophy apart.

There’s always three stats you can look at in the box score that will tell you which team won without even looking at the score. Turnovers, 3rd down conversions and time of possession. I can guarantee if your team won two of these three stats, they won the game.

Pittsburgh did win 2 of them. They lost the turnover battle 2 to 1, but won time of possession (32:55 to 27:05) and the 3rd down battle. Pittsburgh was 7 of 17 (42%)–FYI,they were 10 of 12 for 124 yards and a touchdown last week–while the Bengals were 4 of 16 (25%). That’s why the Steelers are now 2-0 after the 24 to 16 victory.

However, Pittsburgh’s offense looked like a shell of the high powered offense that abused the Washington Redskins for 38 points and 437 total yards in the season opener. Ben Roethlisberger started the first quarter decent going 5 of 9 for 101 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. But, he finished the game 19 of 37 for 259 yards and 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. He had several balls sail on him, causing him to overthrow open receivers, which I’m sure was related to the wet weather conditions. And, Antonio Brown only caught 4 passes for 39 yards. Thankfully D’Angelo Williams stepped up with 142 all-purpose yards (94 rushing; 38 and a TD receiving).

It wasn’t pretty, but Mike Tomlin and Steelers Nation will gladly take the W. Next up, the battle of Pennsylvania at the Philadelphia Eagles and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz in the City of Brotherly Love. Kickoff is set for 4:25.

Other notes: With his fourth catch of the day, Antonio Brown moved passed Hall of Famer John Stallworth into 3rd place on the Steelers all-time receptions list.  Hines Ward (1,000) and Heath Miller (592) are ahead of Brown who now has 538.

Brown is now 3rd all-time in receptions in Steelers history. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

  • Xavier Grimble’s first career catch was the Steelers first touchdown of the day. It was a 21-yarder to cap a 5 play, 66 yard drive to take a 7-0 lead.
  • The Steelers have now won 3 consecutive games versus Cincinnati, and are 11-3 (including playoffs) since 2010. Therefore I believe it’s only right that I post my favorite Steelers picture EVER.

    Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Staff Photographer 10/23/2005 CINCINNATI : Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Wards levels Bengals cornerback Tory James at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati Ohio. PUBLISHED CAPTION: Peter Diana/Post-Gazette photos Original Filename: dianasteelers1023e.tif

    Peter Diana / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
    Staff Photographer
    10/23/2005 CINCINNATI : Pittsburgh Steelers Hines Wards levels Bengals cornerback Tory James at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati Ohio. PUBLISHED CAPTION: Peter Diana/Post-Gazette photos Original Filename: dianasteelers1023e.tif