Chiefs in­tent on si­lenc­ing Steel­ers’ RB Bell

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS -

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Pre­vail­ing wis­dom says the eas­i­est way to hold a star run­ning back in check in the NFL is to sim­ply keep him from get­ting started.

That doesn’t re­ally work against Le’Veon Bell.

He will­ingly stops. Or at least hes­i­tates. Then, when his pa­tience has al­lowed the Pitts­burgh of­fen­sive line to pry open the slight­est of creases, the fourth-year run­ning back has an un­canny abil­ity to slip through it from a near-stand­still, be­fud­dling just about ev­ery de­fense try­ing to stop him.

“He has a unique style about him, that de­lay to get to the line of scrim­mage,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “It’s been ef­fec­tive for him. He’s re­ally the only one that does it, so it’s unique.

“The ob­vi­ous thing is you have to con­tain him and take care of your gaps, for sure.”

That’s some­thing the Chiefs, who are pre­par­ing to face Bell and the Steel­ers in the di­vi­sional round on Sun­day, strug­gled to do when the teams met in Pitts­burgh in early Oc­to­ber. In his first game back from a three-game sus­pen­sion, Bell gashed the Chiefs for 144 yards on just 18 car­ries. And to add in­sult to em­bar­rass­ment, he also caught five passes for 34 yards, an ef­fort that went widely un­der-the-radar only be­cause Ben Roeth­lis­berger was busy throw­ing five TD passes. It was a pre­cur­sor of big things. As the Steel­ers were putting to­gether a seven-game win­ning streak to fin­ish the sea­son and head into the play­offs, Bell was putting to­gether one of the best stretches in NFL his­tory. He ran for 835 yards over a six-week pe­riod be­fore sit­ting out Week 17, and then rolled up 167 yards rush­ing and two touch­downs in last week­end’s wild-card romp over the Mi­ami Dol­phins.

Much of that suc­cess was due to his unique run­ning style, one that caused CBS an­a­lyst Phil Simms to dub him “The Great He­si­ta­tor” — and one that runs counter to con­ven­tional wis­dom.

Take the hand­off. Hit the hole hard. Run to day­light.

That’s the sim­ple pro­gres­sion coaches from Pop Warner to high school to col­lege have taught run­ning backs for years. The idea is to min­i­mize idle time in the back­field, pres­sure de­fen­sive fronts to re­act quickly to where a play is de­vel­op­ing, and take away any chance of a tackle for loss.

But the style Bell has adopted is more like this: stop, con­sider the op­tions, pick one. Then go.

“It’s dif­fer­ent,” said Chiefs safety Eric Berry. “A lot of peo­ple fo­cus on coach­ing tech­nique, but it’s a lit­tle eas­ier to di­ag­nose tech­nique and fig­ure out what it is. When you have a unique style, along with tech­nique, it’s a lit­tle dif­fi­cult.”

It is par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult for the de­fen­sive line­men.

Once upon a time their job in run de­fense was to pen­e­trate the back­field and make a play. Th­ese days they are coached to hold the line — re­main what coaches call “gap sound.” The rea­son­ing be­hind that is it clogs up the mid­dle, cuts down on run­ning lanes and makes it harder to pop a big play.

But with Bell’s pa­tience, hold­ing the line be­comes a much more dif­fi­cult task. Things are bound to break down sooner or later, and that’s when Bell darts up­field to do his dam­age.

“In your own brain,” Chiefs de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Bob Sut­ton said, “you’re say­ing, ‘If he’s not hit­ting that thing down­hill, we ought to be able to get him on the ground quick.’ But he ac­cel­er­ates very well, he has great strength and body bal­ance. You lose track of some of those things.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Le’Veon Bell ran for 144 yards on just 18 car­ries in Pitts­burgh’s meet­ing with Kansas City in the reg­u­lar sea­son.

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