Chiefs set sights on si­lenc­ing Bell

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - SPORTS - By Dave Skretta

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 ca­reers. 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 only a pre­cur­sor of big­ger 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, who will be called upon to help stop Bell on Sun­day. “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.

DON WRIGHT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pitts­burgh Steel­ers run­ning back Le’Veon Bell (26) runs through a tackle by Mi­ami Dol­phins free safety Bacarri Rambo dur­ing the first half of an AFC wild-card NFL foot­ball game in Pitts­burgh, Sun­day, Jan. 8, 2017.

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