Neal Coolong (@NealCoolong), the site manager with Behind the Steel Curtain (@BTSteelCurtain), sits down with Scott Bantal to preview the Bengals and Steelers game on Sunday Night Football. If the Bengals win, they claim the AFC North Championship.
Q: It seems like just last week Le'Veon Bell was gashing the Bengals defense for 185 yards (7.1 YPA) on the ground and 235 total yards. In the two games since, Bell has rushed for 110 yards - total - and a pedestrian 2.8 YPA against the 18th (Atlanta) and 28th (Kansas City) ranked run defenses. What did the Falcons and Chiefs do in order to maintain Bell?
Neal Coolong: Past results do not guarantee future success...or failure. Both the Falcons and the Chiefs played a very aggressive run-prevent defense. For the short-comings that the Chiefs have had this season on a per-play basis, they still boast three Pro Bowl players in their defensive front seven (OLBs Justin Houston and Tamba Hali and defensive tackle Dontari Poe). Bell was arguably the league's hottest player heading into Week 15 against Atlanta, and his success had largely determined the Steelers' offensive success. Probably still does. Both of those defenses aimed singularly to stop Bell, and they were successful. But neither stopped Ben Roethlisberger, who didn't turn the ball over and completed 75 percent (45-for-60) of his passes in those games combined.
Looking at both those games, it seemed that both defenses planned to shoot into the spaces between the guards and work to limit the Steelers' space to pull. They did a good job getting ahead of the offensive line against their zone as well, and the linebackers did a good job containing Bell to the middle of the field and not letting him cut back, which has been a key weapon of his this season.
The Steelers weren't able to get Bell in position to crack off the big plays the way he had during his streak of consecutive 200-plus yards from scrimmage games. That's a four-quarter effort from two defenses that, statistically, may not have been all that sharp prior to those games, but you gotta tip your cap to the performances they had in those games.