KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs have seen a fair share of running backs through 14 regular-season games.
And the matchups haven’t often produced success, leading the Chiefs to currently rank 28th in the league against the run, allowing 132.6 yards on average per game.
Now, the run defense, which went through Weeks 11 to 14 allowing 738 total yards rushing, faces a formidable foe in Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.
“He’s a hard runner,” Chiefs defensive end Vance Walker said. “He picks his lanes pretty well. He’s a hard tackle. One guy tackling him, he doesn’t go down, so he’s a very tough guy.”
A viable argument exists the Steelers have yet to square off a defense like the Chiefs, which ranks second against the pass (199.2 yard per game) and eighth in total net yards per game (331.8).
But the immediate counter surrounds the Chiefs have yet to face a running back the caliber of Bell, who ranks second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,043 (1,278 rushing, 765 receiving).
While the Chiefs have allowed just two rushing touchdowns on the season, the least amount in the league, Bell’s nose for the end zone will challenge that statistic.
The second-year pro has a four-game touchdown streak with seven total scores (six rushing, one receiving) during that span.
Bell’s play this season has impressed a former college teammate, Chiefs practice squad defensive lineman Jerel Worthy.
“He doesn’t take any unnecessary hits,” Worthy said. “He eludes a lot of tacklers. He’s just an overall great player. He has good vision, good footwork. Just being a patient runner allows him to see things that other running backs might not see happening.”
Defensive end Kevin Vickerson, also a product of Michigan State, pointed out Bell’s collegiate background as a contributing factor to success as an NFL running back.
“He’s a Michigan State guy,” Vickerson said. “I know how he’s built coming from a program like that. He’s a bell cow. He’s used to that pounding and gets better through the course of the game toward the end. We just got to stay pounding him.”
Meanwhile, the NFL is about trends and Bell has established himself as a bona fide dual-threat workhorse in the past four games.
Bell is more than capable of handling a heavy load, evidenced by 537 yards rushing on 100 carries and 21 catches for 299 yards on 31 targets during that span.
“He’s killing it and he’s only getting better,” Worthy said. “I still think he has a ways to go before being one of the best back in the league, but I definitely think he’s on his way.”
The Pittsburgh offense, of course, offers more than Bell.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for 4,415 yards and 29 touchdowns against eight interceptions on the season, and wide receiver Antonio Brown leads the league in receptions (115) and yards receiving (1,498).
Defending Bell, Roethlisberger and Brown isn’t simple.
“They have a really high-powered offense that’s really moving right now,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “They have tremendous balance between the running and passing game. You’ve got Bell, Brown and Ben – all the Bs – and they’re a problem. They’re all individually very talented, and collectively they’re working really well together and I think complementing each other very well.”
Kansas City gained much-needed momentum against the run in Week 15 win after holding the Oakland Raiders to 79 yards rushing on 17 attempts.
And the Raiders virtually abandoned the ground game, throwing the ball 56 times in a move that played into the hands of the NFL’s No. 2 pass defense.
It remains to be seen if the Chiefs can neutralize Bell and force the Steelers offense into a one-dimensional attack, but the Chiefs hope to apply the Week 15 success to Sunday.
“You got to play your technique and get down formation recognition,” Vickerson said. “Just try to study some of their tendencies and what they do well. They’re running the ball well right now, passing the ball well. We got to do some of the things we did last week and carry it over in this game. We came out on fire, and so we need to carry it over and play our ball.”