KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Le’Veon Bell ran through, around and over the Miami Dolphins Sunday in leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 30-12 win in last weekend’s NFL wildcard, and Chiefs coach Andy Reid understands the challenge facing his defense Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium in the AFC divisional playoff round.
“The most patient that I’ve ever seen,” Reid said of Bell’s running approach. “That’s a unique style, one that he’s kind of created.”
The Chiefs know all too-well what Bell can do. The fourth-year running back made his 2016 debut in a week four rout over the Chiefs, tallying 144 yards rushing on just 18 carries. He added 34 yards receiving on five catches.
Bell brings a different look to the run game, and safety Eric Berry said his combination of style and technique presents a challenge.
“A lot of people focus a lot on coaching technique,” Berry said. “It’s a little easier to diagnose technique and figure out what it is. But when you have a unique style along with technique, it’s a little difficult.”
The NFL suspended Bell for the first three games of the 2016 season due to a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Bell sat out a fourth game, missing the team’s week 17 win over the Cleveland Browns. Despite playing just 12 games, Bell finished with 1,884 yards from scrimmage, ranking third in the league.
Bell’s productive correlates well with Steelers’ wins. Pittsburgh stands 12-2 over the last four seasons when Bell rushes for more than 100 yards. Their record falls to 28-22 when Bell does not play or rushes fewer than 100 yards.
The Steelers have not lost a game the last four seasons with Bell rushing for more than 100 yards and Ben Roethlisberger lined up at quarterback.
Chiefs defensive coordinator said Bell’s patience can trick defenders into mistakenly thinking he’s not running hard and can be brought down.
“But he accelerates very well, and he has great strength and body balance,” Sutton said. “I think there’s a lot of those things that you lose track of when you’re watching his style, but he does a fabulous job.
That makes limiting the damage Bell can do all the more important.
Reid stresses the basics as the key to stopping Bell, which begins with remaining assignment sound.
“Gap integrity is important,” Reid said. “He’s pretty good at running through seems, so you’ve got to eliminate those.”
Stopping the run has posed a challenge for the Chiefs much of the season. The Chiefs yielded teams more than 100 yards rushing 12 times this season, and rank 26th in yards allowed.
But where the Chiefs shine is stopping the run inside the red zone. The Chiefs rank fifth in the league with just 10 rushing touchdowns allowed.
The absence of veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson forces the Chiefs to juggle the lineup in run defense. That often means utilizing safety Daniel Sorensen as an extra defensive back and unleashing Berry to play the run.
Berry agreed with his coach that focusing on strong fundamentals.
“He does a good job of changing paces, so it’s just playing good technique against him and understanding the style of run he has,” Berry said.
The Chiefs may rely extensively on Berry and Sorensen to slow Bell down.
“Depending on whatever coverage you’re in, the safeties become a factor,” Reid said. “But that’s not the main thing. Everybody’s got to keep their gap integrity. When you’re a part of it as a safety, then you’ve got to do the same thing.”
Sutton said it requires a team effort to limit the damage Bell inflicts on a defense.
“You have to be really disciplined up front with your front seven when you play really, really good players,” Sutton said. “Like I told our guys, you need everybody. It’s every play, everybody because this guy can get out.”