The urge to compare Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell to others has taken a new life this week.
After Bell’s 167-yard, two-touchdown rushing splash in last week’s wild-card round victory over the Dolphins, he’s reminiscent of Walter Payton or Barry Sanders or Marcus Allen or Franco Harris. The patient running style, where Bell allows offensive linemen to hold their blocks before darting through a hole was a similar trait of some of the game’s greatest.
Bell went off the football board for his self-evaluation, telling Bleacher Report earlier this week that his approach is similar to NBA star Stephen Curry. His reasoning: The game hasn’t seen anything like Curry’s long-range shooting distance, and defenses now have to account for it.
Bell’s running style and versatility — he’s the first NFL player to average 100 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving per game in a season — also make him uncommon, and that’s why Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton didn’t bite on any comparison.
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“Never seen anybody like that,” Sutton said. “I think it’s a unique style. He’s always done it … He can run through you, he can get outside you.
“The other part of it is, once he puts his foot in the ground and goes, he’s a challenge.”
Perhaps the biggest the Chiefs face in their AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Kickoff is 7:20 p.m.
The Chiefs got a bellyful of Bell during their regular-season encounter. He was playing in his first game after missing the first three on NFL suspension, but Bell needed no time catching up to speed. He rushed for 144 yards and an 8-yards-per-carry average. He also caught five passes for 34 yards.
“It’s different,” Chiefs safety Eric Berry said. “When you have a unique style, along with technique, it’s a little difficult.”
Complicating matters for the Chiefs is the absence of their best run-stopping linebacker Derrick Johnson. He was lost for the season when he reinjured his Achilles’ tendond against the Raiders on Dec. 8. Ramik Wilson and Terrance Smith have manned the inside linebacker spots in base defense. Look for plenty of strong safety Daniel Sorensen, who has played the majority of snaps the past two games.
Another factor: the Steelers’ versatility. They jumped ahead of the Dolphins last weekend with two catch-and-run plays for touchdowns from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown. The game marked the first that Bell, Brown and Roethlisberger played together in the postseason, and the offense hummed.
In the regular season encounter against the Chiefs, Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes, two to Brown.
The Chiefs lead the NFL with a plus-16 turnover margin and 33 takeaways, but they’ve been susceptible to the running game, ranking 26th at 121.1 yards per game. Bell, who broke Harris’ team playoff record for rushing yards in a game last week, averages 105.7. That’s second in the NFL behind the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott.
Stopping Bell begins with the defensive front.
“We have to stay in our gaps,” defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “Because if you get out of them he’s going to find them with his patience. We have to be just as patient as he is, wait until he comes to us.”
They will likely need to do that and find a way to be aggressive and getting everybody in the defense involved. An expected wet track — the forecast calls for a 90 percent chance of rain or freezing rain on Sunday — favors the running game.
“It can’t be a passive game,” Sutton said. “You have to be really disciplined up front with your front seven … This guy can get out. And he’s going to get out some of the time. But you don’t want him to get out for a big day.”