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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Le'Veon Bell Fails to Answer in Opener
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12 Sep 2017 05:45 PM EST

-by Bo Marchionte, Contributing Writer; Image: Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Ball. (Image Source: Jason Pohuski)

Cleveland, OH—The weather off Lake Erie for Pittsburgh’s Week 1 matchup against the Cleveland Browns can only be described as perfect. Clear blue skies, the smell of fall in the air, and No. 26 back with the team after a lengthy absence.

The last time Le’Veon Bell took a snap against an opponent was in the playoffs versus the New England Patriots. On Sunday, the much-anticipated return of Bell did not exactly get off to the best start. Pittsburgh’s offense struggled in the first half and Bell didn’t get his first touch of the season until there were 17 seconds left in the first quarter. It was a run off the right side that tallied zero yards.

Is he out of shape?

“You can write anything you want to write,” Mike Tomlin said after their 21-18 victory. “Him missing the preseason, the bottom line is we got highly penalized. That put us behind the chains. That minimized the running game. Write that. Because that’s what happened.”

The first 30 minutes did not resemble anything familiar to the Steelers high-powered offense. Heading into halftime, Pittsburgh had seven penalties, but only eight rushing yards.

“We were going to be thoughtful about him playing,” Tomlin said of the amount of carries Bell received. “Read into that however you want.”

The third quarter open up with Bell touching the football five times on 11 Pittsburgh offensive plays. However, the results were the same.

Three of those five touches were runs that yielded eight yards and he finished the game with 11 carries for 32 yards rushing. His rookie teammate James Conner had 11 yards on four carries but neither ever found a rhythm.

The play calling was clearly impacted by the running back’s preseason. There were more empty backfield alignments than you expect from the Pittsburgh offense.

The offense we saw against Cleveland is not the offense accustomed to Bell as a workhouse. Go back to last year’s playoff, when Bell rushed the football 59 times for 337 yards and two touchdowns in the Steelers two wins.

Too many yellow flags didn’t help the cause either.

“They were huge,” Bell replied to how the penalties impacted their running game. “Obviously, there is not a lot of calls in the playbook for second and twenty.”

Bell could be the most lethal all-purpose weapon in the entire league. He does things when he is at full strength that you marvel at. You’re thankful to have seen it. It makes you love the game. That Bell was not on the field on Sunday. The hope in Pittsburgh is that he will rejoin the team in full capacity in time for Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings in the home opener.

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