Steelers Rewind

Matthew Marczi breaks down the Steelers' 38-31 win over the Green Bay Packers.

Steelers rookie running back Le'Veon Bell entered yesterday's game averaging just 3.26 yards per carry and he hadn't eclipsed the century mark on the ground in his first season. Yet, nobody seemed to be complaining about his performance. In fact, he's the favorite to be named the team's Rookie of the Year.

It's no wonder, given the upheaval along the offensive line, which in any given week has at times had the feel of a shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

So it was that he had the good graces of Steeler Nation, but he rendered the issue moot against the Green Bay Packers.

In point of fact, the run that put him into triple digits for the first time in his career was preceded by another first only two plays earlier: his first fumble.

With the Steelers backed up at their own two-yard line, Bell was tasked with securing some extra breathing room. Meeting linebacker A.J. Hawk at the goal line helped fuel the sense of urgency for Bell to keep fighting for extra space, but his refusal to go down led to a collision with Nick Perry that jarred the ball loose, and the Packers recovered.

To try to make amends, Bell ripped through a narrow seam on the next play behind Cody Wallace, hurdled safety Morgan Burnett, and raced down the field for 25 yards. A three-yard plunge on the following play broke the Steelers' 22-game string of games without a 100-yard rusher.

Bell's career-high 26 carries went well with the 124 yards on the ground for a healthy 4.8 yards per carry. The go-ahead touchdown was just the exclamation point on a day owned by a rookie running back in inclement weather. His teammates picked him up after his fumble, and he returned the favor by setting the comeback tone on his next snap.

CHUTES AND LADDERS

The progress of the special teams this season under new coordinator Danny Smith has had the maddening feel of a game of chance, and Sunday's victory was a microcosm of the ups and downs the unit has faced all season.

Every time it seemed they were climbing the ladder of progress, there was a chute waiting at the top to send them back down again.

At one moment, Antonio Brown would rip off a 41-yard punt return. The next, he would be run into by a teammate and fumble for a loss of a yard.

Emmanuel Sanders ran a kickoff back 41 yards. Then after the Packers tied the game late, Felix Jones mishandled the ball and then tripped, tackled at the 11-yard line.

Even when Steve McLendon managed to block a field goal, Ryan Clark unwisely tried to lateral the ball on the return attempt, which led to Ziggy Hood batting the ball forward, a penalty that returned the ball to the Packers, who scored on the next play.

The only thing consistent about the special teams unit was the poor kickoff coverage, which allowed Micah Hyde to average 33 yards on five kickoffs, the last going for 70 yards and nearly allowing Green Bay to come back and tie the game at the end.

Yet, were it not for a fake punt that saw Mat McBriar hit tight end David Paulson for 30 yards, or the offsides drawn on a field goal attempt late in the game, the Steelers may already be in offseason mode. It's frankly hard to tell if the unit finished the game climbing or sliding.

SICK AND TIRED

The Steelers' front office may have realized a little something as they looked out on a defense that took the field for most of the second half: You can't have too many outside linebackers.

Heading into an offseason partly fueled by a narrative of false dichotomy – either LaMarr Woodley or Jason Worilds – the defense ended up playing several critical stretches of yesterday's game with Chris Carter and Stevenson Sylvester at outside linebacker.

With Woodley suffering a season-ending calf injury and rookie Jarvis Jones having come down with an illness the night before the game, the Steelers were already left with Carter in the starting lineup opposite Worilds.

During the second half, Worilds began showing signs of fatigue, as when he held on to an eligible receiver on a bootleg while knowing he wouldn't be able to catch up. It gave the Packers an automatic first down. He eventually left the game with an abdominal injury.

Carter and Sylvester, meanwhile, looked very much like the end-of-bench players they are.

Following Sylvester's sack that was negated by offsetting penalties, he was caught inside on a 3rd-and-6 run by fullback John Kuhn, who gained nine yards and a first down. Carter, meanwhile, lost edge contain when running back Eddie Lacy cut back for a 14-yard touchdown.

The way the evening transpired demonstrated just how fleeting the illusion of depth can be in this sport. It also showed the importance of having legitimate depth – starter-quality depth – at key positions.

The current crop of outside linebackers on the Steelers' roster is sick and tired and battered and bruised. Special teamers are being asked to start because of it, and are playing like special teamers.


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