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Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers go down hard, needlessly

Matt Steel's in an ornery mood following the Steelers' loss of both the game and Le'Veon Bell for the season.

I'm agitated this morning, and would've felt this way even if the Pittsburgh Steelers hadn't blown a game they should have won Sunday.

It's because of Le'Veon Bell's injury. Multiple reports have him out for the rest of the season with a torn MCL, and I blame the coaching staff for putting him in a vulnerable position. Again.

Readers might think I'm reaching, but Bell is a special talent who knows how to not take the big hit. When a route is designed to beat a linebacker in the flat, he has little time to stiff arm or position himself to avoid that awkward tackle, which had me cringing as I watched it unfold.

The play that led to Bell's knee injury last year had him run a route underneath the safeties and it was just as appalling to me. That's two years in a row Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley's offense has put the Hall of Fame caliber back in precarious positions. The coaches are on the verge of ruining this kid's career. And they are plays that are not necessary to get wins.

Between Bell and Deangelo Williams, the Steelers ran the ball 19 times for 116 yards. One might think that running the ball for over six yards per carry would motivate Haley and Tomlin to run the ball more than 19 times against a team that was giving up nearly five yards per carry going into the game. But it didn't.

One might think after Williams took a handoff from under center for 55 yards, they would go back to Williams with another handoff or two from under center on that possession. But they didn't, and came away with no points.

One would think they'd try to be balanced once they got to or inside the Bengals' 25-yard line. But they didn't. Instead they relied heavily on shotgun passes that resulted in three points in two posessions.

One would think said coaches would expect a little rust from their quarterback who was obviously limited from a mobility standpoint and hasn't played in five weeks. But they didn't. They decided that a game plan with which the Steelers struggled mightily last season against the Bengals in Week 17 would again be the best course of action this past Sunday.

The Steelers scored more points in every game Mike Vick or Landry Jones was the quarterback. This is a staff that just can't seem to keep its hand out the cookie jar. They appear so afraid of missing out on a pass play with Ben Roethlisberger as the quarterback, they can't stick with the run game even when it's working and the quarterback is limited.

I'm tired of it. I have favorite teams that I'm passionate about in the MLB, NBA, college basketball, and college football. When those teams lose, I've never feel like they lose with incredibly bad decision making like I have felt with the Steelers over the last four or five seasons. They have consistently underperformed to their talent level. Losing games to inferior opponents with an overreliance on the pass and highly questionable in-game decisions.

Let's add questionable roster decisions to that equation as well. Even Dan Fouts noticed that Dri Archer looked "slow and indecisive" getting up the field on a kick return. Archer had two such returns Sunday. Meanwhile, the kick and punt coverage units have been leaky. Losing Terence Garvin certainly doesn't help. But cutting Ross Ventrone in favor of Dri Archer doesn't help those units, either. Ventrone should be brought back from the New England Patriots' practice squad in favor of Archer this week, but I expect Tomlin to continue to beat the dead Dri horse.

Special teams are awful all-around. Jordan Berry appears to be another replaceable punter. He's shown himself to be consistently inconsistent. On Berry's best punt of the day, Brandon Boykin's unacceptable penalty ended up costing the Steelers 30-40 yards of field position.

Lack of discipline also cost the Steelers more field position when Mike Mitchell committed a selfish unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I have never understood what getting up in someone's face does for you as a player or how it negatively effects the opponent. If anything,I felt I played better if someone tried that junk when I was playing. As ticky-tac as the call might have been, it's still a risk and it's completely unnecessary.

Maybe I'm being too critical, but being primarily a baseball player I was trained to consistently think situations pitch by pitch. That's why I was hoping Mitchell would bat the ball down when Ross Cockwell deflected Andy Dalton's third-and-25 deep pass to A.J. Green in the fourth quarter. I can't fault Mitchell for making the play, but giving up 67 yards of field position is not something to go crazy celebrating on the sidelines. Mitchell's safety play has been outstanding. But consistent winners aren't selfish. That part about Mitchell's game is still undecided.

It was also another sub-par performance by the officials, to say the least. There were a few questionable spots that didn't go the Steelers' way. The pass interference flag they incorrectly picked up on a pass to Martavis Bryant in the end zone should have given the Steelers the ball at the one. A 17-6 fourth quarter lead likely would've led to a win. Some might have say it evened out because Cockrell got away with a PI on Green in the end zone shortly thereafter. But the Bengals very might have not been in that position had they been down 11 points.

On the positive side, Steve McLendon was FINALLY given the opportunity to play a lot more snaps at defensive end in the nickel and played really well coming up with a sack, drawing a penalty, and doing a solid job in the run game. Dan McCullers and Cam Thomas seemed to hold their own as well. McCullers collapsed the center a couple times with his overwhelming size and strength. Still, I wouldn't mind seeing a bowling-ball type of defensive tackle like Andrew Billings out of Baylor as the Steelers' first-round pick who could split his time as a nickel tackle and a base nose.

And if Cameron Heyward doesn't make the Pro Bowl this year, I will believe that voting to be a bigger joke than what I already do.

The Steelers also need to keep Robert Golden in the starting lineup. He has more athleticism than Will Allen and hasn't made mistakes in which he's missing tackles or been out of position. The Steelers can win with him as their starter.

I've been critical of Antwon Blake in the past. He stepped up with another big play and tackled much better Sunday, but he still needs to be more consistent week to week. The same could be said Ross Cockrell, who's play was also encouraging on Sunday.

It was a great game plan by Keith Butler on Sunday. It was a defensive performance that should have been enough for the win.

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