Labriola On

Labriola on Bell, cutting Blount, 1975

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Ready or not, here it comes:*

  • It's Le'Veon Bell time. But not for the same reasons why late November through December used to be Jerome Bettis' time.
  • I get the whole winter weather/outdoor venue thing, but Le'Veon Bell isn't a hammer and the Steelers don't try to make him one. The idea with Bettis was to batter the opponent into submission, and that was necessary because until his final two NFL seasons the quarterback in the backfield with him was not Ben Roethlisberger.
  • Bell's role is to be Roethlisberger's enabler, so to speak, much the same way Marshall Faulk was for Kurt Warner when the St. Louis Rams were the greatest show on turf, and the way Terrell Davis was for John Elway during those back-to-back seasons in the late 1990s when the Denver Broncos won consecutive Super Bowl titles.
  • With those Rams and those Broncos, if the opponent didn't stop the running back, they had no chance when it came to having to deal with the quarterback.

The Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the game against the New Orleans Saints.

  • And toward that end, the first 11 games of this season have set up these final five. Going into Sunday's game against the Saints, Bell has 195 carries and 252 touches when his 57 receptions are added, which averages to 23 per game. That's not an excessive number, which should mean Bell is relatively fresh, which should mean the Steelers offense can begin to rely more heavily on his 22-year-old legs without fear of late-season burnout.
  • Having a player like Bell whose skill-set qualifies him as the definition of a franchise back, and having that franchise back be relatively fresh for these final five games of a season, can force a defense into taking chances in the effort to render the offense one-dimensional. Bell isn't going to have to carry this Steelers offense down the stretch of the regular season, as Bettis often did, but the mere fact that he is capable of doing just that in any game on the schedule provides a balance a defense could be helpless to overcome.
  • With Bell revealing himself as one of the best backs in football – and possibly the one among those best with the fewest hits on his body so far – LeGarrette Blount had to go after he quit on the team on that Monday night in Nashville.
  • First of all, everyone understands that by leaving the field before the game was over and then quickly exiting the locker room to avoid his teammates and the media, what Blount did was quit on the team. In professional sports, that's a capital crime punishable by immediate firing.
  • When the move was announced on the day after the game, there was a statement from Coach Mike Tomlin included in the news release. "We believe the decision to release LeGarrette is in the best interest of the organization and wish him the best of luck."
  • Tomlin's best wishes may or may not have been code for "good riddance," but the sentiment about doing it with the best interest of the team in mind was accurate. It was important to get Blount out of the locker room, out of the organization, immediately so as not to create an uncomfortable and/or confrontational atmosphere among the players and maybe even some coaches. Blount may have some lifelong friends among some current Steelers, but there were some veterans who wanted him gone and some coaches who were livid over his actions. He had to go. And the sooner the better.
  • Why not suspend him for a week or two without pay? Why not deactivate him for a few weeks? Any decision other than cutting him immediately would have been made with the idea of punishing Blount, rather than doing what's best for this Steelers team at this particular time. Given the choice between trying to come up with a way to punish Blount, or to do what was best for his team, Tomlin chose the team.
  • Any suggestion that by cutting him and creating the sequence of events allowing Blount to sign with the Patriots would somehow come back to haunt them in a potential playoff matchup is laughable.
  • If the Steelers manage to qualify for the playoffs and advance far enough to meet the Patriots, here's a short list of players they should be more concerned with neutralizing than LeGarrette Blount: Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman as both a receiver and punt returner, Timothy Wright the "other" tight end who already has six touchdown receptions, Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, Dont'a Hightower and his 3.5 sacks, Chandler Jones and his 4.5 sacks, Rob Ninkovich and his six sacks, and Stephen Gostkowski and his 96.3 percent accuracy on field goal attempts.
  • Think Bill Belichick is stupid enough to feature LeGarrette Blount in a playoff game over Tom Brady because Blount used to play for the opponent?
  • You might want to hope so, but no way.
  • This week, the AFC North became the first division in NFL history to have four teams with at least seven wins this late in a season. That brought back memories of 1975, when what then was called the AFC Central Division established itself as one of the most competitive of the Super Bowl era.
  • The Steelers won the AFC Central in 1975 with a 12-2 record, with one of their losses coming to the O.J. Simpson-fueled Buffalo Bills early, and the other coming to the 12-2 Los Angeles Rams in a meaningless late-season game. The Cincinnati Bengals finished second at 11-3, with two of their losses to the Steelers. The Houston Oilers finished third in the division at 10-4, with two losses to the Steelers, and then two losses to the Bengals by a combined six points. Alas, the Cleveland Browns were last at 3-11, but five of those losses came within the AFC Central.
  • In the postseason, the Steelers went on to win Super Bowl X, while the Bengals lost to the Raiders in Oakland, 31-28. Because there was but one Wild Card team per conference, the Oilers were left at home.
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