Well, dang. The Steelers put on a clinic Thursday night against the Carolina Panthers, scoring a ridiculous 52 points. Now at 6-2-1, they’re riding high at the top of the AFC North and asking, “Le’Veon who?” And we thought losing him was going to ruin their season…
Here’s why we think the Steelers might still have a shot at the Super Bowl.
They’ve got one of the best offenses in the NFL
Bell’s replacement, James Conner, has done more than step up. He’s been incredible. Conner is now second in the league in rushing, and only the phenom that is Todd Gurley has more. He’s racked up 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns, and we’ve only just finished Week 10! He’s more than earned his starting position and now that the Steelers have seen him in action, they may not even need to spend any money on another running back next season.
Having wide receivers Juju Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown alongside Conner only makes him that much more dangerous. Smith-Schuster scored a 75-yard touchdown on the Steelers’ first play of the game Thursday night. And Brown, who does some reckless stuff off the field, leaves everything on the field when he plays. He snagged a 53-yard touchdown pass in that game against the Panthers. Tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James hurt defenses too, only adding to the offense’s equation for success. Both scored touchdowns on Thursday.
And let’s not forget about the man himself, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He had five touchdown throws on Thursday and a perfect passer rating (the first since his 2007 season), completing 22 of 25 passes for 328 yards. Whew. We also saw a nice moment of solidarity amongst teammates on Thursday as Roethlisberger’s linemen attacked the Panther’s Eric Reid for a late hit to the head.
There’s one potential problem in the offense’s equation though. After their game against the Panthers, Conner is being evaluated for a potential concussion. Right before Le’Veon Bell’s deadline to show up. Talk about bad timing. Fingers crossed…
The defense isn’t too shabby either
The Steelers pass rush might be the best in the NFL. They’re also leading the league with 31 sacks over 9 games. On Thursday, they sacked Cam Newton five times! LinebackerTJ Watt leads the team in sacks with 8 this season.
Since the Steelers’ loss to the Ravens in Week 4, the defense has allowed fewer than 20 points per game on average. And in the past four games, they’ve held their opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense. They held the Panthers to 242… and they’re the NFL’s number-two rushing offense.
The Panthers might’ve scored on their first drive, but the defense quickly corrected itself… which might just be an analogy for the Steelers entire defense this season. Despite a lot of naysaying early, they’ve grown to show enormous potential. According to Watt, that’s what it’s all about. “Potential. That’s the word that I would like to go with. We knew what we were capable of and we’ve been able to go out there and do it.”
So what’s different about the defense now that the Steelers are on a hot streak? “Confidence,” Watt said. “Just [being] able to play off of each other as the week goes on. We’re allowing fewer and fewer points and we’re getting better as a unit.”
So what is up with Le’Veon Bell?
The star running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers intentionally lost out on $8.5 million this season when he just never showed up for practice or games. In an attempt to stay healthy and negotiate a better, longer-term contract with a different NFL team after he becomes a free agent in the spring, Bell has refused to play for the Steelers, who only offered him a one-year franchise tag.
Well, in order to accrue a year of NFL service for this season, he has to show up by November 13th at 4PM. (Yeah, that’s tomorrow.) The team said they were aware that Bell was back in Pittsburgh, and as far as the coaches knew last week, they expected him to return. But after this weekend’s reports, that’s all changed. Now, the Steelers say they do not expect him to turn up before the deadline, a decision that would make Bell ineligible to play the rest of the season.
Ominously, he has already deleted a mention of the Pittsburgh Steelers from his Twitter bio too. Bell previously trolled the team after they got off to a shaky start earlier this season, but now that they’ve won five straight games in a row, do his old pals even care about getting him back? Word on the street is that Conner’s success in his absence is bothering Bell.
If he comes back and the Steelers actually wanted him to play, it might be tough to find a spot for him. Conner is looking great, and Bell’s only job would be to lighten his replacement’s workload. They wouldn’t wanna disturb the flow that their offense has discovered lately…