ShareThis Page
Patriots face unknowns against Le’Veon Bell-less Steelers |

Patriots face unknowns against Le’Veon Bell-less Steelers

The Associated Press
| Wednesday, December 12, 2018 10:45 p.m.
New England has allowed 100 or more rushing yards seven times this season and gave up a season-high 189 in last week’s loss at Miami. The Steelers host the Patriots on Sunday.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — If there’s been a blueprint to having success against the Patriots defense this season, it’s started with running the football.

Seven times in 2018, New England has allowed an opponent to rush for 100 or more yards. On four of those occasions, it’s ended in a Patriots loss. In includes last week’s 34-33 loss at Miami in which New England gave up a season-high 189 yards to the Dolphins before their miraculous final play.

“The run game’s been something that we need to do a much better job of coaching, do a better job of playing,” Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores said. “Teams are going to keep running the ball or attempting to run the ball until we do something to stop it. Obviously, that’s at the top of my priority list and our priority list as a defensive staff.”

While it is an issue that will need to be corrected if the Patriots hope to go deep in the playoffs, they get a reprieve of sorts this week as they prepare for a trip to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.

This will be just the second time in five meetings since 2013 (regular season and playoffs) New England won’t be facing running back Le’Veon Bell, who last month refused to sign a one-year, $14.4 million franchise tender, making him ineligible to play this season.

Bell also missed the 2015 regular-season meeting with the Patriots while serving a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy (The Steelers lost 28-21).

The Steelers haven’t beaten New England with Bell on the roster. But they came closest last season, when Bell rushed 24 times for 117 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ 27-24 comeback win.

Asked if his team is missing Bell’s presence on offense this season, coach Mike Tomlin initially responded simply “No” on Wednesday.

On the specific topic of whether Bell’s decision to sit has affected the Steelers locker room, Tomlin also downplayed the impact.

“It’s not something that this group of men have missed,” he said. “It’s a part of business, unfortunately, at this level. We all know and understand it. We’ve been focused on the people that have been here and working.”

The Steelers started the season 1-2-1 before going on a six-game win streak that included four straight 100-yard rushing games by James Conner.

That production has tailed off during the Steelers’ current three-game losing streak, which has featured losses to the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders.

Conner suffered an ankle injury against Los Angeles and sat out last week’s loss to Oakland. His status is to be determined this week, though Tomlin hasn’t ruled him out.

The Steelers are averaging 89 rushing yards per game, ranking 29th in the NFL. If Conner can’t go, the primary rushing duties will fall to rookie Jaylen Samuels and former Patriot Stevan Ridley. But both are averaging just 2.6 yards per carry and have only one rushing touchdown between them.

New England’s defense is ranked 15th in the NFL, allowing 113 rushing yards. It also hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 10 straight games.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Samuels, listed as a tight end coming out of college, presents a unique challenge.

“He’s a guy they try to get the ball to, and they put him in a lot of different spots,” Belichick said.

Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy said this week is big for them no matter the running back.

“We’re ready for the Steelers,” he said. “It’s going to be an amazing atmosphere there. It’s going to be a playoff atmosphere. They need a win. We need a win. So it’s going to be a highly competitive game.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.