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Can Le’Veon Bell Carry the Steelers to Victory?

As the clock ticked down during the first quarter of the AFC Championship game this past January, so did the Steelers chances.

The Patriots took an early 3-0 lead, but it wasn’t until Le’Veon Bell exited late in the first quarter of the game that the Patriots took control of the game. Bell had been nursing a groin injury that had happened several weeks earlier, but he reaggrevated it after four carries. He returned for two more rush attempts before exiting for the rest of the game.

That’s when Bill Belichick knew he had it. He could turn his full attention to stopping Antonio Brown, while not being afraid of DeAngelo Williams in the back field. With Brown double and triple covered, and no real threat of a run game, the Patriots we’re able to pin their ears back and hammer Ben Roethlisberger. Even when Roethlisberger did get the ball away, it was to Cobi Hamilton and Sammie Coates. Both of whom are no longer on the team.

Sunday the Patriots will face a full arsenal from the Steelers, but Bell will remain the most important piece.

“The big challenge is that you can’t treat Le’Veon Bell like Melvin Gordon or any other back like that. He’s very unique to himself. He’s very patient,” Patriots rookie defensive lineman Adam Butler said. “The way I’ve taken the approach of preparing for him is matching patience with aggression. Making sure I’m aggressive, defeating blockers, because we’re not just dealing with him, but one of the biggest offensive lines in the NFL. So you have to be aggressive with them, but patient with him.”

“He leads the league in yards from scrimmage and that’s about really all you need to know,” Belichick said of Bell.

When the Steelers have relied on Bell the most he has taken full advantage of it. Coming off a loss at Chicago the Steelers leaned on Bell to the tune of 35 carries for 144 yards and 2 touchdowns in a convincing win against Baltimore.

After their other loss against Jacksonville, Mike Tomlin again put the load on Bell in Kansas City. 32 carries, and 179 yards later the Steelers rolled the then 5-0 Chiefs.

The interior of the Patriots defense is filled with undrafted free agents, and rookies. Miami founded plenty of holes and exploited the Patriots front seven on Monday, rushing for 120 yards in their win. To make things easier for the Steelers the Patriots will be without run stuffer Alan Branch who was injured and unable to practice all week.

Bell has to have the same impact in this game. He should also be able to find room in open space against the Patriots linebackers. They are without Donte Hightower, and Shea McClellin already and Kyle Van Noy is listed as questionable after being limited in practice all week. Miami’s Kenyan Drake contributed 79 yards receiving to go along with his 114 on the ground which means Bell should be able to go wild.

Pounding Bell will shorten the game and keep the ball away from Tom Brady. It will also keep the Steers defense off the field. Both would be huge advantages for the Steelers.

Everyone keeps talking about the Steelers defense stopping Brady, but the key might be the Steelers offense stopping Brady.

Find Justin McGonigle on Twitter @SteeIerNation

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