They did it, somehow, some way, the Steelers found a way and won the AFC North. They came out on Sunday night and got the job done against a very solid Bengals team who led the division nearly all season long. But the Steelers, who never seem to play well against the lesser opponents, stepped up and played well against a good one, something they did most of the season.
The win was enormous for many reasons, it vaulted them from a potential 5th seed wild card team to the 3rd seed division winner, providing them with a home game and the opportunity to avoid the number one seed Patriots until the AFC championship, should they get there.
The killer B’s are more than capable of getting the job done but that trio may have taken a big hit on Sunday night as LeVeon Bell, the team MVP, went down with a knee injury. The good news is the injury doesn’t contain any structural damage but the bad news is he may not be ready for Saturday night’s show down against the Baltimore Ravens.
Should Bell not be able to play, the team will be tested and the decision to release LeGarret Blount last month may come back to haunt them. They have a skeleton backfield without Bell, rookies Dri Archer and Josh Harris are all they have and neither man can do what Bell does. Harris would most likely get the bulk of the carries while Archer would be the back catching passes out of the backfield. Bell does both better than anyone in the league and while these two rookies may be able to team up for a few plays, it’s unlikely they will be dynamic enough to provide the team with what they need out of the running back position.
This all leads to more pressure on the offensive line, Big Ben, the wideouts and of course the defense. Bell is a big reason why the offense is so balanced and has the ability to score 30 points in a game against anyone. Take him away and the expectation to score 20 may be unrealistic. The Steelers will certainly throw the ball more often and while Big Ben did toss six TD’s the last time these two met, he was provided the ability to do so because the Ravens were concentrating on stopping Bell. This time the O line will need to ensure they stop the blitz, keep Ben upright and allow him time, as they did against the Bengals.
The defense will need to play at a top level, knowing the team can’t afford to give up 24 to 30 points. The secondary has played pretty well in the last few weeks in the absence of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor and they’ll need to continue to do so. William Gay, Brice McCain and Antwon Blake have manned the corners and Mike Mitchell and Will Allen seem to have it working at safety. I actually believe the team may be better off proceeding with these guys vs. worrying about playing Polamalu and Taylor.
However, at the end of the day, no matter who plays, it’s going to be an epic Ravens vs. Steelers battle and one where everyone is going to need to deliver their best, winner moves on, loser goes home.
Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association www.steelnationassociation.com- Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.