Better with Bell
Written by: Quintin Bentley Crevling
The Pittsburgh Steelers have danced their way for an AFC North title for the second time in three seasons.
The patient running of Le’Veon Bell went unparalleled this year in the NFL as he amassed nearly 1,900 yards, despite sitting out the last game of the season and missing three games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Bell is the league’s most patient running back as he hops from side to side as his blocking developes in front of him, consistently moving the ball down field in 5-7 yards chunks.
The division failed to produce consistent competition this year, which allowed the Steelers to finish with a commanding three game lead over the hapless Baltimore Ravens.
The Cincinnati Bengals were the biggest surprise in the division this season with a complete lack of production, losing early and often throughout the season.
The AFC North is home to the one win Cleveland Browns, who had the worst record in the league this season.
Getting the ball into Le’Veon Bell’s hands was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ key to success this year.
Nine games into the season the Steelers had a 4-5 record and were on a 4 game losing streak. During the losing streak, Bell averaged 15 carries for 56 yards a game.
Le’Veon tends to be a player who feeds off touching the ball, and can quickly gain momentum. In the last six weeks Bell played he averaged nearly 27 carries for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns.
When the ball wasn’t being fed to Le’Veon Bell, it was mostly likely being thrown to All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown who caught 106 passes for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns. Brown has notched 100 catches and 1,000 yards for his fourth straight season.
The Steelers defense strung together a fantastic season, amassing 17 more sacks than their opponents while the secondary intercepted 15 passes.
Head coach Mike Tomlin showed that he is one of the league’s best coaches this season winning his fifth division title and recording his 100th career win.
The project for this offseason is to find a quarterback that can grow under twelve year veteran Ben Roethlisberger, who is reportedly considering retirement. I would be shocked if Big Ben decided to retire, but the fact that it is a thought in his mind is worth finding a replacement to groom for the future.
The best player for the Ravens this season was easily Justin Tucker, who earned All-Pro honors for the second time in his career. Tucker was the master of consistency this year, making 38 of his 39 field goal attempts and 100% of his extra point attempts.
The Ravens kicked a lot of field goals this year as the offense only accounted for 32 touchdowns this season (among the lowest in the league).
The team’s struggles are largely due to a lack of game changers on the roster. Steve Smith, who is one of the most impactful players on offense, has decided to retire from the NFL after his 16th season.
With Smith retiring, the Ravens must use a high draft pick to try and bolster a slumping offense. Baltimore should be in the market for a receiver and a running back in this years draft, or their production is sure to drop next season.
The Bengals had an off year and I fully expect them to bounce back next season.
This year was difficult for the Bengals, who had to let go free agent receiving duo Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu who went on to sign lucrative contracts with pass happy teams.
In the short run it hurts losing two very good receivers in the same offseason, but both players wanted contracts that don’t align with the team’s current needs.
With these receivers not on the field, All-Pro receiver AJ Green saw a drop in production accounting for less than 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. He still managed to post a very respectable 964 yards, but any player will tell you that falling 36 yards short of 1,000 leaves a fire that will burn in him throughout the offseason.
I would expect to see the Bengals use one of their high draft picks on a receiver, or quite possibly a running back, as there are rumors the team is ready to move on from Giovani Bernard.
The best part of the Cleveland Browns one win season was easily watching converted quarterback Terrelle Pryor, make leaping catches over defensive secondaries racking up 1,007 yards in his first year as a receiver.
Pryor signed with the Browns on a one year deal where he wanted to prove he can compete as a receiver. One of the questions heading into this offseason is if the Browns will spend some extra money to keep an exciting personality around the locker room.
The Browns have already extended a massive 4 year $50 million contract to linebacker Jamie Collins.
The organization has come out and said that head coach Hue Jackson will have a job going into next season, so they might as well spend some money in this year free agency. The Browns will have the number one overall pick in the draft and for a team that has needs at each position this pick will tell how Jackson plans to build this team.