Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

Even Without Le'Veon Bell, Steelers' Run Game Effective


With Le'Veon Bell serving a three-game suspension to start the season, the Redskins will try to stop DeAngelo Williams, a 33-year-old that can still churn yards in bunches.

When Le'Veon Bell finished second in the NFL in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage as a 22-year-old second-year player in 2014, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly had something to be excited about. He was again off to a fast start in 2015, rushing for 556 yards before suffering a knee injury last November and missing the rest of the season.

Most offenses would drop off in production without a player like Bell. Instead, the Steelers barely missed a beat, finishing fourth in the NFL in scoring and second in yards per play with veteran DeAngelo Williams starting the final 10 games at running back.

Although Bell is healthy, the Steelers are again preparing for life without him as he was suspended by the NFL for the first three games of this season. That means Pittsburgh will once again turn to Williams, who finished with 907 rush yards in 2015. The defense for the Washington Redskins knows that despite the fact that Bell will be out, there is still a substantial challenge in stopping Williams.

"Bell is a great back, but Williams is also good," Redskins linebacker Mason Foster said. "I played* *against him a lot when I was down in Tampa. He's a great back. He can make all the plays, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's a well-rounded back so it's always tough – it's a veteran guy. You've got to come with it."

Foster, who played his first four seasons in Tampa Bay, is, of course, familiar with Williams due to the back's connection to the NFC South, having played nine seasons with the Carolina Panthers. Williams, who turned 33 in April, is seventh among active running backs with 7,753 career rushing yards.

"He did such a wonderful job last year with [No.] 26 [Bell] getting hurt, coming in and filling for him and my opinion they didn't drop off at all," Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "I'm going to tell you guys every week, this is the National Football League, and when you do have a player – whether he gets hurt, whether he has a suspension, whatever – there's able backups with every team and [No.] 34 [Williams] is much more than a backup. He's a legitimate starter."

While the Steelers are losing Bell to start the year, Pittsburgh does regain a key piece to its running game – center Maurkice Pouncey. A two-time First-Team All-Pro selection in his first five seasons as a pro, Pouncey missed the entire 2015 season due to injury.

A look back on the top images in games between the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers.

He rejoins an offensive line that includes 2015 First-Team All Pro guard David DeCastro plus experienced pieces in guard Ramon Foster and right tackle Marcus Gilbert. The least experience resides at left tackle where former undrafted free agent Alejandro Villanueva returns after starting 10 games as a rookie last season.

"They've got a solid O-Line. They have a great team. They put a lot of good things on film. They're a great gap-scheming team," Redskins linebacker Preston Smith said. "They've got a veteran running back either way it goes – Le'Veon Bell in or DeAngelo Williams – they've got some vets that know what they're doing out there and some guys that know how to make plays with the rock in their hands. You've just to come out there and play assignment defense and try our best to prevent them from running up and down the field."

Without Bell last season, the Steelers finished 17th in team rushing yards – the same position as in 2014 when Bell finished second behind Dallas' DeMarco Murray in individual rush yards. The bigger difference between Bell and Williams comes in the passing game, where Bell evolved into arguably the best receiving running back in the NFL in 2014. That year, Bell caught 83 passes – second-most among running backs – and led all running backs in receiving yards (854), despite having 18 fewer catches than Chicago's Matt Forte.

Williams posted career highs in catches (40) and receiving yards (367) in 2015, but that production pales in comparison to what Bell had proven he could do.

But again, the loss of Bell didn't hurt much. Led by big seasons from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers finished third in passing yards and second in yards per attempt. Like the running game, the Steelers will be missing key components to the passing attack as well. The Steelers' second-leading receiver in 2015, Martavis Bryant, will miss the whole season due to suspension and longtime tight end Heath Miller has retired.

Factor in that Washington's secondary with Josh Norman and Bashaud Breeland might be its biggest strength, and the Redskins could be seeing a whole lot of Williams come Monday night.

One guy that is familiar with the Steelers running game is new Redskins starting defensive end Ziggy Hood. Although he only played with Bell in 2013 and never played with Williams, Hood spent his first five seasons with Pittsburgh battling with key members of the Steelers' offensive line.

For Hood, the way to stop the run is quite simple.

"It boils down to assignment football," Hood said. "Everybody's got to do their jobs and swarm – all 11 hats to the ball."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.