Friday, September 22, 2017

Steelers at Bears: It's hard to see any way Bears can come out on top

September 22, 2017
Key matchups, players to watch, predictions and more for Sunday's Bears-Steelers game at Soldier Field (noon, CBS).

4 storylines

Clean-up project: Mike Glennon's three first-half turnovers against the Buccaneers last Sunday amounted to a worst-case scenario for the Bears. They need him to play turnover-free, if not above average, to keep the team competitive while first-round rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky develops in practice. But Glennon's giveaways put the Bears in a 23-0 hole reminiscent of Jay Cutler's worst afternoons. His two interceptions admittedly were poor decisions. Other receivers were open and preferable targets on each throw. Coaches have touted Glennon's decision-making as a main reason he gives the Bears the best chance to win right now. If he can't do that, disaster awaits.

Rush hour: The Bears want to be a run-oriented offense, especially after Jordan Howardset the franchise rookie rushing record last season with 1,313 yards. Through two games, however, the ground game has not been effective enough. Without Tarik Cohen's 46-yard gain in the opener, in which he turned chicken you-know-what into chicken salad, the Bears would be averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. Against the Bucs, they carried 16 times for only 20 yards. Howard says he must break more tackles, but offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains puts the onus on the offensive line to clear enough space for Howard to get to the second level.
Hello and goodbye: It's about time the Bears got some of their injured contributors back. Receiver Markus Wheaton (left pinkie), left guard Kyle Long (right ankle) and cornerback Prince Amukamara (right ankle) are set to make their season debuts Sunday. Theoretically, Wheaton's ability to catch deep passes could stretch defenses and alleviate some of the crowding near the line of scrimmage. But injuries have prevented Wheaton from being a full-time player since 2015, and he hasn't practiced with Glennon as much as other receivers. They must sharpen their timing in a hurry. Meanwhile, inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (right pectoralis) is the latest prospect lost to injury.
Testing steel: What would the Bears have given to have the Steelers' September schedule? Last season's AFC runner-up began by beating the Browns 21-18 in Cleveland against rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer in his NFL debut. Then they beat the Vikings26-9 at home with quarterback Case Keenum replacing injured starter Sam Bradford (left knee). Despite being loaded with offensive playmakers, the Steelers' 2.8 yards-per-carry average ranks last in the NFL. Star running back Le'Veon Bell is not in top form after a contract holdout that ended Sept. 1. But their defense has been reliable, as usual. Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier's versatility causes matchup problems.


  • Bears on offense
In the air
NFL rank: Bears offense T-15th, Steelers defense 5th
Mike Glennon's three turnovers last Sunday resulted in a worst-case scenario for a Bears organization asking for fans' patience while rookie Mitch Trubisky develops. Glennon must make better decisions to protect the ball. His receivers also must help him; they dropped seven passes against the Bucs. The tight ends can find success in the middle of the Steelers defense. The Steelers pass rush (nine sacks in two games) has been effective rushing only four. Edge rusher Bud Dupree wreaks havoc with speed and explosiveness.
On the ground
NFL rank: Bears offense 26th, Steelers defense 8th
The Bears want to be run-oriented but haven't quite gotten that engine revved up. Left guard Kyle Long (right ankle) must prove he's the same athletic mauler Chicago once knew him to be. He also is making his debut at a new position. Right guard Josh Sitton's ribs injury creates questions about his availability and effectiveness. Hroniss Grasu might have to play center with Cody Whitehair shifting to guard. All those issues are exacerbated because the Steelers front seven is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry.
Bears 21st in total offense, T-25th in points scored
Steelers 3rd in total defense, 6th in points allowed
  • Steelers on offense
In the air
NFL rank: Steelers offense 11th, Bears defense 24th
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger extends plays with exceptional pocket awareness. He's difficult to bring down. His receivers have playmaking abilities the Bears simply don't.Antonio Brown is a detailed route runner with magic feet on sideline catches. He is fast enough to turn a 10-yard catch into a 70-yard touchdown. Martavis Bryant is a bona fide deep threat. Slot receiver Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster is physical. Cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Kyle Fuller dropped potential interceptions last Sunday. Prince Amukamara (right ankle) should rotate in, if not start, in his debut.
On the ground
NFL rank: Steelers offense 29th, Bears defense 15th
The Steelers' 2.8 yards-per-carry rushing average is dead last in the NFL. That's shocking because Le'Veon Bell is one of the league's best running backs. But he held out until Sept. 1 because of a contract dispute and still is rounding into form. At his best, he's patient, elusive and powerful. The Steelers offensive line continuity shows up in the form of crisp combination blocks. Bears veteran Christian Jones is the next man up at inside linebacker. Coaches believe he has matured as a player to match his athleticism.
Steelers 16th in total offense, 11th in points scored
Bears 25th in total defense, 28th in points allowed

The assignment

Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (No. 26)

Measureables: 6-foot-1, 225 pounds
Assigned: Bears defensive linemen Akiem Hicks (No. 96), Eddie Goldman (No. 91) and Mitch Unrein (No. 98)
Notable numbers: Bell led the NFL in averaging 157.0 yards from scrimmage per game in 2016. That was the third highest single-season total in league history behind Priest Holmes in 2002 (163.4) and O.J. Simpson in 1975 (160.2). … The Bears' defense has held opponents to 3.2 yards per carry through two games, ninth best in the NFL.
Scouting report: Add starting inside linebackers — Danny Trevathan and Christian Jones — to the top of the "assigned" list. Stifling the Steelers offense must start with a concerted effort to slow Bell, who is dangerous as both a runner and a receiver. But here's the biggest question for Sunday: Will the Bears be facing the Pro Bowl star who has topped 100 yards from scrimmage 32 times with a career best 298 against the Bills last season? Or will it be the back still trying to find a rhythm after a lengthy summer contract holdout? Through two games, Bell ranks 13th in rushing (119 yards) but is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. Still, he could go off at any point and his patient running style consistently strains defenses.
Word from within: "His patience shows when he gets you to peek inside. From a defensive lineman's perspective, what he wants you to do is stop your feet and go to a gap that's not your responsibility. The best way to limit their offense is to slow him down and play your respective responsibility with discipline." — Akiem Hicks on Bell

Scouting report

Martavis Bryant, Steelers WR

Information for this report was obtained from NFL scouts.
Martavis Bryant is in his third season and returned after missing all of 2016 on suspension for violation of the NFL's drug policy. While teammate Antonio Brown leads the league with 244 receiving yards, Bryant is a very dangerous target opposite him and benefits from coverages that are focused on Brown.
The 6-foot-4, 211-pound Bryant averaged 17.5 yards per reception in his first two seasons and caught 14 touchdowns in 21 games before his suspensions piled up. He has five catches for 105 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown last week against the Vikings.
"He's like an alien," the pro scout said. "He's super rare because most guys who have that type of linear build are straight-line guys with exceptional top-end speed like he has. I've been impressed with his underneath route-running ability and his production after the catch. He has more lateral change of direction ability than you would expect from a guy who has that body frame. The key is he really has developed his route running. Last week, it was a slant route for a 27-yard touchdown against Minnesota because he separated so much in the break and once he caught the ball, he has this immediate burst of speed, again different than you expect from a long strider, and he eliminated the angle for the safety right away.
"Downfield, he's a deep ball threat every time. Ben Roethlisberger likes to throw the ball downfield. He led the league in throws of 30-plus yards. That's what he wants to do. Bryant doesn't have the thickness or the strength of Mike Evans or Dez Bryant in the red zone, but he's a great matchup because of his body control. He's super flexible and that's why I said he's an alien. He can high point the ball, he can play the ball on the back shoulder and he can leap out of the damn stadium. Unique player and he's just starting to scratch the surface because he has had so much off-the-field crap. You're starting to see signs that this kid can be a monster. The Bears are going to have to do something because they don't match up with either receiver. I think playing two-man is their best bet. They can be a little aggressive and go after them underneath with that coverage."


Brad Biggs (2-0)
Steelers defense has looked fantastic against the Browns and the Vikings, who were without Sam Bradford, so it's difficult to tell how good it is. But figure it to stymie Bears, and Steelers can score plenty. Steelers 31, Bears 13
Rich Campbell (2-0)
Steelers have best defense Bears have faced yet, and their strength is stopping the run. It's a bad matchup for an offense still searching for its running game and any type of spark. But the Steelers are known occasionally to lay an egg on the road, and perhaps the Bears' front seven can make things disjointed for a Steelers' offense that hasn't hit its stride. Running back Le'Veon Bell hasn't busted out yet, and the Bears' defense must be disciplined tracking him. The Steelers, though, are always one snap away from a big passing play, and the Bears have no margin for error. The disparity between the teams' playmakers, as usual, will be the difference in a competitive game. Steelers 20, Bears 13
David Haugh (2-0)
Until the Bears give themselves the best chance to win every Sunday, they won't. The Steelers will make the offense one-dimensional and Mike Glennon lacks the weapons and resourcefulness to make plays. The return of running game might keep it competitive, but don't hold your breath. Steelers 31, Bears 21
Colleen Kane (2-0)
The Steelers defense ranks third in the NFL with 237 yards allowed per game and is tied for second with nine sacks. That came against the Browns and the Vikings without Sam Bradford, but it still doesn't bode well for a banged-up Bears offensive line and struggling Mike Glennon. John Fox's September victory drought will continue. Steelers 28, Bears 17
Mike Mulligan (2-0)
Steelers long have been a team renown for playing down to an opponent's level, especially on the road. The Bears must protect the ball and complement a physical defensive effort. Steelers 23, Bears 17
Phil Thompson (1-1)
Bucs' defense gave the Bears fits, so what can Mike Glennon do against the Steelers' third-ranked unit? Meanwhile, Jordan Howard has 59 yards in two games. The offensive line hasn't blocked well for either player. Kyle Long's hoped-for return would help but it won't be enough. On a side bet, let's set the over-under on Mike Tomlin two-point conversions at two. Steelers 28, Bears 13
Dan Wiederer (2-0)
I'm ignoring my hunch the Bears defense will spearhead an improbable upset. Instead, it seems more practical focusing on Steelers' advantage in game-changers. (See: Antonio Brown, Le'Veon Bell, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree.) Ultimately, that's what this comes down to. And when you entertain the question "Who wins this game for the Bears?'' and scratch your scalp raw thinking about it, that's telling. Until the Bears show they can score 24 points in a game, until they show they can create multiple takeaways, until they win a game in September under John Fox, you have to pick against them. Steelers 26, Bears 20

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Frazier's walk-off homer lifts Pirates by Brewers 6-4

By Will Graves, The Associated Press
September 20, 2017
Pittsburgh Pirates' Adam Frazier hits a walk-off, two-run home run off Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Corey Knebel in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in Pittsburgh. The Pirates won 6-4.
Pittsburgh Pirates' Adam Frazier hits a walk-off, two-run home run off Milwaukee Brewers relief pitcher Corey Knebel in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in Pittsburgh. The Pirates won 6-4. Gene J. Puskar AP Photo

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PITTSBURGH -- Milwaukee closer Corey Knebel shook off catcher Jett Bandy with two outs in the ninth, confident he could get an inside fastball past Pittsburgh's Adam Frazier.
For the first time in two months, Knebel couldn't. And a chance to pull even in the fight for the second National League wild-card spot vanished when Frazier turned on a Knebel offering and sent it to the first row of seats in right field for a two-run home run that lifted the Pirates to a 6-4 victory on Wednesday night.
"It's what I wanted to throw, what (Bandy) wanted to be thrown and (Frazier) got it," Knebel said.
The runs were just the second and third given up by Knebel (1-3) since July 19. His streak of 21 consecutive save chances converted ended when he threw wide of first with two outs in the eighth following David Freese's grounder, allowing Andrew McCutchen to race home from second to tie the game. Knebel took his first loss since July 8. Frazier pounced on a fastball and turned it into the first walk-off homer of his career as the Pirates ended a seven-game losing streak.
"When Knebel made that error in the bottom of the eighth, that was pretty big for us," Frazier said. "It got us going a little bit, and you could kind of feel the energy on their side let down a little bit for the first time in the series."
Jesus Aguilar and Domingo Santana homered for the Brewers and Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell used seven pitchers before turning to Knebel with two outs in the eighth. The most reliable member of a bullpen that's helped fuel Milwaukee's bid for the franchise's third playoff berth since 1982 finally faltered as the Brewers lost for just the third time in 12 games heading into a pivotal four-game weekend series at home against the first-place Chicago Cubs.
Milwaukee trails the World Series champions by 3 1/2 games with 10 to go in the regular season.
"Last time I checked we're still in the race," Knebel said. "It's a good feeling to still be right there. Couple games left, just shake this one up and get ready for tomorrow, especially against the Cubs."
Felipe Rivero (5-2) earned the victory in relief. Frazier finished 2 for 5 with four RBI. Starling Marte added two hits for the Pirates.
Pittsburgh ended a 21-inning scoreless drought when Frazier drilled a two-run triple and Marte followed with an RBI single to put them up 3-2, their first lead in nine days. It didn't last. Jacob Barnes came on for Milwaukee starter Aaron Wilkerson, a 28-year-old making his first major league start, and Pittsburgh's bats immediately went quiet.
The Brewers used eight pitchers in all and moved in front in the seventh thanks to another erratic performance by Tyler Glasnow.
Glasnow started the season in the rotation but was sent back to Triple-A Indianapolis due to control issues. Though he was dominant again at Triple-A, the command problems resurfaced again. He walked four of the six batters he faced, and Eric Thames' RBI double tied the game. The Brewers reclaimed the lead when Pittsburgh reliever A.J. Schugel walked in the go-ahead run.
McCutchen doubled with one out in the eighth. One batter later, Freese sent a grounder to the third-base side of the mound that Knebel tried to barehand it.
"Wasn't enough time to set my feet and throw," Knebel said. "It was the only way and it slipped out."
An inning later, Milwaukee's chance to pull even with Colorado slipped away too.
Brewers: RHP Jimmy Nelson is expected to miss a significant portion of the 2018 season while recovering from a partially torn labrum. Nelson suffered the injury after dislocating his shoulder while sliding back into first base against the Cubs earlier this month. "When you get something taken from you on something that's bad luck frankly, it's tough to swallow," Counsell said. Nelson went 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA this season.
Pirates: 2B Josh Harrison's surgically repaired left thumb will remain in a splint for the next 2/3 weeks but should be healed in time to go through his typical offseason workout program, trainer Todd Tomczyk said Wednesday. The same goes for C Francisco Cervelli, who is recovering from a sore left quadriceps.
Brewers: Begin a pivotal four-game series at home against the Chicago Cubs on Thursday. Zach Davies (17-9, 3.89 ERA) starts the opener for the Brewers, who are 8-7 this season against the World Series champions.
Pirates: Are off Thursday before welcoming St. Louis to PNC Park for a three-game set starting Friday. Ivan Nova (11-14, 4.20 ERA) faces Michael Wacha(12-8, 4.02).

Monday, September 18, 2017

Reality check: Vikings brought back to earth without Sam Bradford in 26-9 loss to Steelers
– There is perhaps no job title in Minnesota sports that functions as a barometer of both hope and anguish quite like quarterback of the Vikings. Through a 138-hour stretch from last Monday evening in Minneapolis to Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, Vikings fans experienced all of it.
It began when Sam Bradford threw for 344 yards and three scores in a scintillating season opener against the New Orleans Saints, outplaying Drew Brees and reducing Adrian Peterson to a sideshow in his return to U.S. Bank Stadium.
Six days later, in a 26-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which Case Keenum was the emergency starter in place of injured Bradford, the 2017 Vikings became the third team in Mike Zimmer’s four years as coach to use two different starting quarterbacks before the end of September. And if Bradford’s left knee issues linger for any sizable stretch of the season, the Vikings could be headed for trouble.
Zimmer would not discuss Bradford’s injury, other than to attribute it to swelling from the ACL repairs he had done in 2013 and 2014. “He’s had two surgeries on his knee; sometimes it swells up,” Zimmer said.
When asked about Bradford’s status moving forward, Zimmer said, “Sam’s going to be OK.”
Asked what that meant, he said, “I’m not going to discuss it with you. He’s going to be OK, OK? Sam will be the quarterback; it’s going to be OK.
“Maybe the next week, maybe six weeks from now, he’s going to be OK. It’s a nonsurgical issue. He’ll be fine.”
After only one game without him, it’s clear the team might not be if his absence is prolonged.
The Vikings were humbled on offense, gaining only 237 yards with Case Keenum at quarterback, punting on six drives and turning the ball over twice more on downs, before their day ended with an Adam Thielen fumble as the receiver tried to stretch for a first down.
Rookie center Pat Elflein was the only Vikings offensive lineman not flagged Sunday, and the Vikings converted only five of their 15 third downs.
“When you’re playing a defense like Pittsburgh, they have that bend-but-don’t-break kind of mentality,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “They play a lot of zone coverage, and give you opportunities to move the football — if you stay on track. We did not do that [Sunday].”
Bradford, listed as questionable for the game, took to the Heinz Field turf nearly three hours before kickoff for a short throwing session. After playing catch and attempting a few passes off dropbacks for offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and quarterback Kevin Stefanski, Bradford returned to the Vikings locker room and didn’t re-emerge for team warmups.
That left Keenum in charge of the Vikings offense, with Kyle Sloter (who had been promoted from the practice squad on Saturday) on the active roster as Keenum’s backup.
Keenum finished the game 20-for-37 for only 167 yards, getting sacked twice and hit seven times as the Steelers — emboldened by the 14-point lead they’d built by early in the second quarter — dialed up blitzes to rattle the quarterback and test an offensive line that only allowed two QB hits against the Saints.
According to Pro Football Focus, Keenum was pressured on 46 percent of his dropbacks, completing only six of 16 throws under pressure. After converting nine of 14 third downs against the Saints, the Vikings faced conversions of 7 yards or longer on five of their first eight Sunday.
“I think getting into a rhythm early is important,” Keenum said. “Sometimes my feet were not as good in the pocket as they should have been. I think some of the sacks were because of me being out of the pocket and not being where I needed to be. There were a lot of things.”
And as the Vikings grasped for a foothold on offense, the Steelers raced out to a 14-0 lead with the help of an oft-penalized Vikings defense.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger unloaded an arsenal of deep shots, showing he was willing to challenge cornerback Xavier Rhodes in an attempt to get the ball to wide receiver Antonio Brown. The approach didn’t yield much, after Rhodes’ 22-yard pass interference penalty on the Steelers’ first TD drive, but Roethlisberger found other opportunities to stress the Vikings defense.
His first touchdown pass — a 27-yard strike to Martavis Bryant — came on a play on which Zimmer said the Vikings were lined up incorrectly. Roethlisberger hit Bryant on a post route to the inside of cornerback Terence Newman, with deep safety Andrew Sendejo also giving chase.
Roethlisberger threw deep to Bryant on a second-and-22 on the first snap of the second quarter, gaining 49 yards on a pass interference penalty when Trae Waynes grabbed the receiver, a drive eventually ending on a 4-yard TD pass from Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 14-0 Pittsburgh lead.
In the third quarter, Roethlisberger targeted Waynes once he’d earned a free play with a hard count, hitting Bryant for 51 yards after he’d gained a step on Waynes.
The Vikings finished the day with 11 penalties for 131 yards, marking only the fourth time they’d been flagged more than 10 times under Zimmer.
They also headed for home offering no real prognosis for when their quarterback might return.
The time frame in which Bradford is back, though, might have plenty to say about the success or failure of the Vikings’ season.
“We have a lot of different things [that change with a new quarterback],” Zimmer said. “We have to play to his strengths some. I mean, we knew there was a possibility [Bradford wouldn’t play]. That’s what happens. There are no excuses. We aren’t going to make any excuses for our team.”

Cam Heyward leads resurgent Pittsburgh Steelers defense

By Jim Wexell, The Sports Xchange
September 18, 2017

PITTSBURGH -- Cam Heyward is back, and so, apparently, is a dominating Steelers defense.
For the second consecutive game, the Steelers defense did its job. They held the Minnesota Vikings to only 237 yards of total offense, more than 100 yards per game better than the average they allowed a year ago.
The Steelers stifled the Minnesota Vikings 26-9 and allowed only one touchdown, a 1-yard run by C.J. Ham in the third quarter after the "lulled" Steelers defense allowed a 25-yard run by Dalvin Cook, who otherwise gained only 39 yards on 11 other carries.
The key was the return of Heyward, the captain who missed the last nine games last season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Heyward made his return to Heinz Field with a dominating performance. He drew a holding penalty on the first series, tackled Cook for a 4-yard loss on the second series and pressured Case Keenum into a wild incompletion to a wide-open Stefon Diggs on the third series.
Heyward was credited with only six tackles, but he forced running backs to take difficult paths throughout the game and drilled Keenum twice to force incompletions.
"I'm always fired up," said Heyward. "But this was the home opener and (I) got to play for DMR (the late Dan Rooney) in the first game he wasn't here. We missed him out there, and I thought we played with energy."
Heyward said he didn't feel the need to pick up the slack for injured linemate Stephon Tuitt, insisting that it's always his job to get the unit off and running.
"I'm trying to set the tone period," Heyward said. "Obviously Tuitt wasn't there but whenever we're out there as a defensive line we want to set the tempo. We want to see if they want to test us."
The Steelers have yet to allow an opponent more than 100 yards rushing. The Vikings, who gained 129 on 30 carries the previous week, were held to 91 yards on 20 carries by the Steelers.
"I think we can get even better," Heyward said. "I'm excited to see what we do in the next game. We just have to keep challenging ourselves and not get complacent."
How do they plan to do that?
"Just not getting lulled to sleep," he said, "and understanding it's a 60-minute game. I know we cut down on the big plays but we still gave up a couple. Once we cut that out we'll be even better."

Steelers’ offense still rounding into form

By Dale Lolley
September 17, 2017
Le'Veon Bell rushed for 87 yards in Sunday's 26-9 win over the Vikings (
PITTSBURGH – Le’Veon Bell had 91 total yards. Martavis Bryant had 98 and a touchdown.
And if the Steelers are to be believed, both are still playing their way into form.
That can’t be a comforting thought for future opponents of the Steelers, who improved to 2-0 Sunday with a 26-9 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Heinz Field.
The Steelers haven’t played anything close to a good game yet, particularly on offense.
But they made positive steps from their first game in Cleveland, a 21-18 victory, and against the Vikings, a team that had five Pro Bowl defensive players last season when they finished third in the league in total defense.
“Much like Martavis, (Bell) is going through a process from time missed,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. “This was a significant step. (Bell) was much better than a week ago, but much like Martavis, you’re not looking at a finished product.”
The progress of Bell and Bryant will be a big part of what the Steelers do and where they’ll end up this season.
Both are key components of this offense and still playing their way into shape after long layoffs.
Bell missed the entire offseason and training camp as he stayed away instead of reporting and signing his franchise contract tender. But he also was coming off a surgery to repair a groin injury that sidelined him in last season’s AFC Championship Game.
Bryant, meanwhile, played his first meaningful football game last weekend after missing all of last season while on the suspended list.
There was some question as to how they would be received by the fans at Heinz Field in the home opener. But that quickly went out the window when the two were announced, drawing cheers bigger than everyone save Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger.
“I didn’t really think about it until I ran out and then I heard the ovation,” Bell said. “It’s crazy because now I look back on it, it’s amazing that I got that kind of ovation because of the posts on Twitter and Instagram and things like that. It was good to feel the crowd was behind me.”
At this point, it’s understandable if Bryant is a little further along in the process. He was with the team in the offseason and missed only the first preseason game when the league inexplicably forced him to sit it out before reinstatement. And he looked more like his old self Sunday. He easily beat 39-year-old cornerback Terence Newman to score from 27 yards on a crossing route, drew a 49-yard pass interference penalty on Trae Waynes after he got behind him and hauled in a 51-yard pass in the third quarter.
“He’s going to continue to get better,” Tomlin said in what could be considered a warning to the rest of the league. “The guy’s been out of the game for 12 months. We respect the process he’s going through. Along the way, he’s got to give us positive contributions to our efforts and he’s done that.
“We expect him to continue to do that as he rounds his game off into what it’s capable of being.”
The same goes for Bell, the AFC’s leader in total yardage last season despite playing in only 12 games.
After being limited to 47 total yards on 13 touches against the Browns, Bell had 87 rushing yards on 27 carries, and adding four catches, but for only four yards.
His long gain for the season is just 15 yards, but he’s getting closer to looking like the Bell of old.
“I’m due for an explosion play,” Bell admitted.
He knew, however, Minnesota’s defense would be a tough to crack.
“Those guys played great defense, but it felt good to start to figure things out and get myself going,” Bell said.
He’s getting close, just like Bryant.
And when they both get going, the league better take notice. After all, when we last saw this group – Bell, Bryant and wide receiver Antonio Brown – together, they averaged 31 points per game. That was back in the final 10 games of the 2014 season.
That’s ancient history in the NFL. And injuries and suspensions have been what has kept this group from playing together.
But it’s getting closer to what it can be.
“We’re not BCS-pointing it here,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. “We’re just winning football games. We’re 2-0. We did what we had to do. We won the football game.”
Dale Lolley can be reached at