PITTSBURGH (AP) — The previous time the Pittsburgh Steelers faced an Andy Reid-inspired offense, things didn’t go so well.
At least, not for the Steelers.
Thankfully the memories are fresh. Too fresh for some.
Perhaps the best thing the Steelers can say about the 34-3 embarrassment at the hands of the Reid disciple Doug Pederson and the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday is that it’s over.
“That’s last week,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We’re not looking back, we’re going forward.”
With a familiar face ready to pitch in.
Running back Le’Veon Bell returns from a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, giving an offense that looked like one of the league’s best before its pratfall on the other side of Pennsylvania another versatile weapon as it prepares for Kansas City.
“I’m pretty sure they’re going to utilize me, move me around a little bit,” said Bell, who hasn’t played since tearing the MCL in his right knee last November against Kansas City.
Bell might not be the only high-profile back ready to run through the tunnel following a long layoff.
Chiefs star Jamaal Charles is close to completing his nearly yearlong comeback from a torn ACL in his right knee. While Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West have filled in capably this season for the Chiefs (2-1), Charles — like Bell — is a unique talent .
That might be an issue for the Steelers, who watched Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz spend three hours expertly picking them apart with a series of screens and underneath routes that Pederson — a former player and assistant under Reid — might as well have photocopied out of his mentor’s playbook. And Pederson’s old boss noticed.
“Yeah, they did do a nice job, and they did some good things in there,” Reid said. “Every week is different, but it’s obviously the same offense or similar to, so that’s a positive.”
Some things to look for as the Chiefs try for their first victory in Pittsburgh since 1986.
BALL HAWKS: Kansas City’s defense forced eight turnovers in a victory over the New York Jets last Sunday, including a pair of interceptions by cornerback Marcus Peters. The 2015 AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year is rapidly becoming one of the best in the league at his position.
“(He’s) intercepting the ball at an alarming rate,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He has great ball skills. He is a calculated risk taker.”
And he will likely find himself seeing plenty of Pittsburgh star wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown hauled in 12 passes against the Eagles, but most of them were in garbage time as Pittsburgh tried to make the final score more cosmetically pleasing.
BACK TO BLITZBURGH? Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler has been reluctant to bring much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, preferring instead to drop seven or eight players into coverage to help protect a young secondary. It might be time for a change. Pittsburgh is 31st against the pass and is also last in sacks, the lone one on the record a harmless touch down of Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton for no gain in Week 2. The Steelers didn’t get close to Wentz and face one of the league’s most mobile quarterbacks in Alex Smith.
TWO-HEADED MONSTER? Pittsburgh hardly skipped a beat without Bell over the past year thanks in large part to the play of DeAngelo Williams. The 33-year-old helped power the Steelers to the playoffs in 2015 and led the NFL in rushing before becoming an afterthought in Week 3 after the Steelers fell hopelessly behind. Tomlin hasn’t ruled out putting both players on the field at the same time, likely with Bell serving as a third or fourth receiver in some formations while Williams stays in to block. Williams and Bell insist they’re not wasting a lot of time counting snaps.
“We’re two very unselfish guys,” Bell said. “We want to make sure we do whatever it takes to win the Super Bowl.”
FINISHING TOUCH: As definitive as the 24-3 final score against the Jets looked, Smith knows it should have been even more lopsided after being gifted eight turnovers. The defense and special teams scored on two of the takeaways, meaning the offense only managed to score 10 points despite getting numerous opportunities to put New York away. Those opportunities can’t be missed on the road in a place that’s been historically troublesome.
“You’d love to score more points,” Smith said. “There’s a few possessions where I thought we could have done more.”
Le’Veon Bell insists he’ll do everything in his power to make sure his latest run-in with the NFL’s substance abuse policy is his last. Vontaze Burfict isn’t so sure he can say the same about his reprimands from the league’s disciplinary committee.
Either way, two of the NFL’s most dynamic players head back to work this week after serving three-game suspensions to start the 2016 season. Bell sat for running afoul of the drug policy for the second time, Burfict as penance for a series of unhinged moments on the field that culminated in his helmet-to-helmet knockout blow of Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown in last year’s wild-card round.
Their returns should give their teams — both expected to compete for a playoff spot in the hypercompetitive AFC North and both coming off one-sided losses last Sunday — a boost as October dawns, the front edge of a wave that will include other bold-faced names (including some dude in New England) that will come off the suspended list next week.
How their teams have survived in the absence of such vital parts is a mixed bag.
For all of Bell’s talent, DeAngelo Williams led the NFL in rushing through two weeks before Pittsburgh’s hot start came to a sudden and decisive halt in Philadelphia. The Bengals, however, have missed Burfict — the emotional touchstone of a defense that is among the NFL’s best when it at its finest.
Their comebacks, however, come with a caveat. Any potential missteps going forward would carry far harsher penalties. Bell doesn’t think that will be an issue.
“I’m not a perfect person,” the 2014 All-Pro said. “I never will be. I know there are some things I can get better at.”
Burfict, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to care whether his helter-skelter style of play incurs the wrath of the commissioner’s office.
“Why would I change anything?” he said earlier this week.
That’s just Vontaze being Vontaze. A look at the returns on the horizon and what they could mean going forward.
THE PLAYER: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh
THE RETURN: Sunday night vs. Kansas City
THE IMPACT: You mean besides giving fantasy football owners a headache as they try to decipher how much Bell will be used? Bell was one of the best versatile backs in the league before tearing the MCL in his right knee on a tackle by Burfict last November. The knee is fine (Bell decided against wearing a protective brace) and he begins the final year of the rookie deal he signed in 2013 trying to prove to the Steelers — and 31 other teams — that he’s matured as a person while remaining as explosive as ever.
THE PLAYER: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Cincinnati
THE RETURN: Thursday vs. Miami
THE IMPACT: The Bengals need more than just Burfict’s production — he’s perhaps their most dynamic defender when healthy — they need his energy, too. Cincinnati gave up four touchdown passes to Denver on Sunday and looked downright polite in a loss at Pittsburgh in Week 2. Burfict’s presence could provide the Bengals with an emotional boost they desperately need. A trendy pick to make a deep playoff run, Cincinnati is a middling 15th in total defense and seems to have lost a bit of its swagger. Burfict should help provided he keeps his cool — never a guarantee.
THE PLAYER: Tom Brady, QB, New England
THE RETURN: Week 5 at Cleveland
THE IMPACT: Try not to muss up all of Jimmy Garoppolo’s and Jacoby Brisset’s hard work. Kidding. (But only a little). Brady’s 21-month battle with the league over “Deflategate” will finally end when his four-game suspension expires following this Sunday’s visit from Buffalo. The Patriots have chugged right along in Brady’s absence, though all that success will likely just spur Brady to send a message that New England’s dominance doesn’t rest solely on the shoulders of coach Bill Belichick.
THE PLAYER: Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland
THE RETURN: Week 5 vs. New England
THE IMPACT: Massive. Maybe . With Gordon, you never know. He led the NFL in yards receiving in 2013, but that was three years and a handful of suspensions ago. Following a miserable start, the Browns are starting to show signs of life with Terrelle Pryor doing a little bit of everything. Pryor thinks the Browns’ offense “could get ugly” (in a good way) if Gordon stays out of trouble. That’s a mighty big ‘if’ though.
THE PLAYER: Marcell Dareus, DL, Buffalo
THE RETURN: Week 5 at Los Angeles
THE IMPACT: Like Bell, the Bills’ highest-paid player missed time for a second straight season for finding himself on the wrong side of the NFL’s drug policy. Like Bell, Dareus has watched the guys filling in get by pretty well without him. Sacks and turnovers are up in Buffalo, which whipped Arizona last weekend and will face the healthiest Patriots quarterback available (and not suspended) on Sunday. The 331-pound Dareus (his listed weight anyway) may need time to get into playing shape but his presence in the middle could free things up for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to get creative with how he uses guys on the edge.
OTHER GUYS ON THE WAY: Rob Ninkovich, DE New England; Mike Pennel, DL Green Bay; Arthur Jones, DE Indianapolis