Le’Veon Bell (26) runs the ball as Kansas City defensive back Vernon Harris (48) defends during the second quarter in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium. (Jay Biggerstaff/USA Today Sports)
FOXBORO — Patience, patience, patience.
That’s all you need to know about Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell and his approach to running the football. It’s been on full display all season. The back will wait behind the line of scrimmage for his offensive line to do its work and then pick a spot and go.
On Sunday night, in an 18-16 win over the Chiefs, he had 170 yards on 30 carries employing that approach. He is widely considered the most dangerous back in the game.
“He’s good all of the time. He’s really a hard guy to tackle. He’s got good vision, great patience, and he does a good job,” Bill Belichick said Monday in his conference call.
The Patriots’ coaching staff Monday acknowledged that the counter to Bell’s patience must be team discipline this Sunday. That, and not trying to do it all yourself.
“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” Belichick said. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon [Bell] has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles.
“[He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps. Getting off and jumping around blocks or trying to get to the hole too quickly just opens up cut-back lanes or stays in the front somewhere and he does a great job of finding it. I mean team defense is the only way to stop it. There’s no one guy that can stop him. You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”
Just how important will tackling be?
“That’s a huge part of the game,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “It’s a team concept. You don’t want them in space in 1-on-1 situations.”
When the Patriots faced the Steelers on Oct. 23, the quarterback was Landry Jones. It will be Ben Roethlisberger this Sunday. How much more dangerous will Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell be with Big Ben back?
Brown caught six passes for 108 yards and got free up field for a couple of big plays. Back in October, the Patriots were able to hold Bell to 81 yards on 20 carries and 10 catches for 68 yards while Brown had seven catches for 106 yards. Neither found the end zone.
The key Sunday, as Belichick noted, will be whether the Patriots can repeat the success of the Chiefs’ defense in the red zone, where the Steelers were 0-for-4.
“They’re really good. They’re a tremendous offense. Kansas City was able to make some plays in the red-area, but I mean they could’ve easily been up in the 40’s [Sunday] night,” Belichick said. “They do a lot of things well; can run it, can throw it. [Antonio] Brown’s the main guy, but all of the receivers, tight ends, backs, I mean they’re all a problem. [Ben] Roethlisberger is really good, can make all of the throws. It looks like his mobility is good. They’re doing a great job. They’re a good offense.”
In other words, Sunday will be a huge step up from Saturday night.