Bell’s lack of synchronicity was evident early on against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. In the second quarter with the Steelers facing a second-and-one, Bell had a quick-out pass fly through his hands. On the next play, the Steelers attempted to let their do-everything back pick up the first down on the ground, but Bell was stuffed two yards behind the line (in fairness to Bell, the Steelers ran toward two bunched receivers and a tight end who let the pressure in).
No one in Pittsburgh was panicking. In fact, there were times Sunday when I felt Ben Roethlisberger was as comfortable as ever out of traditional empty sets. Simply spreading out the Browns and carving up the space between their linebackers and safeties — who were sitting 20 yards deep to prevent an Antonio Brown explosion — was good enough. Bell, who played 41 of the team’s 57 snaps, has another week to get acclimated to the new wrinkles in Pittsburgh’s running game that were added during the offseason.
To be clear, Bell’s performance was only putrid to those tracking him for his Herculean fantasy football performances. He remains the league’s most dangerous running back and, given the chance to take over a game from the start (we didn’t see Bell’s number called until the waning moments of the first quarter Sunday) there’s no doubt he will live up to the hype again. Given Pittsburgh’s upgrades and shuffling at wide receiver and tight end this offseason, Bell might not need to as much.