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NFL: Steelers' Bell shines in battle of rookie RBs

by By Bob McGinn, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on December 23, 2013 11:00 AM

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The question that needed to be asked late Sunday was, how in the world did running backs Eddie Lacy and Le’Veon Bell make it out of the first round in the National Football League draft?

Lacy and Bell were dominant forces at Lambeau Field as Lacy’s Green Bay Packers fell to Bell’s Pittsburgh Steelers, 38-31.

Bell carried 26 times for 124 yards, scoring the winning touchdown from a yard out with 1/2 minutes remaining.

Lacy bowed out late in the third quarter with a recurrence of his ankle problem. He rushed 15 times for 84 yards.

“Both of them are powerful running backs,” Packers cornerback Sam Shields said. “They’re basically the same. Bell is just a little taller.”

Bell, 6 feet 1 1/2  inches tall and weighing in the 235- to 240-pound range, was the 48th pick overall in the middle of the second round.

Lacy, 5-11 and weighing between 230 and 245, lasted until the 61st pick even after the Packers traded down in the second round before selecting him.

With one game left, they and Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard, the first back selected at No. 37, remain in close competition for offensive rookie of the year honors and the two running back berths on the all-rookie team.

Understandably, the Packers are biased toward Lacy.

“Compare the numbers,” said defensive end Datone Jones. “Eddie Lacy has Pro Bowl numbers. Eddie Lacy should have been a first-round draft choice and the first back taken in the draft.”

In the same breath, Jones admitted to being keenly impressed by Bell, the former Michigan State big back who, like Lacy, declared a year early.

“He made a lot of plays for those guys tonight,” Jones said. “They left it all on his shoulders. Obviously, they saw a lot in him. They drafted him for a reason.”

Bell opened the game with an 11-yard run in which he started inside and then flashed excellent speed circling wide around Shields.

Later in the first quarter, Bell gained 22 on a draw play in which he made safety M.D. Jennings miss the tackle about 10 yards downfield.

Perhaps Bell’s most exceptional run came late in third quarter when he hurdled safety Morgan Burnett as he came up to make the hit. That carry was worth 25 yards.

“He’s got a lot of potential, a lot of ability,” dime back Jarrett Bush said. “If he keeps working he can be one of the premier running backs.

“He’s got a lot of awareness and explosiveness. He can hit the hole and shed tackles. He’s got explosiveness.”

Nevertheless, Bush gave the nod to Lacy.

“Eddie Lacy is more patient,” said Bush. “He can see the hole develop better. That’s why Eddie Lacy is a notch up on him. Eddie can bring the thump, too.”

The Steelers eschewed their customary two-back sets for a one-back, spread attack. Nose tackle Ryan Pickett figured that was because the Steelers doubted the ability of their mediocre offensive line to create movement against the Packers’ 3-4 base.

“They had us in nickel the whole game,” said Pickett. “They kept running from the ‘gun’ (shotgun formation). They just wanted to get matchups. They called the whole game from the line, and they never play like that.

“So they didn’t give us a chance to get out there (in the 3-4). They caught us with their no-huddle at the beginning, too.”

Lacy has rushed 263 times for 1,112 yards (4.2) and 10 touchdowns. Coupled with 33 receptions for 242 (7.3), he has 1,354 yards from scrimmage.

Meanwhile, Bell has rushed 224 times for 770 yards (3.4) and seven TDs to go with 44 catches for 393 yards (8.9). In all, he has 1,163 total yards.

“He (Lacy) is a great player,” said Bell. “It was definitely a challenge on my part. I wanted to go out there and play at his level or better. I’m happy with my performance besides the fumble.”

When Bell fumbled at the Pittsburgh 2 in the third quarter, it set up Lacy’s 2-yard TD. It was his first fumble of the season; Lacy’s lone fumble came in Game 1.

“He’s all right,” Pickett said, referring to Bell. “Lacy, to me, is an all-around runner. Bell is going to be good but Lacy’s better. Lacy’s strong, he probably is heavier and he’s real patient.”

Summed up Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin: “(Bell) is getting better every week. He is a complete player and an all-situation player.

“He is a young guy so we will keep him humble.”

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