Steelers’ offense still rounding into form

September 17, 2017
Pittsburgh wide receiver Martavis Bryant celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half Sunday. - Associated Press

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 dlolley@observer-reporter.com.

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