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Steelers will power on with or without Bell thanks to O-line

By
The Sports Xchange
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Connor scampers through a hole against the Cleveland Browns during their game October 28, 2018. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Connor scampers through a hole against the Cleveland Browns during their game October 28, 2018. Photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo

The Pittsburgh Steelers will learn Tuesday if All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell is going to play this season.

Bell has until 4 p.m. on Tuesday to sign his franchise tag or he will not be allowed to play this season, forfeiting the entire $14.1 million salary, seemingly out of principal. Reports say Bell is not expected to sign and will sit out the season.

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So what does that mean for the 6-2-1 Steelers?

Thanks to a stout offensive line, not much at the moment.

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Second-year running back James Conner (771 yards on 164 carries with 10 touchdowns) is not just putting up Bell-like numbers, but is exceeding them. Conner averages 4.7 yards per carry. While he has done his part, "It all starts up front," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said Thursday after the Steelers beat the Carolina Panthers 52-21 for their fifth consecutive win.

"You can say what you want about the skill guys, but we're nothing without them up front," Roethlisberger said, via triblive.com.

In the past six games, Roethlisberger has been sacked four times, completed 66 percent of his passes and has been intercepted only once, and Conner has four 100-yard rushing games, including three in a row.

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"The offensive line has been playing spectacular," Roethlisberger said after the Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 4, via triblive.com. "Everything you're asking them to do, blocking in the pass game and the run game, opening holes against the No. 1 defense in the world, there's a reason they are that good.

"You can say what you want about James and the running game, but it starts up front. We go as those guys go."

Pro Football Focus ranked the Steelers line as the best in the NFL.

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The starting unit of Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert is reinforced by steady backups Matt Feiler, B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard.

"You see the cohesiveness of the group," offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said, via triblive.com. "That's one of the areas where they're so tight, a tight-knit group, and the communication has to be so really good. You've got to have great communication there.

"You're talking every play. You're talking to your buddy. You're working with your buddy on twists, and all these different things. And they do a great job of that because I really believe they enjoy being in that room.

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"They'd stay there probably overnight if they could."

So as long as the line and Conner can avoid the injury bug, the prospects of losing Bell for the season dim the outcome significantly.

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