Le’Veon Bell finally let the world know this week when he would be ending his holdout. The All-Pro running back reportedly plans to return to the Steelers facility in two weeks, Pittsburgh’s bye week, and be back on the field by week 8.
Don’t get me wrong, every team that played or will play the Steelers without Bell is extremely lucky. However, I don’t think anyone will be thanking Bell more for his holdout than the Atlanta Falcons.
Currently 1-3, we are all well aware of the litany of injuries Atlanta has faced, leaving them vulnerable to quick passes out of the backfield. There aren’t many linebackers better at closing in on running backs in the passing game than Deion Jones. The Falcons are intentionally willing to give up that short dump off, knowing that it will quickly be stopped for a short gain. That isn’t the case without Jones on the field, which is why there has been such a noticeable difference with him on the sideline.
The likes of Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffery were able to do pretty much whatever they wanted through the air. Together, they combined for 29 receptions and 224 yards. Now those guys might be two of the best up and coming pass-catching running backs, but Le’Veon Bell is the man who made it popular.
Like that saying, there’s nothing better than the original, Bell would have caused nightmares for Dan Quinn and Marquand Manuel coming into this game. McCaffery and Kamara were able to have incredible success, and they don’t have near the receiving weapons around them that Bell has. Imagine this make-shift defense having to guard JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown on the outside while keeping an eye out for Bell slipping out of the backfield. Can you say 1-4? There are elite defenses that have problems with that, and let’s just say the Falcons aren’t exactly there right now.
James Connor will continue to fill in for Pittsburgh in Bell’s absence. And make no mistake about it, Connor will provide some problems as well. In four games, he has 18 receptions for 164 yards. That puts him on pace for 72 receptions and 656 yards this season. To put that in perspective, Bell had 85 receptions for 655 yards a season ago. The second-year player out of Pitt will make the Falcons pay if they give him space, but he still is nowhere near the workhorse status of Le’Veon Bell.