Is this the week Bell finally turns in his first 100-yard rushing game?
Comparisons between Bell and Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy will be one of the main storylines of this game.
Bell was the second running back chosen in the draft. The Steelers took him over Lacy in the second round, 48th overall. The Packers drafted Lacy with their second-round pick, 36th overall.
So far, Lacy looks like the better pick, at least as a pure running back. He's seventh in the NFL with 1,028 rushing yards on 248 carries (4.1 yards per carry) with eight touchdowns.
Bell, who missed the first three games with a foot injury, has run for 646 yards on 198 carries (3.3 yards per carry) with six touchdowns. Bell has been more productive than Lacy as a receiver. He's caught 43 passes for 388 yards while Lacy has caught 31 passes for 236 yards.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said it was an "easy" decision picking Bell over Lacy in the draft, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and Bell has been a multi-dimensional asset for the Steelers offense.
However, the Steelers are still waiting for that breakout game on the ground. Bell has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game. The closest he came was 93 yards in a Week 7 win over Baltimore.
|Le'Veon Bell's 2013 Rushing Yards|
|Opponent||Yards||Carries||Yards Per Carry||Result|
|At New York Jets||34||16||2.1||W, 19-6|
|At Oakland||24||13||1.8||L, 21-18|
|At New England||74||16||4.6||L, 55-31|
|At Cleveland||80||23||3.5||W, 27-11|
|At Baltimore||73||16||4.6||L, 22-20|
The Steelers haven't had a 100-yard rusher in 22 games, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the longest such dry spell in the NFL.
Going up against the Packers defense seems to give the Steelers an opportunity to break that streak and for Bell to hurdle the century mark for the first time.
The Packers are 25th in the NFL with 123.4 rushing yards allowed per game and tied for 27th with 4.6 yards allowed per carry.
Green Bay has allowed six running backs to gain 100 yards this season, including five in the last seven weeks. According to Pro Football Reference, the Packers have yielded at least 100 yards on the ground in six of the last eight weeks and 200 or more yards three times during that span.
|Green Bay Packers 2013 Rushing Defense|
|At San Francisco||90||L, 34-28|
|At Cincinnati||82||L, 34-20|
|At Baltimore||47||W, 19-17|
|At Minnesota||111||W, 44-31|
|At New York Giants||78||L, 27-13|
|At Detroit||241||L, 40-10|
|At Dallas||134||W, 37-36|
|Pro Football Reference|
The Steelers (6-8) don't have much to play for on Sunday. If the Dolphins or the Browns win their 1 p.m. games, the Steelers' flickering playoff hopes would be extinguished by the time they step onto Lambeau Field.
It's more realistic to look for positive signs going into next season, and a 100-yard game from Bell would be evidence that he can be the Steelers' workhorse running back of the future.
Those are the backs who have run for 100 yards on the Packers this season. All are among the top 11 in the NFL in rushing yards. Bell is 24th and hasn't yet developed to the level of any of those running backs.
However, Bell joined Franco Harris and Bam Morris as the only Steelers rookies to gain 1,000 yards from scrimmage, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
So while we shouldn't expect Bell's first 100-yard game Sunday in Green Bay, Bell will keep the Steelers' offense moving in a high-scoring game with a combination of rushing and receiving yards.
No one needs to be reminded of the last time the Steelers and Packers met. The Packers defeated the Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.
The last regular-season meeting between the teams was four years and two days before Sunday's matchup. On Dec. 20, 2009, the Steelers defeated the Packers 37-36 at Heinz Field on a last-second touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace.
Interestingly, that's the same final score of the Packers' win at Dallas last week when they came back from a 26-3 deficit. The win improved their record to 7-6-1 and put them in position to win the NFC North if they win their last two games.
The Packers have allowed 376.3 yards per game, 26th in the NFL. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger has 12 touchdown passes and one interception and has been sacked just five times in the last five games. He's sixth in the NFL with 3,915 passing yards.
Roethlisberger will continue that upward trend against a Packers defense that has allowed at least 26 points in seven of its last eight games. The last time the Packers allowed less than 21 points was in a 31-13 win over Cleveland at home in Week 7.
While Bell won't reach the century mark in rushing yards, Antonio Brown will reach the century mark in receptions for 2013. Five catches will give him 100 for the season. He's caught five every game this year, and the Packers won't be the team to hold him under five receptions.
Sunday's game at Green Bay, win or lose, will be a productive one for the Steelers offense. Even if they don't make the playoffs this season, the offense on Sunday will continue to give the Steelers a reason for optimism in 2014.