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Labriola on how Ds can help Bs, Mitchell
October 20, 2017 10:01 AM | Bob Labriola
Ready or not, here it comes:

* They have been referred by some as the Killer Bs, by others as Triplets. But are they equals in terms of their value, or is there a pecking order for Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown?

* Being that it's professional football, and one of the trio is a quarterback, it's difficult to make the case that Roethlisberger isn't the most important. In the salary cap era, and with the percentage of his team's salary cap typically earned by the sport's true franchise quarterbacks, there's little likelihood of being able to replace the franchise quarterback seamlessly. A team would have a much better chance at having a No. 2 running back and/or a No. 2 wide receiver on its roster with something approaching a dynamic skill-set.

* But when it comes to winning and losing, for the Steelers at least, running the football has been most important. And there are statistics that can be cited to prove the point.

* Recently, Roethlisberger became one of a select few of NFL quarterbacks to post 50 300-yard passing games in a career, but when it comes to the outcomes of those game, it's interesting to note the Steelers have lost 22 of the 50.

* By comparison, the Steelers are 24-3 when Bell has 20-or-more rushing attempts, and they're 10-16 when he has fewer than 20. The team is 9-0 when Bell carries the ball 25 or more times in a game. And those statistics have been comparable all the way back to the era when Terry Bradshaw was doing the throwing and Franco Harris was doing the running.

* Those statistics should come as no real surprise, because there are many side benefits that come along with a team being able to run the football often and successfully against a particular opponent, chief among those being controlling the time of possession, which also reflects the amount of time the opposing offense is sitting on the sideline and therefore rendered ineffective.

* All of which creates the following conundrum: given the importance of running the football to the Steelers winning games, and given the importance of Bell to the Steelers being able to run the football, and with the significance of winning games increasing as fall turns into winter, how to preserve Bell for January?

* The simple answer is to use James Conner and Terrell Watson more, but that's not as easy as it sounds. Either or both of those guys could eat up some of the 357 carries Bell is currently on pace to finish with during the regular season, but the potential problem with that plan could be revealed when Roethlisberger is throwing the football.

* It's not so much that neither Conner nor Watson is Bell's equal as a receiver, which they are not, but rather it comes down to Conner and/or Watson's ability to handle the protection elements of the running back position on pass plays. Missing a blitz pickup, or even being momentarily confused by a blitz and being a heartbeat late in getting to the assignment could lead to the quarterback being injured, or as the Jacksonville game showed, could lead to a turnover.

* Experience, not only when it comes to the offense but also in terms of a detailed understanding of how the defense is trying to attack, is necessary to be able to handle that important job.

* Between now and then, the answer to preserving the Bs could be found in periodically employing the Ds. Dink-and-dunk. Get the ball out quickly.

* When it happened - on the final snap of the third quarter during a game in which the Steelers were fighting to protect a 12-3 lead against the NFL's last undefeated team in its home stadium - what was immediately noteworthy was that the play's outcome resulted in a first-and-10 at the Steelers 12-yard line.

* The play in question involved Mike Mitchell blitzing Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith but missing what looked like a clear shot at a sack, and the miss allowed Smith to escape and complete a pass to Kareem Hunt that ended up converting a third-and-8 by gaining 37 yards. Plus, a roughing the passer penalty on Mitchell had added another 12 yards to the total to turn what would have had to have been a punt (after the sack) into at least a field goal (following the catch-and-run plus the penalty yardage).

* It wasn't until later, at least for me, that the details of the roughing the passer penalty became known. Then after the game, by the time the team got back to Pittsburgh following the 19-13 victory, that was when the issues of dirty play, fines, and suspensions were introduced into the narrative.

* Smith got things started down this path with his postgame comments. "I thought (the hit) was pretty late. I mean when you get hit in the back of your knee like that, I didn't understand how that happened. Certainly guys falling, rushing the quarterback, I get it when it's happening from the front and guys trying hard. That one to me just seemed so weird to get hit that low coming from behind."

* A follow-up question to Smith asked whether he believed it was on purpose. "No, I mean I have no idea," said Smith. "I haven't seen the play so I couldn't tell you ..."

* Things escalated, naturally, once social media got involved. Short video clips accompanied by analysis from experts, many of whom have credentials that don't go beyond having opposable thumbs, inflamed the situation. And by dawn on Monday, Mike Mitchell was being cast as a dirty player deserving of a multiple-game suspension. At least.

* Subsequent viewings of the video showed that in the mass of bodies in motion during the play Mitchell was tripped and/or pushed from behind by teammate Anthony Chickillo, and that had something to do with Mitchell making contact with Smith.

* When asked at his weekly news conference for his view of the play, Mike Tomlin said, "My view is what you guys saw. He got tripped by Chickillo, and it's unfortunate. But it's part of ball. He should've been penalized. There's strict liability there and rightfully so. Player safety is big, but if you saw the play, you'd know there was no malintent or egregiousness there on his part. He got tripped. But Alex doesn't have eyes in the back of his head, and in-game, he doesn't know that. So, it was reasonable for him to have the response that he had."

* In Kansas City, Smith's opinion had hardened. "I felt like it was extremely late," Smith told reporters on Tuesday. "I felt there was nothing done there to avoid contact. It was really low from the backside. I thought it was about as flagrant as it gets when it comes to a low hit on the quarterback."

* In Pittsburgh, Mitchell defended himself. "I'm not a dirty player. I'm not out here trying to take his legs out. It's just one of those things you don't want to see in a football game. It's unfortunate that it happened because it ended up kind of flipping momentum on the field in a significant way."

* The league rendered its opinion when it fined Mitchell, and because an appeal was filed it's possible the original amount of the fine, $48,620, could be reduced, but there's not even a remote chance it would be rescinded.

* I believe there is a distinction between a guy being a dirty player and a guy committing a fineable offense. Clearly, what Mitchell did was the latter, but I'm not as certain as many of the Internet and social media experts who have concluded he's a dirty player.

* Over the course of his time with the Steelers, Mike Mitchell has put considerable effort into re-making his game so that he can remain the physical presence in the middle of the field, which is why he's paid his salary, without having to rebate large portions of that salary back to the league in the form of fines.

* Maybe that should count for something, because it can indicate intent. Maybe that's just semantics, because someone who commits a crime is by definition a criminal.

* My experience is that fans and the media will decide which is which based on whether or not they happen to like Mike Mitchell. Which is not necessarily fair, but it's true.
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