Sunday’s Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers battle will have plenty of heavyweight punches thrown.
In advance, Ravens defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale took a pre-game jab at a Steelers player who isn’t expected to be on the field, Le’Veon Bell.
"There are a lot of stats [since 2015] that the Steelers are actually better without him," Martindale said Thursday, via ESPN’s Jamison Hensley. "That might be why he’s riding a jet ski down in Miami right now."
Bell is infamously staying away from the Steelers after the franchise tag was placed on him this season. There has been no indication on when the running back might return. In September, Bell was seen on a jet ski in South Beach asking to get paid.
Currently, Steelers running back James Conner, the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Month, is making Bell superfluous in Pittsburgh.
The second-year back is earning 131.7 scrimmage yards per game, and 5.8 yards on 22.6 touches per game with nine touchdowns. The Steelers are averaging more points per game (29.1), yards per game (418.1), yards per play (6.2), third down percent (43.2) and red zone percentage (75) this season through seven games with Conner than they did with Bell in 2017.
Conner has been beastly with the ball in his hands, forcing 46 missed tackles this season, most in the NFL (26 on rushes, 20 on receptions). According to Pro Football Focus, he has forced a missed tackle on 28.9 percent of his touches, the highest rate among 54 RBs with 50-plus touches.
Conner has generated four games with 110-plus rushing yards and two-plus rushing TD this season, the most such games in a single season for the Steelers since 1950. Bell only has three such games in his career.
As such, the Steelers aren’t fretting about Bell’s return. Neither is Martindale.
Asked if he spent time wondering whether Bell could show up and play this week, the Ravens DC retorted:
"What if Terry Bradshaw wants to come back and Lynn Swann? Oh [s—]," Martindale said.
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