On Sunday, Le’Veon Bell will face his former team, the New York Jets. While Bell hasn’t spoken to Kansas City media this week, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know he’ll be fired up for this one.
For starters, Bell, who was released by the winless Jets a few weeks ago, went out of his way to land on a team that would face his former team within weeks of his signing. Amid reports that Jets coach Adam Gase never wanted Bell, who signed with New York as a big-money free agent in March 2019, it’s the perfect opportunity to avenge the lack of respect Gase showed him.
Let’s be very clear: That was his experience in New York. It’s not like Bell is an old man. He’s 28. Yet, Gase never adequately catered the offense to his strengths, and the desperate Jets released him midseason. It was a slap in the face, even if Gase wouldn’t say he expects Bell to be fired up for this one.
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure that he’s going to be worried about just winning a game, period,” Gase told reporters Thursday.
Problem is, kicking the Jets’ tails would go hand-in-hand with getting his revenge.
“I know he’s going to be hyped up — he’s supposed to,” said Jets running back Frank Gore, who has played for five different NFL teams and knows what it’s like to face an ex-squad. “Like you said, they just released him a couple weeks ago and he gets an opportunity to show that he still can play. I feel like he still can play.”
Former All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook agrees. Like Gore, he knows from experience. Westbrook starred for current Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s Philadelphia Eagles teams for eight seasons before facing his old squad in 2010 as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
“It was almost like, ‘I don’t need to study this week — I just need to go out there and play,’” said Westbrook, who spoke to Yahoo Sports on behalf of Crown Royal’s purple bag project. “I was ready to play, I was excited to beat Andy and the guys that I played against for a long time and just hit them and be hit by them. It was a cool feeling for me, something that kind of gets your juices flowing and gets you excited when gameday comes around.”
Westbrook also offered the important caveat that he played for the Eagles far longer than Bell played for the Jets, so Bell doesn’t have the same attachment to the Jets that Westbrook had for the Eagles.
“I think if the Chiefs played the Steelers, he’d probably feel it a little bit more,” Westbrook said. “But he did play for the Jets, nonetheless.”
Which means Bell is set to go off for Kansas City, Westbrook said, not just this week — but beyond, too.
Why Le’Veon Bell is a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s offense
For starters, Westbrook loves the potential of what Reid can scheme up with his new running back tandem of Bell and rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the NFL’s second-leading rusher. Westbrook made two Pro Bowls for Philly under Reid and knows what a running back needs to do to thrive in his system.
“It would probably take me an hour to tell you everything they can do together,” Westbrook said.
Both can run inside zone and outside zone, he said, and both can run power concepts. Plus Bell can line up outside and run quality, receiver-style routes, while Edwards-Helaire offers a big-play element.
With all the talent around the Chiefs — Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins among them — opponents can’t devote resources to stopping either man, which should lead to a rushing yardage windfall this season.
“If you’re the defense, you’ve got to pick your poison a bit,” Westbrook said. “If I’m playing against Kansas City, I’m saying we have to get after Patrick Mahomes and not allow him to have so much success throwing bombs down the field.”
In order to do that, Westbrook said, defenses have to back up their linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks and concede the short stuff.
“And that kind of lends itself to what we’ve seen the past couple weeks, where you just hand the ball to your running back and allow them to go to work,” Westbrook said. “It’s a hard offense to stop when you think about all the weapons.”
It’s even harder to stop when you’re as talent-deprived as the Jets. Yet, there is a scenario where the Chiefs’ run game doesn’t go crazy Sunday.
How the Jets can prevent a big Bell day
If Gregg Williams, the Jets’ infamously aggressive defensive coordinator, concedes the run like all the other teams that have had success against Kansas City have done, Bell and Edwards-Helaire will have big games.
Here’s the thing about that: doing so might negate one of the Jets’ few strengths. Their run defense has been adequate this year, as they rank 14th against the rush, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
On the flip side, they rank 28th against the pass in DVOA. If Williams sticks to his philosophy of taking away the run — which could be tempting, especially with a former Jet with hard feelings lining up in the Chiefs’ backfield — Kansas City’s passing game will likely go crazy.
It’s a no-win situation for the Jets. Anything can happen in the NFL, but the Chiefs (6-1) are 19.5-point favorites to win according to BetMGM, meaning Bell is highly likely to get his revenge, big individual day on the ground or not.
Yet, someone on Kansas City’s offense is probably going to go off Sunday, and it would be poetic justice if it’s Bell, who figures to have a better result against the Jets than Westbrook had in his “revenge game” against the Eagles in 2010, when he logged a single carry for 6 yards in the 49ers’ 27-24 loss.
“If you think about what you’ve seen from the Jets so far this season, you can’t help but think this kind of a homecoming game for the Kansas City Chiefs, a great stat game,” Westbrook said with a laugh. “It’s one of those games where you circle off on the calendar and say I’ve got to get a couple touchdowns today because this is going to help me boost my Pro Bowl status.”
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