A day after getting into legal trouble for possession of marijuana, Pittsburgh Steelers running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount were punished, in a sense, by playing well into the fourth quarter of a blowout defeat in the third preseason game by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that he didn’t believe sending them home and allowing them to sit out the game would be much punishment considering the situation they put the team in.
As a matter of fact, Bell and Blount were the only backs to carry the ball for the Steelers last night, in comparison to the five different running backs that the Eagles used.
Pittsburgh had several other running backs dressed for the game, including Dri Archer, Jordan Hall, Josh Harris, and Miguel Maysonet, but none of them saw a carry.
Only Archer, and recent signing Stephen Houston, received any action. Archer caught three passes, as a receiver, while Houston caught one pass on the Steelers’ final drive.
Consider it community service, I suppose. But the fact of the matter is that the running game, especially early on, was certainly more lively than was the passing game, with Ben Roethlisberger frequently looking out of sync, either not hitting his targets or failing to get on the same page with his receivers.
Bell and Blount ran well for most of the night, carrying 16 times combined for 55 yards and catching four passes for 17. Many of those efforts came on cutbacks when the offensive line did a lackluster job in run blocking.
If you consider that the two combined only had 13 carries in the first two preseason games, it could certainly be argued that the Steelers’ top running backs needed to get that work in to get ready for the load they will carry in the regular season.
But the fact that not a single other running back touched the ball out of the backfield last night makes it clear that this wasn’t just about getting reps. It was sending a message, telling them that their place is on the field, and that they shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize their opportunity to be there.
While it doesn’t seem likely that a league-level punishment will come down on the Steelers’ running backs this season—it’s far too late in the proceedings for the head office to do much about it now—that doesn’t mean the team can’t address the issue.
And this doesn’t necessarily mean taking the Santonio Holmes situation as a precedent and sitting either player for a game during the season. There are other means of getting a message across by the coaching staff or the front office.
Working them late into preseason games without any other backs giving them a breather was just one option.