Every Pittsburgh Steelers fan has an uneasy, though perhaps subconscious, feeling they’re carrying during the offseason. Having to face the unfortunate reality of being without Le’Veon Bell for the first three weeks of the regular season, pending appeal. He’ll look great in camp, bust off a big run in the preseason. You’ll cheer and then have that feeling immediately replaced with a twinge of sadness knowing he won’t be able to help the team out for the first few weeks.
You can probably count Ben Roethlisberger as having a similar reaction. For obvious reasons, of course, no one wants to lose what Bell can do for its rushing attack. But it’s what Bell can do for Ben as a receiver, a source of comfort and reliability, that is going to have a severe impact on #7.
There are several reasons for Roethlisberger’s sack numbers being the lowest of his career. An offensive line that has gelled and frankly, added more talented players, the quarterback’s own progression, Todd Haley’s spin on the offense. Right up there should be Bell, the back who destroyed the franchise record for receptions in 2014, a whopping 83.
Prior to the arrival of Bell, Roethlisberger never had a running back catch more than 40 passes in a season. Willie Parker never had more than 31. Rashard Mendenhall no more than 25. In two seasons, Bell has done circles around them. With another 34 receptions, he’ll surpass the career totals of both players combined.
You saw that trust last season. Watch the first couple highlights against the Atlanta Falcons. They’re receptions, not carries, and show Roethlisberger finding Bell at the last moment, engulfed by lineman. In past seasons, that usually winds up as a sack. Big Ben knows what Bell is capable of after the catch. Every big play, every third down conversion is another building block of trust. That’s cheesy and a very feng shui way of thinking, but it’s true.
Roethlisberger may be a veteran but working with a back of Bell’s skillset and caliber is new territory. To have that taken away from him is going to act as a hindrance. It’s nothing against DeAngelo Williams, and the situation is certainly much less bleak with him there, but trust is trust. It isn’t deferrable, even to another veteran.
Look no farther than what transpired in the playoff game last year. Roethlisberger goes from being sacked three times over the final five weeks to five times, without Bell, in the Wild Card versus the Baltimore Ravens. Coincidence? You’re fooling yourself if you think so.
Granted, on that day, the Steelers trotted out rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer, and were so desparate they started Ben Tate, who probably didn’t even know the offensive lineman’s name. That “sky is falling” scenario won’t play out in 2015 but Bell isn’t replaceable even with the benefits of a full camp and preseason to work with Williams.
Don’t be surprised if the sack totals the first three weeks are a little higher than the rest of the season. And in turn, that’s going to halt the overall efficiency of the offense. Le’Veon Bell was his quarterbacks’ secruity blanket, not Heath Miller. Sorry if that hurts.
Ben and Bell are peanut butter and jelly. Without the other, you can’t help but feel a little empty.