The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will, or should, the Steelers much more carefully monitor Le’Veon Bell’s workload this season?
When the Steelers made their second-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, they certainly knew that they were about to acquire a player that they coveted at a position of need. They probably did not realize that they would be adding a special talent to the roster who by his second season would be regarded widely as the best player at this position.
That player is, of course, running back Le’Veon Bell, drafted in 2013 and instantly plugged into the starting lineup—at least after missing the first three games of his rookie season with an injury. He has since missed 13 total games due injury, including three playoff contests over the course of the past two seasons.
Bell’s 2014 season ended in the regular season finale against the Bengals after he took a low shot to the knee following a downfield reception. The injury was serious enough to cause him to miss his first playoff opportunity, and required rehabilitation well into the offseason.
When he returned, however, he did so without limitations, and looked the same as ever. That was after serving a two-game suspension, of course. But the point is that in his brief time during the 2015 season, the Steelers played Bell without reservations, and the rewards were significant.
In six games, Bell carried the ball 113 times for 556 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and scoring three rushing touchdowns, which included a walk-off game-winning score in San Diego. Had he not been injured in the first half of that sixth game, he figured to have averaged comfortably over 20 carries and 100 yards on the ground per game.
Naturally, with Bell coming back from an MCL tear this season, one would assume it would be wise to urge caution with the All-Pro running back. But the simple fact remains that he is a unique talent, and is capable of performing unique acts on the field, which behooves the Steelers to have him on the field as much as possible.
That has been the team’s modus operandi whenever they have had a health Le’Veon Bell on the roster. Provided that is the case in the 2016 season opener, I expect that to continue to be the plan this year. And it’s one that is hard to argue against.