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 pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will, or should, the Steelers much more carefully monitor Le’Veon Bell’s workload this season?
There is little refuting that, when he has been healthy, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has shown himself to be an elite talent. Of course, his distinction as a first-team All-Pro upon the conclusion of his second season, during which he set franchise records, points strongly to that.
Bell has proven in three short years to be one of the great overall athletic talents in the league, and among the most complete players at any given position, showcasing elite abilities in all phases of his position, and even highlighting his ability to take direct snaps—even if he has yet to attempt a pass or hand off in such situations.
But if there are two things that can stop any athlete, those things are aging and injury. Bell is still rather young entering his fourth season, but he does have an injury history that has been drawing concern. Of course, he missed most of his rookie preseason and the first three games of his career with, if I recall, a foot injury.
His 2014 season ended with a hyperextended knee that required a period of the offseason to recover from, but he showed no ill effects, either in his performance or in his workload, during his brief six-game slate in 2015.
But his 2015 season was brief because of yet another injury, this one the most serious. Bell is continuing to recover from a torn MCL that he suffered about halfway into the season, and one can never be sure how a ligament tear can impact a running back.
With all things considered, it would probably make sense to ease Bell’s workload this season, for a variety of factors. The nature of the injury aside, there is also the fact that his 2015 work was relatively limited, and a dramatic upswing in workload could produce unforeseen side effects.
Of course, there is also the DeAngelo Williams factor, who was highly successful in Bell’s stead, but nearly invisible when he was healthy. Williams showed himself to be somebody who can more than contribute. Given all the variables, and the veteran’s reliability, it would make sense to share the burden, particularly whenever Bell’s elite skillset is not a necessity to win a game.