Over the course of the past five games—the span of time since DeAngelo Williams has last dressed for a game—Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has toted the ball 135 times, which works out to an average of 27 carries per game. Bell’s backup in those five games, Fitzgerald Toussaint, has carries the ball seven times.
One of those carries came on Sunday, when Bell was briefly spelled after four consecutive rushes, the final being a 33-yard dash. Toussaint came on to the field for one play, rushing for six yards, before remaining on the bench until the end of the game to serve in the victory formation.
All of the six other carries came in the game against the Colts that the Steelers won 28-7. Four of those carries came on the team’s final drive of the game, when some of the key starters had been benched. And it should also be noted that they game occurred on a short week.
Thus, we can say that, since Williams has been sidelined, the Steelers have almost routinely refused to provide Bell with much of any breathing room, and it required extenuating circumstances—such as several carries in succession capped off by a long run, or coming off of a short week following a game in which he posted a then-career-high in touches.
So, it appears as though Williams is set to make his return to the field for the Steelers for the first time in several weeks. Is that going to earn Bell any extra breathers now that the offense has converted itself to one that puts greater emphasis on the running game than they had prior to Williams’ injury?
To put things into perspective, Williams averaged 22 carries per game during his first three games while he was working as a starter, though he did have as many as 32 in one game. Bell never even had more than 21 carries in a game until four games ago, and he had fewer than 20 carries in four of his first six games. Williams supplemented with only nine rushing attempts in that same span—Toussaint had none.
So it’s clear that the Steelers are running the ball more frequently than when they last had both Bell and Williams healthy, which at least makes it a reasonable question to ask whether or not that could contribute to a greater division of labor.
When Bell had 18 carries in his first game back, Williams had four. He had just 10 carries two games later when Williams added three. If Bell is going to run the ball 20 times, should we expect Williams to give five or so looks for himself?
Several of those carries alluded to earlier occurred with Bell still on the field, mind you, lined up as a wide receiver. They only did that once or twice with Toussaint, but we may see them incorporate that back into the offense with Williams returning, which would further