The Pittsburgh Steelers are just a little over two weeks away from returning to the postseason, making it their third consecutive trip there, which is something that the team had not accomplished since the mid-90s. But what they had not been able to accomplish in their previous two trips to the playoffs was getting their star running back there healthy.
All-Pro Le’Veon Bell, in his fourth season, has never played in a postseason game in spite of the fact that the Steelers have made it there in two of his three seasons. As a rookie, they went 8-8 and missed the playoffs, but he finished the year healthy despite missing the first three games with a foot injury.
In 2014, Bell played nearly the full season until he took a shot to the knee in the first half of the regular-season finale, a game that clinched the division title. While not initially believed to be overly serious, it was later revealed that the injury would have kept him from returning that year no matter how far they got into the playoffs. The Steelers lost in the first round without him.
A year ago, Pittsburgh only had him for six games, missing the first two due to a suspension, and then having his season ended in their eighth game of the year when a hit—once again playing against the Bengals—drove him out of bounds awkwardly and resulted in him suffering a torn MCL.
The Steelers lost not only Bell, but also DeAngelo Williams, the back that they brought in last year to fill in for Bell during his suspension, and who played at a Pro Bowl-worthy level in his absence in 10 starts, tying for the league lead in rushing touchdowns.
They ended up starting Fitzgerald Toussaint at running back that year and splitting some time with Jordan Todman, two running backs who were not even on the team’s 90-man roster. Toussaint spent most of the year on the practice squad after he was added there following final roster cuts. Todman was signed to the 53-man roster after final roster cuts.
The Steelers did manage to win their first playoff game in five seasons, and Toussaint’s efforts in beating the Bengals certainly were commendable, as he had a career game. Todman’s contributions were not to be ignored either. But neither played particularly well in the Divisional Round in Denver. Though Toussaint scored a touchdown, he also had a fumble late, which helped seal the game.
There is a good reason that Bell will be standing on the sidelines watching Williams and Toussaint run the ball two days from now as the Steelers host the Browns in their regular-season finale, and it’s not just because it has no playoff implications.
They want to make sure that they have Bell healthy and ready for the playoffs this time around, because they are getting tired of making it that far only to lose him along the way. This offensive unit has never seen the postseason before, and they are hoping they will take it by storm.