Devil’s Advocate: Bell Overworked

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Was Le’Veon Bell overused down the stretch of the 2016 regular season—and could it have been avoided?

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, but the fact of the matter is that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell suffered a groin injury that ended his 2016 season prematurely, and it came during a period of play in which he was accounting for a phenomenal amount of work.

During the team’s nine-game winning streak in the second half of the season and into the postseason, Bell recorded 220 carries, which, over the course of a full 16-game schedule, would work out to a little bit over 391 carries. That would break Barry Foster’s franchise record for carries in a season by one, and would rank 10th all-time.

He also added another 34 touches on receptions over those nine games as well, by the way, which actually represented in a reduction of workload.

But the question is, did the Steelers overwork him? One can argue that the fact that he ended the season with an injured that could be construed as workload related answers that question in the affirmative.

But we don’t know for sure that the injury occurred due to the volume of touches that he was getting, so it’s hard to say. The workload has been carried before, and Bell is in peak physical health with no prior history of cumulative injury.

As for whether or not it could have been avoided, the fact that DeAngelo Williams was pretty much unavailable for the vast majority of that time suggests that there is little they could have done about it short of giving Fitzgerald Toussaint carries, which is not ideal.

But they could have given Toussaint a few more carries here and there, to be certain. And they also could have, you know, thrown the ball more. The proportion of their offense that was devoted to the running game swung significantly upward during that streak.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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