The journey toward the Super Bowl is now well under way with the Pittsburgh Steelers back practicing at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, still informally referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility. With the regular season standing in their way on the path to a Lombardi, there will be questions for them to answer along the way.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions during the preseason and through training camp, but much of the answer-seeking ends in the regular season, and teams simply have to make do with what they have available to them. Still, there will always be questions for us.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond as they develop, looking for the answers as we evaluate the makeup of the Steelers on their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: How many carries will Le’Veon Bell have to face per game before they begin to spell him?
This seems to me a question that is an inevitability to face at some point later on this season. How many carries, and touches, can the Steelers expose running back Le’Veon Bell to on a per-game basis over the remainder of the season before it becomes an imperative that they give another runner some snaps just to save some wear and tear?
Prior to last season, the conversation about Bell’s health was a simpler one. He had a couple of freak injuries that ended his season, but that wasn’t what happened last year. He didn’t take any one hit that put him down. It was an accumulation of touches that ultimately produced the groin injury that caused him to bow out of the AFC Championship game early.
Bell has carried the ball at least 32 times in each of the past two games, with at least 35 total touches in each as well. Now, the odds of that sort of pace actually being sustained are pretty low. He was only averaging about 20 carries prior to then, so a regression to the mean is inevitable, even if they continue to focus more on running the football.
But at some point they will have to consider the workload they are giving Bell, and whether or not they have confidence in a combination of James Conner and Terrell Watson to take on some of the responsibilities.
This seems like a tough ask considering that DeAngelo Williams over the course of the past two years found it hard to get on the field when Bell was. But they did draft Conner for a reason, and he has done pretty well on the carries he has gotten, even if his all-around game is not there yet—as evidenced by his pressure allowed in pass protection against the Jaguars that led to an interception.