The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: Does the offense have enough quality depth at the running back position right now to perform at a championship level without Le’Veon Bell?
This question is targeting specifically the offensive side of the ball, to be clear, so we’re not discussing whether or not that defense is just so bad that it doesn’t matter how good the offense is. Simply, is the offense itself a championship-caliber unit even without Le’Veon Bell?
It goes without saying that the bulk of the unit’s strength will lie in the passing game with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown, and a group of promising young wide receivers, as well as a pair of complementary tight ends, one who is a big-play threat and the other who can get you a third-down conversion.
The offensive line remains the same as well, and while they might have to block differently for James Conner, Stevan Ridley, and Jaylen Samuels, the reality is that that is actually the norm. They might have gotten used to blocking a certain way for Bell, but it’s not like they forgot how to block for a normal running back.
Obviously the stable of running backs behind Bell is not going to match his talent. It would be a step backward overall. But is it still enough? We don’t have the answer to that yet. I’m not asking you to give me the answer to that question. I’m just offering it as a topic for discussion.
Conner didn’t get a lot of carries his rookie year but looked effective when he did, even explosive at times, and he seems to be in fantastic shape this year. Samuels has already impressed with his skills in the passing game in terms of being able to catch the ball, even in contested situations.
It would require a committee approach, but plenty of offenses have success without a start player who plays 65 percent or more of the snaps. Do the Steelers have the right backs for that?