What does Le’Veon Bell’s latest injury mean for the Steelers’ Running Game? First and foremost: What running game? The Steelers don’t really have a coherent running game and I’m not sure you can read anything into the injury in relation to the game plan. However some sportscasters’ accounts were predicting a big year for Bell where he becomes the savior for the Steelers and that this is a dire blow, a death knell to the running game. However, before you decide Bell’s injury put the Steelers season in the toilet before it even begins, here are a couple of things to consider.
It’s Still Early
Yes, the Steelers are halfway through the preseason but Bell didn’t participate in the first preseason game and he only took a handful of snaps in the second running game, so all the other backs got the work. The Steelers put plenty of running backs on the roster to evaluate and with the rate of injury during this preseason, that’s probably a good thing. The Steelers are at a good point to adjust in case this second round draft pick doesn’t play a snap all season.
The running game, with Bell or not, is not going to get anywhere if the zone blocking scheme that Bicknell is instituting doesn’t get going. Fix the blocking and all running backs will do better, maybe not Jerome Bettis better, but better. I saw glimmers of it where Dwyer was able to find the hole and get some yardage. I was surprised a couple of times to see a fairly large hole but more often than not, Washington was ready for whatever the Steelers were doing. The next game is against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Steelers can’t throttle back for this. They need to remember they nearly lost the 2012 game against them. KC’s defense caused 3 Steeler fumbles (only one was lost). I don’t know how much the Chiefs have changed with Andy Reid as the new HC, but I wouldn’t count this game as a gimme. Very little of the Steeler play this year suggests any win should be predicted beforehand. Maybe both teams are at the same place with their game plans: confused. If the blocking continues to be poor, then there is no running game – heck, there’s no offense.
Fish or Cut Bait
The key is that the Steelers need to honestly assess Bell’s injury and not just “hope” that it won’t take long to heal. I am not a medical profession and I know very little about a lisfranc injury. Based on this summary from the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society, six weeks sounds like it could be a minimum. Injuries are unpredictable and recovery can be just as unpredictable, even in this modern age of medicine. You have to plan for the worst, which would be Bell’s absence all year. If the time frame for Bell’s injury looks like a moving target, why not put him on the PUP or the IR and give him some time to heal? (Here’s a quick read on the PUP as well as the IR from Behind the Steel Curtain.) It would give the Steelers some flexibility with the active roster but not completely eliminate Bell from playing this year if the recovery goes as well as or (hopefully) better than expected. A partially healthy Le’Veon Bell does not help the Steelers and likely shortens his football career. I’m not saying that the Steelers should cut Bell. I am saying that if the diagnosis and return time is something that cannot be predicted with a high percentage of accuracy, the Steelers need to plan for Bell’s absence (that’s the cutting bait part). That means looking at what Redman, Dwyer, Stephens-Howling, Batch, or even Dunn has to offer and build around their strengths. Good coaches adjust to their people. If they can get a healthy Bell in for a partial season, as David DeCastro did last year, that’s a win in my book. I’m sure the smart people who do the Steelers personnel management for a living are already looking at these options. However, I think there could have been so much riding on Bell’s performance that they might try to see if there is some way to “get along” and get him back in sooner. I don’t think that is a good idea. His long-term performance with the team has to be the goal.
No Doom and Gloom
I’m not predicting doom and gloom for the Steelers. I’m saying that the Steelers have a chance to reassess and adapt the running game at this point, particularly if Bell’s injury means he will be out for “a while.” Which in football-speak means “Your guess is as good as mine.” I have to agree that Bell’s injury is concerning when you consider how high he was drafted. Remember when the term “china doll” was thrown at Matt Stafford a few years back? Well, I don’t think it is quite that bad with Bell, but he does seem to be having trouble staying healthy. I have to wonder if football players ever completely heal between seasons because they have to go right back into training very physically. There may be an off-season, but there isn’t an off time from conditioning. All I want from the Steelers is an honest assessment of what is going on and an adjustment that makes sense. I’m tired of game plans based seemingly on hope.