Le’Veon Bell’s Replacements Could Be Key In Controlling Time Of Possession


The Pittsburgh Steelers kick off the regular season tonight against the defending champion New England Patriots, and they will be doing so without their All-Pro running back, Le’Veon Bell, who is serving a two-game suspension.

How his replacements perform could have a tremendous impact on how this game goes. The Steelers signed DeAngelo Williams in the offseason for this purpose, but this will be the most extensive work that he has seen in some time.

The offense will want to try to control the clock as much as possible to keep the Patriots’ offense off the field and minimize their number of scoring opportunities. That generally means keeping the ball on the ground to limit the chances of the clock stopping on an incomplete pass when possible.

Williams has not had double-digit carries since Week 11 of last season. He last had 15 or more carries in Week 15 of the 2013 season, with the last time having 20 going back to Week Three of that same year.

Williams showed himself to possess every facet of the position needed for him to perform, but the fact that he has only gotten limited work does raise the question of how much of a workload he can handle, and the options behind him are limited.


The Steelers signed Jordan Todman after failing to make the Panthers’ roster, and as we have shown this week, he also possesses a complete skill set that extends to special teams, but there are reports that he will not serve as the number two back, given that he has only had a few days to digest his new system.

Dri Archer is limited in what he is able to do as a traditional running back, and would at best command just a few carries. Could the Steelers really decide to turn to Will Johnson to spell Williams as a traditional running back?

This is something that I wrote about early this week after Josh Harris failed to make the roster, but after the acquisition of Todman, it did not seem to be necessary. As long as they give him a limited playbook while he is in the game, he should be able to handle it fine.

Of course, there exists the strong possibility that Williams has no trouble shouldering the load for the vast majority of the game. And if things begin turning into a shootout, which is also highly likely, then the Steelers will be putting the ball in the air quite a bit.

Should that be the case, all of the running backs in question have some degree of receiving ability. Williams has 178 receptions over the course of his career, and Todman has shown that capacity as well.

The Steelers like to get Johnson involved in the passing game every so often and could be a bigger target if necessary. Archer, of course, is listed as both a running back and a wide receiver on the roster. The team values receiving ability out of its running backs, which will be necessary in order to fill the void left by Bell.

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Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Here’s what I wrote earlier:

    I’m just going to make a quick statement here. The Eagles, Steelers or Colts will not be in the super bowl this season. However (comma) if I had to pick between any of these three teams to maybe squeak in, it WOULD BE the Steelers, because I think if they can stay healthy, the defense will greatly improve after they’ve had a chance to play together as a complete unit for a few games, and once Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell get back in the mix, this offense is going to be almost impossible to stop. As far as the NFC is concerned, I actually think the Seahawks will make it back to the big dance yet again. Right now it’s hard for me to guess which AFC team will get there, but it won’t be the Colts.

    Now, on to the game against New England. Ya know, this is a hard one to call. I still feel pretty much the same about this game as I had felt before I found out Martavis Bryant wasn’t going to be playing. I think as long as we can sack Brady a few times, maybe even four times because of their weaknesses on the exterior of their offensive line, heck, even if we can just get in Tom Brady’s face a lot, I think we can disrupt their offense enough as to where we can get them off the field quickly.

    Look, everyone has been talking about the ‘strategy’ the Steelers defensive coaches and players have come up with to stop Gronkowsi, but the thing is, what will really stop him is keeping him off the field as much as possible. It’ll all be about ball control and which team can win the time of possession battle. That will determine which team comes out on top in this one. I know with the absence of Bell, we may lose that ability he brings to throw those short passes and have him turn them into big games with his RAC, but we have made a couple of pretty good player acquisitions in DeAngelo Williams and Jordan Todman that should be sufficient until Bell returns. On film, Todman looks like he could be the guy that mixes the lightning with DeAngelo Williams’ thunder right from the get-go. Don’t forget about our ‘speedster’ Dri Archer. If he can finally get out into the open when he’s got the ball in his hands, he can take it to the house, just as long as he doesn’t trip over his own feet as we’ve all seen him do many times. Looks like he’s being tackled by the Invisible Man.

    The bottom line, as I see it…..keep the ball out of Brady’s hands as much as possible and keep the pressure on him all night with James Harrison, Cam Heyward and company. If we can manage to do these things, I believe the Steelers will come out on top. If we fail to pressure Brady for most of the night, the Steelers will get blown-out.

    I’m no Nostradamus. LOL I very well could be wrong, but from what I’ve been looking at with these two teams as of late, I don’t think I’m wrong. We’ll see.

    GO STEELERS!!!!!!!

  • Steelers 35 Patriots 28

  • I think the Seahawks will take a step back after loosing key pieces on that o-line and defense. Also Cam Chancellor’s hold out is huge because he is the best player in that secondary, no disrespect to Sherman or Thomas.

  • Jonas

    Idk.. Chancellor couldn’t wreck havoc, if Thomas and Sherman don’t cover nearly the whole field.
    He may be on Troys level against the run, but not in the Pass game.

    Otherwise I agree, they’ll miss him!

  • Orlysteel

    Just ” do your job ” and the rest will take care of itself.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    I wouldn’t take DW off the field and certainly wouldn’t spell him. He is a pro and a vet, and I’m sure can play an entire game himself. Especially week 1. Play him in a way that the wheels would fall off in a normal situation. He is only starting 2 games, so the wheels won’t fall off even if he gets 30 touches and 50 snaps or more each game. I wouldn’t hesitate with this. Todman is too new in this offense and can’t be trusted. Archer hasn’t proven he can play in this league so I don’t trust him. Will Johnson isn’t a natural runner so why take off DW?

  • LucasY59

    Thomas is the guy that allows Kam and Sherman to do what they do, he roams the backend giving them a security to be physical, play closer to the LOS, and make plays, without him they are not much better than the Steelers Secondary IMO (would much rather trade Mitchell for Earl than, Shamarko for Chancellor, neither would ever happen)

  • LucasY59

    he is 32 yrs old, if you only want him to last 2 games then give him that heavy of a workload, but If Bell gets hurt they would be depending on Todman and Dri to carry the load

    I think he should be on a snap count similar to JH, give Archer and Todman a chance to show what they can do, Because when Le’Veon comes back there will be very few extra touches/snaps for anyone (and if they see that the other guys are useful they can take some wear and tear off Bell and keep his touches to around 300 a season and help extend his health and career)

    These games without Bell will also allow Ben and the Recivers to take a bigger role and see if they can control the game through the Air (which makes the whole Offense even more powerful if they can dominate with both when Bell gets back) the opposing D can’t eliminate one element because both are too effective and focusing on one will only strengthen the other

  • Phil Brenneman II

    I don’t see why Williams wouldn’t be able to handle a heavy load. He is up there in years (for an NFL RB) but he hasn’t had a heavy career so to speak. If he can’t I fully trust seeing Johnson given the ball. There will be no 20 yards runs but if you are talking about TOP he seems like a more than capable guy. Seems sure with the ball in his hands and has a good build for short yardage clock movement. I think we really only need to worry if it gets to a point we have to rely on Archer.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    I know he is 32 and that is my point. A 32 year old back can handle all those carries for only 2 games. He wouldn’t be able to do that for a season or even half a season, but for 2 games, he doesn’t need to be on a snap count. He isn’t 40! And when Bell comes back, DW will only get a handful of snaps a game so he will recover from the 1st 2 games and be fine. Until Todman knows the offense very well, I wouldn’t give him a hat, unless they deem him too good on ST’s. And Archer, he can only handle a couple touches a game. He is not a very good runner and plays slow. He hasn’t shown the ability to hit a seem at 100mph. He jogs on in and falls right on down. Tired of his act.

    I think the team already has opposing defenses in that conundrum. They have already proven they can control a game through the air or on the ground. There is no question there. Ben tied for the league lead in passing yards last year. Every defense knows he can control the game in the air and they know the running game can take over as well.

  • charles

    Complete a bomb to DHB, that gets one person out of the box, helps the run game, which is how we beat NE last time. Need 2 or more fumbles to help blow open the Pats continual cheating.