2017 South Side Questions: At What Point Do You Spell Bell?

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.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    hard question to answer but I think they should’ve taken him out the last two games once the game was ours in the fourth quarter on a side note why don’t they have NIX,McDonald,and Bryant with bell in goal line situations that way we can have the best blockers along with tall receivers even if it means taking brown out a play or two at the goal line and question for you if we keep Bryant through next season and he doesn’t re-sign and another team picks him up do we get a comp pick for him still?

  • falconsaftey43

    Bryant and McDonald are both used in redzone at times. Bryant caught like a 3 yard pass and was tackled at the 2 vs CIN. McDonald dropped a pass in the end zone vs CIN.

    They would be elidgable to get a comp pick if he left via FA.

  • Steeler Nation!

    I wish they would give Conner a series a half. If it turned into a drive-multiple first downs, and you want to put Bell back in, fine. It’s his job to fix protection issues. Other rookies are carrying the load. It would be helpful to him, Bell, and the team down the stretch if he could take 5-8 carries a game away from Bell.

  • Tedium cha

    Anytime we’re up by 2 scores in the fourth quarter. If the other team gets within one score then bell comes back in to close it out. But the Cincinnati game we were up by 3 scores and just slamming bell over and over against a team that historically has injured bell when they play.

  • dany

    Until I see otherwise, I’m sure they will only use Conner more once Bell get injured

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    So what is the plan for if/when Bell does get hurt? We’re gonna wait til then to put in a guy who isn’t solid in pass pro and, as a result of our own doing, hasn’t had many live reps? Wait… I think I’ve seen this episode before. Is this the one where we sign Ben Tate and lose in the first round of the playoffs?! Get Conner in the game and get him some reps. If necessary, run him out of 12-personnel and keep a TE in. He needs to see some live action if he’s ever going to improve. Better now, while you can pull him if he screws up, than in December where he HAS to take every snap and can be more easily exposed.

    I understand this isn’t likely. The Steelers will continue to run Bell to death and have no plan for when that backfires. We’ll also probably blitz Brady 60% of the time and play off n’ soft coverage when we play New England (causing us to get beat by 2 scores as a result). Like I said, I’ve seen this episode b4.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    with that line up I was thinking more about blocking for the run which would set up the run later this what I just just read –
    The average rose to 4.4-yards per carry when Nix was on the field, to 4.8 yards per attempt when two tight ends were in the game and to 5.3 yards per tote when Nix was deployed along with multiple tight ends. thanks for the info

  • capehouse

    It’s not worth it to spell him. He’s too good. Conner can’t pass protect, and Watson is just a guy. I wish they’d get rid of the short yardage package with Watson too. Replacing an All-Pro with a fringe player at such an important situation is lunacy.

  • Conserv_58

    Yes it is worth spelling him because history and the law of averages has proven that if he continues to carry the ball thirty to thirty-five times a game his body is going to wear down and he’s going to get hurt as a result. Seeing what happened to Le’Veon in the playoffs last year was enough for me to say he needs to be spelled, for his and the team’s sake. Connor may not be proficient at pass protection right now, but he does run well when ever he’s given an opportunity to do so. The kid can move the chains and that’s all he needs to do.

  • falconsaftey43

    It was a 12 point (2 score) lead in the most of the 4th, during which Bell got 8 carries. Then they kicked a FG to make a 15 point lead (still 2 scores). Conner got the two remaining carries in the game.

    I’d personally like to see Conner just brought in here and there throughout the game. Getting around 5 touches a game.

  • Lambert58

    After 30 carries.

  • nutty32

    Blow outs and week 17 v. Cleveland. Tag him again next year then he’s probably gone in 2019, anyhow. Maybe he and Martavis can sign with the Titans.

  • heath miller

    well.. IF we could turn some of those FGs into TDs we could put a game away by the start of the fourth Qt and then play connor and watson .. but we are usually only up 10-12 points if we are lucky (which is a good thing) but its not up enough to take bell and ben and brown out … turn the FGs to TDs could mean 12-16 more points and we could clear the bench to start the fourth QT … problem solved HEATHHHHHHHHHH

  • NYBurgh79

    I Agree too.

  • Andrew

    I feel like Conner should get 1-2 drives per quarter, and if we are up by ten or more in the fourth, all of the fourth to Conner. With the amount we are running the ball, he should get 5-10 carries a game minimum.

  • capehouse

    Maybe law of averages, but only one injury in Bell’s history could be considered from wear and tear, and that’s the groin from last year, which he played through until injuring it even more in the Title game.

  • Mr. Goodkat

    If you take AB out I know you’re 100% running

  • AndyR34

    It still cost us that game. In addition, few RB’s in the NFL play in all 16+ games…injuries abound!

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    yeah but with those guys in to block will force them to try and stop it which later on would set up for the pass

  • capehouse

    Jim Brown in our backfield wouldn’t of helped us beat the Pats in that game.

  • Guest12

    Yes I think he is a good change of pace back for us. The way they have been using him so far is fine, just maybe a few more touches a game, but I think that will happen after the bye week. We didn’t really have a chance to spell Bell much last season with D Will missing about 9-10 games so I think they will take advantage of having that luxury this year.

  • Guest12

    Buzz kill!

  • Guest12

    Watson is a strong powerful runner, doesn’t matter that he isn’t All-Pro. Watson has come in on short yardage several times this year and I think he only didn’t get the first down 1 time and that play the defense won the battle in the trenches so he had no where to go. Practically every time Conner has touched the ball this season he has picked up a first down or very close to it. Both Watson and Conner have proved to be reliable and useful, so not sure why you’re against it. It’s working so why break what isn’t broken?

  • Guest12

    My Steeler fandom says give him a break when we’re up, but my FF roster says GIVE HIM THE BALL!!!!

  • capehouse

    Watson ran into the back of an offensive lineman on his last attempt. Why do I not want Watson on the field? Because Bell is an All-Pro. I don’t really think I need to explain that any further. You don’t sub out the best RB in the NFL.

  • ryan72384

    Agree with you 150 percent. The short yardage package is so stupid I don’t care if the guy picked up a couple first downs. Missed 3rd and 1s are so critical and all Watson does is run up the back of his linemen. He puts his head down and doesn’t even look. I don’t understand the fans or Tomlins infatuation with Watson as a short yardage specialist. What because he’s “big”? Jerome Bettis was big. Watson is not. Leave your all world running back on the field for the most crucial situations!!

  • Don

    1-2 drives per quarter? I think you’re misunderstanding how many drives there are in a game. There’s usually only 2 or 3 per quarter. I think maybe one drive per half, or mixing him in for parts of a few drives. I think your figure of 5-10 touches is fair, though. It’s tough because Bell is so good, but they have to understand winning in January is more important than in September and October.

  • ryan72384

    Like everyone has pretty much said score TDs in the redzone and Bell would be able to watch Conner run the clock out the last couple drives. The wear and tear could bite us eventually. Bell goes down it’s season over. The guy is the MVP of this team and the league like he was last year. They just give the award to golden boy QBs.

  • Mark

    Honestly, what is the playing year expectancy of a back in the NFL? I agree that he is improperly utilized in the red zone. However, his style will not age well. Run him. Run him long and hard. Let Connor clean up.

  • Mark

    I am not one to pull a hot back out, but allow Bell to carry to the 50, let Connor get deeper to the red zone and have Bell put it away.

  • Mark

    Haley likes stupid play calls. Why not have a 2 RB set and option?

  • Guest12

    He has carried the ball 5 times and converted a first down 4 of the 5 times, the one time he didn’t the d line won the battle in the trenches and pushed the o line back which is why he ran into them. Every time he touches the ball he does what they put him in there to do. So yes, you do need to explain yourself further.

  • Mr. Goodkat

    So then you’re going to pass the ball without your best WR on the field?

  • capehouse

    All-Pro > fringe player. That help?

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    yeah thats really when they would be thinking run besides outside of that td catch brown made last week it hasn’t been working with him on the field hes most dangerous in open space let him get a breather for one or 2 plays. In goal line situations have the tallest receivers go up and get it but it shouldn’t come to this often because the line up I described should be able to impose their will and push it in

  • Guest12

    You can led a horse to water but you can’t make em drink