INDIANAPOLIS — Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley has been fielding questions about Le’Veon Bell‘s massive workload throughout this season. The inquiries center around whether Bell should be rested more.
“We’ve talked about this a lot,” Haley said Thursday.
And he’s made clear many times — Bell doesn’t want to come out of the game, he gets stronger with each carry and the Steelers’ sole objective is to win games.
Translation: You’re crazy if you think I’m taking out the league’s best tailback for extended stretches.
Those who are questioning the flow of the Steelers’ offense entering Sunday’s game with the Colts should get used to Bell carrying at least 40 percent of it.
The Steelers playmakers don’t get touches. They get Bell’s leftover.
That’s how this team is built right now.
The numbers tell the story.
In Bell’s last 16 full games, he’s run the ball 414 times. For comparison, the Steelers ran 1,005 total offensive plays through 16 regular-season games last year. Bell’s rushes alone are accounting for roughly 40 percent of the Steelers’ attack over a large sample size despite relatively low output in early 2017 as he shook off rust from missing camp.
Ben Roethlisberger is averaging 34.3 passing attempts per game this year, down from around 39 attempts two years ago and 36.3 last year. That average is skewed by a 55-attempt performance against Jacksonville in Week 5.
When Bell rushes 25 or more times, the Steelers are 13-0, including the back-to-back-to-back wins Pittsburgh rode into the bye week.
Why would the Steelers change their ways now? Especially with a back who’s good in blitz pickup and skilled as a receiver.
Bell takes his punishment with a smile. After two straight weeks of at least 35 carries in Weeks 6-7, Bell said “I’ll be ready” for more the next.
A potential long-term contract in 2018 says he’ll continue to be ready. The Steelers might sprinkle in more no-huddle, which Roethlisberger likes, but the Steelers aren’t blowing out teams with big plays, in part because that’s not necessary to win. The Steelers don’t have a win of more than 21 points since Week 4 of 2016.
Bell believes his postgame recovery methods are more intense than a few years ago, allowing him to handle the weekly pounding.
Running backs coach James Saxon has seen the adjustment.
“He’s grown as a player. He’s been in the league for a number of years now. He understands the violence of the business, and he understands how to protect himself. That’s something that he’s good at. All the good ones are.”
The Steelers want more splash plays and Roethlisberger will be a big part of it. But the Steelers will follow the flow chart — Bell gets his 25 or more rushes, Antonio Brown gets his 10 targets, the supporting cast gets the rest.