On July 16, 2018 Le’veon Bell tweeted, “…[B]ut trust me, 2018 will be my best season to date…” This was shared shortly after news broke that Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers did not come to an agreement regarding his franchise tag contract. There have been many more discussions over the contract since then, but as of now, Bell has yet to sign anything. Although, recently he said that he has the intention to come back during the Week 7 bye and play Week 8, but those are rumors.
Bell’s reluctance to sign his contract means that he has cost himself over $3.4 million across the four weeks he has sat out. Other teams see this, too, of course. To them, Bell is making himself $852,000 cheaper every week he continues to play hardball with his team, giving them the incentive to hold out on picking him up in a trade. And with Bell’s recent statement, “I’ll continue to be the ‘bad guy’ for ALL of us,” it seems like he has no immediate intention of resolving the dispute and coming back to the game. This all makes it a little hard for the 2018 season to be Bell’s best.
Bell’s absence hasn’t gone unnoticed by anyone. Weekly, the focus seems to be on the rushing offense of the Steelers. The commentators are often quick to point out what the Steelers offense is lacking without Bell’s skill, both on the ground and in the air. However, like we saw in week one, the rush game can still be explosive without him. Against the Browns, James Conner posted 135 rushing yards with two TDs. He also had 57 yards receiving, bringing his total to 192 yards from scrimmage. Those numbers are reminiscent of Bell, proving that his absence isn’t the sole reason for the Steelers 1-2-1 start to the season.
In fact, the Steelers have much bigger issues than their run game. Just on offense, Ben Roethlisberger has five interceptions in the first four games and the offensive line has allowed Ben to get sacked nine times already this season, four of which came from the opening game against Cleveland. Roethlisberger has also had a few fumbles, miscommunications with his receivers, and some overall risky plays and calls. Then there’s Juju Smith-Schuster who is the leading receiver for the team, taking the spot usually reserved for Antonio Brown. This shift has caused more internal problems within the team, inciting comments from Brown about wanting to be traded.
The Steelers’ biggest issue is their defense, mainly their pass defense. The Steelers’ secondary has allowed over 300 passing yards per game, which is 29th in the league. They’ve also allowed an average of 29 points per game, which is clearly an issue when the offense is averaging 25.5 points per game. Time after time, we see big plays being allowed down the field because the receivers aren’t being properly covered, the necessary tackles aren’t being made, and the opportunities for big stops and turnovers aren’t connecting.
The momentum and the weapons for a strong team are there, we’ve seen them in many cases: the huge second quarter comeback against the Chiefs, the powerhouse first half against the Buccaneers, and another second quarter comeback against the Ravens. The Steelers just get tired, their defense gets trampled, and with all the pressure on an already troubled offense, they struggle to make up for those shortcomings, often times ending in a tragic, avoidable loss. If the Steelers can fix those issues, they have a chance. It’s not the lack of Bell that caused them to be at the bottom of the division, it’s how the team operates as a comprehensive machine, and right now, they need to be oiled up a bit.