The Pittsburgh Steelers enter a third day of the Le’Veon Bell Watch with different reactions.
Senior management felt a sense of disappointment on Monday when Bell didn’t report, while Tuesday’s locker room provided feedback among players that Bell’s absence isn’t a distraction.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an opportunity to chime in Wednesday and took the company stance of focusing on the regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
While Roethlisberger conceded Bell, who hasn’t signed his $14.5 million franchise tag, is one of the best players in the league, the quarterback pointed out the offense remains in good hands if Bell isn’t on the field.
“I think we’re a very good offense,” Roethlisberger told reporters. “Football is the ultimate team sport. One person doesn’t make or break you. I’d like to say that the linemen are more important than any skill position player, including myself. This offense is more than just one guy.”
Football is indeed a team sport, but statistics show the Steelers are a different team when Bell is on the field.
Pittsburgh boasted a trio of players ranked in the top 5 in the NFL at their respective positions in 2017: Roethlisberger finished fifth in yards passing (4,251), Bell was third in yards rushing (1,291), and wide receiver Antonio Brown ranked first in yards receiving (1,533).
The production from the three players also contributes to the Steelers’ success in the win-loss column. According to NFL Research, the Steelers are 39-17 when Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown all play, but are 14-10 when at least one misses game.
Backup running back James Conner is waiting in the wings to fill in, and the second-year pro would have large shoes to fill.
In five seasons, Bell has his place among the NFL’s elite offensive weapons with 5,336 yards and 35 touchdowns on 1,229 carries, adding 2,660 yards receiving and seven touchdowns on 312 catches.
While the Steelers prefer to focus on the upcoming opponent and not on Bell’s continued absence, it is difficult to ignore what Bells means to a team as a single player who helps keep the offense rolling.