Following Sunday’s thumping of the Cincinnati Bengals, Steeler Nation should be basking in the fact their team won the AFC North title and will host their first playoff game at Heinz Field since 2010. Unfortunately, everything the Pittsburgh Steelers have accomplished this season has taken a back seat to the status of superstar running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell left the game in the third quarter after his knee bent in a way only circus performers and some really talented porn stars are able to bend with many fearing his season may well be over.
The Steelers have been typically tight-lipped over his status, telling the area beat reporters nothing of note. No surprise there from a team that treats every scrap of news like a highly guarded state secret. It is pretty funny how the Black and Gold control the local hacks in much the same way North Korea controls their media puppets. I half expect one of them to write a story about how Mike Tomlin has never farted – excuse me, created a “flatulent disruption” – in his life.
Anyway, where the locals have failed, we an usually count on ESPN’s Adam Schefter to succeed. Sheffy – along with Jay Glazer – are pretty much the only two NFL “Insiders” who truly deserve that title. The rest of them, such as our old buddy Ian “Hey, the Steelers are going to replace Ben Roethlisberger with current FXFL star Tajh Boyd” Rapaport, are either incompetent or just plain make stuff up. But I digress…
Schefter reports the MRI has confirmed the initial diagnoses that Bell suffered no structural damage to his knee. In simpler terms, none of his ligaments are torn nor is there any bone/cartilage damage. It’s basically a really really really bad sprain. Which is good news in that his season is not over. However, it doesn’t mean we’ll see him again this year.
Ben told reporters, “I know if there is a chance he can be out there he’s going to be” although performing some Hines Ward like playing-through-injury heroics would be monumentally stupid for both Bell and the Steelers. Even if he could gut it out enough to play, I can’t imagine how effective he’d be. What’s more, you know the dirty Ravens are going to go low on him any chance they get. There’s a very good chance if he plays Saturday night that he’ll be too banged up or ineffective to continue on should the Steelers win. Not to mention the long term ramifications that might occur should the damage morph into something with permanent repercussions.
No, the smartest course of action would be for Bell to sit out at least this week with the hope he’d be healed enough to be effective in a shared workload situation two weeks down the road. Of course, that’s a best case scenario as he missed the first three weeks of last season with a foot sprain which I am assuming wasn’t nearly as serious as the injury he suffered last Sunday. If we go by that theory, the best case scenario then becomes getting him back for the Super Bowl. The positive there – besides, you know, we’re going to the big game – is he would probably be close to fully recovered after nearly a month of rest.
Whatever happens, the Steelers are clearly hedging their bets by bringing in another running back for insurance. I hate to be the “I told ya so” type but I did post about this situation a couple times after LaGarette Blount was released. I have no issue with jettisoning Blount although rolling with rookies Dri Archer and Josh Harris as your only back-ups was not only playing with fire, it was fooling with a blowtorch. Archer has been pretty much useless this season and I really see no reason to think that’ll change in the near future. Harris had a nice run against the Bengals called back for holding which showed me he has decent moves and speed but also shows me his own teammates realize they need to open gaping holes for him to succeed.
With the current options fairly unappealing, the Steelers appear set to sign Ben Tate this afternoon. We’re familiar with Tate as he was one of Cleveland’s prize free agent signings with the expectation he’d be their primary back this year. Well, that didn’t work out as Isaiah Crowell and Terance West passed him on the depth chart and he wound up being released after sulking – since when did running backs replace receivers as the Divas of the NFL? – over sharing carries. He hooked on with the Vikes although was cut after only 13 carries. Tate showed starter potential when he was Arian Foster‘s backup in Houston and had two pretty strong games at the beginning of this season – 124 yards against Tennessee and 78 yards + 2 TDs against us. I don’t expect huge things from Tate although do think he’ll perform adequately if he kept himself in shape and picks up enough of the playbook in short order.
He’s certainly a more attractive option than the ones we have now. And, hey, it could’ve been worse. We could’ve signed Ray Rice.