For the first time since the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers are looking at the playoffs from the wrong side. They missed playing football in 2019 by just half a game, and are staring at a long offseason that’s starting earlier than they wanted. That’s a lot of time to examine what went wrong and how they ended up missing the playoffs by such a small margin.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has already started his examination. And it’s not surprising that Le’Veon Bell’s name came up. Bell, the Steelers’ All Pro running back, sat out the entire season when he refused to sign his franchise tender.
Roethlisberger thinks the Bell situation hurt the Steelers, but not for the reason you think. He elaborated on Tuesday during his weekly segment on KDKA-FM. Via Trib Live:
“It hurts you when you don’t have one of the better players in the game,” Roethlisberger said, “but I think the biggest thing that hurts us was that it was a distraction. At his position we got to see James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, and I thought we got to see guys come into their own and see a glimpse of the future. I was really encouraged about life without Le’Veon.”
“Life Without Le’Veon” should be the title of the Steelers’ highlight video for the 2018 season, because Roethlisberger is right on the money: they didn’t really miss his production. This season, James Conner and Jaylen Samuels combined for 1,229 rushing yards, 696 receiving yards, and 16 touchdowns. That’s pretty similar to what Bell did in 2017, when he had 1,291 rushing yards, 655 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns. And on top of that, JuJu Smith-Schuster improved on his 2017, and Antonio Brown had another great season (except for that last week, of course). Bell’s absence didn’t seem to impact the Steelers on the field at all.
To Roethlisberger, the bigger issue is that the Bell situation was a distraction to the team. The deadline for Bell to sign his franchise tender was mid-November, just before Week 11. That’s 10 weeks of Bell drama, plus the preseason. Would he sign? Would he show up? Or would he continue his holdout? What did he tweet today? Steelers players and coach Mike Tomlin tried to play it off as best as they could, but for three months, Le’Veon Bell not playing was the only Steelers news anyone wanted to talk about.
It’s hard to know how much that affected the team, but it played a big enough role that Roethlisberger felt the need to mention it just a day after the Steelers were eliminated from the playoffs. While the team’s ultimate goal for 2019 will (of course) be winning the Super Bowl, avoiding another drama-filled campaign is likely close to the top of that goals list.
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