In loss to Ravens, Steelers looked like they really could use an elite running back

If only the Pittsburgh Steelers had a running back to give them some offensive balance.

Remember when James Conner had a big Week 1 and everyone said that the Steelers might not miss Le’Veon Bell? Yeah, about that.

The Steelers plodded along on Sunday night with their one-dimensional offense and were beat 26-14 by the Baltimore Ravens in a huge AFC North game. The most striking part of the loss wasn’t that the Steelers couldn’t run the ball, it’s that they didn’t even try. Against Baltimore, which has an outstanding secondary and was second in the NFL in passing defense after three weeks this season, the Steelers threw it just about every down. That’s not a good game plan, but clearly the Steelers don’t trust their running game.

You have to assume that if the Steelers had Bell, who led the NFL in carries last season, that wouldn’t have happened. But Bell is still holding out, and the Steelers are 1-2-1, looking nothing like a Super Bowl contender they hoped to be.

By staying away, Bell has proved his worth to Pittsburgh’s offense.

Steelers have no running game without Le’Veon Bell

The Steelers had 58 offensive snaps on Sunday night. Of those 58 snaps, 47 were passes and one was a kneel-down by Ben Roethlisberger. Only nine plays were handoffs to running backs. Conner got all nine of those carries. It’s not like the Steelers were in catch-up mode all game. They were behind early, but almost all of the second half was either tied or within one possession until the Ravens took a nine-point lead in the final four minutes.

The Steelers’ imbalance looked even worse when the Ravens used their running game to march downfield for a Justin Tucker field goal in the fourth quarter, essentially putting the game away. Roethlisberger, in pass-only mode after that down two scores, threw an interception with 3:15 left.

It’s hard to win in the NFL with no balance at all on offense, and that’s especially true against a well-coached team like the Ravens. Conner might develop into a nice player, but he’s not Bell and the Steelers aren’t ready to rely on him as the fulcrum of their offense.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers fell to 1-2-1 with a tough loss to their rivals, the Ravens. (AP)
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers fell to 1-2-1 with a tough loss to their rivals, the Ravens. (AP)

Steelers’ reluctance to pay Bell is regrettable now

This could have been avoided. A lot of people want to blame Bell, but the Steelers didn’t want to pay him like an elite offensive playmaker. Bell is right when he says he’s more than just a running back. He also had 85 catches last season. He’s way more than your standard running back, a position that is paid a lot less than an elite receiver in the current market.

The Steelers didn’t want to give Bell a huge contract, assuming he’d play nice and show up for Week 1, like last season. After 406 regular-season touches and 25 more in one playoff game last season, Bell didn’t want to get worn down further on a one-year franchise tag deal. The Steelers played it out like a business, willing to use up Bell on a couple one-year deals, and Bell made a business decision too.

Now the Steelers look like they really need Bell. When Emmitt Smith held out from the Dallas Cowboys to begin the 1993 season and the Cowboys looked lost without him, the Cowboys admitted the mistake, paid Smith and got back on track. That won’t happen with Bell. The deadline to give Bell a long-term deal passed long ago. Now the Steelers have to play the waiting game, unsure when Bell will report. Perhaps they’ll trade him.

By the time Bell does sign his franchise tag, it might be too late for the Steelers anyway.

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Frank Schwab is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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