Dunlap: Who Gets The Carries For The Steelers?

The Steelers are headed headlong into one of those proverbial good problems to have in sports.

It will, if everything works out at planned and (knock on every piece of wood you see) everyone stays healthy, happen in Week 4, a Sunday Night matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

So, who gets the carries?

Yep, that’s the “problem” this franchise could be facing. It certainly is a wonderful problem to have.

The Chiefs game on Oct. 2 will be the first game back for can’t-stay-out-of-trouble running back Le’Veon Bell after he was made to serve a three-game suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy.

Missing games to start the season because of off the field issues is nothing new for Bell, who was sidelined for the first two games of 2015 after he took his own high road — McKnight Road in this instance — on the way to a team flight.

That said, the Steelers have some experience on how to deal with this situation; on how to deal with infusing Bell back into the offense after he’s been absent for a span of time.

But how will it all play out this time, provided DeAngelo Williams keeps going out there and performing at a top level.

Through two games, Williams has rushed for 237 yards and two touchdowns on 58 carries. He has also pulled in 10 passes for 66 yards and a touchdown.

Williams has been a driving force behind the Steelers jolting to that 2-0 start, as he rushed for 143 yards in the season-opening win against Washington then had 132 all purpose yards in Sunday’s essential division win against the Bengals.

A question: Who thinks Williams’ production will stagger at all against the Philadelphia Eagles this week? I know I don’t. I expect Williams, again, to have a solid game and pace what has become one of the most potent offenses in the NFL.

So, what to do when Bell comes back for Week 4? If Williams’ production remains against the Eagles, hopefully it isn’t what the Steelers did last season when Bell came back from suspension.

After getting 21 and 20 carries in the first two games of the 2015 season as Bell sat, Williams disappeared as soon as Bell came back.
Williams got 13 carries, combined, over the next five games.

Meanwhile, as soon as Bell came off suspension last year, he was immediately the man. He got the ball 19 times on the ground the first week back and was thrown it seven more times. Bell averaged 22.3 carries the next three games while Williams, who shined in 2015 in those first two weeks while Bell was suspended, largely remained out of the offense.

This isn’t to say Le’Veon Bell should lose his starting job to DeAngelo Williams. I’m not saying that at all.

What I am saying, however, is that it might do Todd Haley and the offense well, this time around, to split the carries in a more balanced proposition for a little while when Bell gets back.

In a lot of ways, it might be what’s best for both backs and, by extension, the offense as a whole.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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