We knew that Mike Tomlin would be asked about how much action DeAngelo Williams would see now that Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell is coming back from his two game suspension. Why not? Bell is a great player. But Williams is leading the AFC in rushing with 204 yards in two weeks. So Steeler fans were interested to hear how much of the burden Williams could take off the valuable shoulders of Bell.
Instead, during his Tuesday press conference, Tomlin spoke of Williams as if he had just been cut!
“Can’t say enough about the contribution of DeAngelo Williams. He’s been a good asset and acquisition for us. Working hard to contribute and compete in all areas. Obviously we get Le’Veon Bell back this week. Excited about that. Looking forward to having both guys. Um…”
And then his voice trailed off as he transitioned into some thought about how loud the fans were.
Well, okay, DeAngelo. Have a seat on the “Legarrette Blount Memorial” spot on the bench. His sizeable butt cheeks are still imprinted there.
And that was in Tomlin’s opening statement! He pre-emptively tried to push off the topic of Williams’ potential impact the rest of the season. But those of us in the media (as we tend to do) followed up anyway later in the press conference.
Q: “Do you need to see Le’Veon in practice before you divvy up that workload?”
A: “No. I’m going to play Le’Veon Bell”
Q: “How will you use DeAngelo?”
A: “We’ll figure that out as we go. But if #26 is available we are going to use him.”
Q: “Do you have any concerns that he hasn’t been hit for three weeks?”
So there you have it. The conference’s leading rusher has been reduced to Landry-Jones-type status: “BREAK GLASS FOR EMERGENCY USE ONLY.”
Back in 2007 (before he ever coached a game on the Steeler sideline), Tomlin infamously said of Willie Parker: “We are going to run him until the wheels fall off.”
Well he did. Parker had 344 touches until the start of game 15. On his first carry of that game, the wheels fell off, thanks to a fractured right fibula.
Many wanted to slap the coach with the whole “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it” narrative last year when Bell got his knee blown up by Reggie Nelson in the season finale vs Cincinnati on his 373rd and final touch, thus preventing him (like Parker) from participating in a first round playoff loss at home.
Tomlin actually thought he was RIGHT for following the Parker plan with Bell last year. In his mind, Parker’s injury was a fluke. He didn’t get worn down. He had 124 yards in game 13 and 100 yards in game 14. So when Bell’s season ended on a random impact play as well in the midst of his latest effort of 100+ total yards, the only way Tomlin saw history repeating itself was “dumb luck.”
And maybe he’s partially right there. But it’s not JUST “dumb luck.” The coach is being dumb now too. And he is ignoring history. But in a different way.
The history he is ignoring is burying a good second back in seclusion, like he did with Blount. Obscured by Blount’s petulant behavior in walking off the field early following his 0 carry outing in Nashville was the fact that he had a point. He could’ve and should’ve been playing more.
And frankly, Williams is better than Blount. But in both cases, Williams and Blount didn’t need to be locked away in the dry storage container so Bell could be on the field at all times.
The reality is that Tomlin was damn lucky to use Parker as much as he did before his leg was broken. He was even more lucky to use Bell that often before his knee was injured. Most backs slow before a cataclysmic injury like those examples due to simple wear and tear with that much use. A shoulder injury here, a turned ankle there, a nagging hammy or deep thigh bruise perhaps. And, let’s factor in that the Steelers would like to keep Bell in the plans for the long term and not cast him aside like most RBs after one or two good (but abuse filled) seasons.
When Parker got hurt, the only person Tomlin could turn to was Najeh Davenport. He had 123 that night in St. Louis. But only 226 prior to that. And only 52 over the final two games combined. After Bell got hurt and Tomlin alienated Blount all the way back to New England, his best option was Ben-bleeping-Tate. How did that work out against the Ravens?
Now he’s got a legit option in Williams that should be taking on 20-25% of the snaps. Let him be the first and second down back for two or three series a game. Spot him in for red zone situations (Where Williams scored three times against San Francisco last week).
Tomlin shouldn’t make the same big mistake a third time with a player as important as Bell. And he shouldn’t ignore a player as good as Williams.
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