Le’Veon Bell and James Conner Will Make the Pittsburgh Steelers Offense More Explosive
Following a comeback win over the rival Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers roll into their bye week riding a bit of momentum. The win did more than just help the Steelers begin their climb back up the division standings. It also brought the team one step closer to a moment many have been waiting for: the return of Le’Veon Bell. Bell hasn’t reported yet, but all indications are that he will before their Week Eight game. Questions abound with his return to the team. What will the locker room atmosphere be like? What will the coaches expect of him? Will he be ready to go Day One when he arrives? Perhaps the biggest question of them all is, what will the offense look like with Bell and James Conner?
The Production is Really Good
James Conner has fit in nicely as Bell’s replacement so far this season. He currently sits as the fifth-leading rusher in the NFL so far this season. He also has the second most rushing touchdowns in the league, behind only Todd Gurley. In most rushing categories, Conner ranks inside the top ten in the league.
Conner has also been a factor in the passing game as well. He has the seventh most yards receiving among running backs. Bell’s production is a big reason why he has held out for a bigger payday. Last season Bell rushed for nearly 1,300 yards. That was good enough for third most in the league and just 37 yards from being crowned the rushing champion. He also had 655 yards receiving, fourth most among running backs. There are not many teams that can get this kind of production out of one running back, let alone two.
Six weeks in, James Conner's season nearly mirrors Le'Veon Bell's start in 2017. pic.twitter.com/T6utHNYtPA
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 16, 2018
If both guys are available for Pittsburgh, it can be expected that the production from both would dip. There would be a timeshare between Bell and Conner, with a 50/50 split likely until Bell is back to football speed. Conner has conceded that once Bell returns, the job is his. Ben Roethlisberger even joked after last week’s game that this was Conner’s last game.
There is a desire for Conner to still get significant touches even with Bell back in the lineup, which might be for the best. Part of the reason Le’Veon held out was that he didn’t want to risk his health with another 400-touch season. Conner will want to still get meaningful touches after being the workhorse for the first half of the season. A 60/40 approach or even riding a hot hand might be the best case for both Bell and Conner.
The Lineup Options Can Get Creative
There are a few different ways the Steelers could utilize both Le’Veon Bell and James Conner on the field at the same time. Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner has many options to get significant time for both guys. While Conner has more receiving yards through six games than Bell did through six games last year, it wasn’t because he’s been lined up out wide.
Conner isn’t as much of a pure receiver as Bell is, but Conner does get north and south better than Bell. Fichtner could line Bell up outside on one side of the formation. Opposing defenses would have a nightmare trying to cover Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Bell with Conner in the backfield to run or receive. You could also line both up in the backfield and hand off to either guy. No matter who the Steelers want to use more, game-planning for those two running backs won’t be easy.
Conclusion: Beware the Killer B’s and Friends
With Bell’s return to the team, the famed “Killer B’s” will finally be reunited. Ben, Bell, and Brown are one of the most dangerous duos in all of pro football. Last season each of those guys finished in the top five in yards and touchdowns at their respective positions. Unlike previous years, it doesn’t have to come down to just them. Smith-Schuster has emerged as favored and reliable target for Big Ben. Conner has proven he can put up respectable numbers comparable to Bell. Tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James can’t be forgotten either. The Pittsburgh Steelers have a strong offense that can score on anyone. Add in Le’Veon Bell to the backfield and watch it jump to a whole new level.
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