The Pittsburgh Steelers have already punched their ticket to AFC Playoffs, and while the loss of Ryan Shazier has left an indelible mark on the defense, it makes you wonder which other player the team can not afford to lose if they want to make a push to Super Bowl 52.
With the star power Pittsburgh possesses on offense, this is no easy task. There is a strong argument to be made for Ben Roethlisberger, who is currently leading the league in passing yards, or even Antonio Brown, who leads the NFL in almost every receiving category, but to me the answer is Le’Veon Bell.
No one wants to see any of Pittsburgh’s playmakers injured, but when looking at the overall roster, and depth, there is no way to replace Bell. Roethlisberger would be replaced by Landry Jones and/or Joshua Dobbs, but if Bell is healthy he is capable of keeping the team afloat with his running, and receiving, skills. Antonio Brown certainly is as dynamic as they come, but there is only so much he can do from the receiver position.
This speaks more to Le’Veon Bell’s unique skill set, than it is admonishing the impact of Roethlisberger and Brown, but just think about what the team and offense would look like if Bell were to go down. In fact, you don’t have to think too hard considering Bell has yet to finish a season healthy since his rookie season in 2013.
2014 - Injured in Week 17 vs. the Bengals, missed AFC Wild Card game loss to Baltimore.
2015 - Injured midway through the season after Vontaze Burfict tackle.
2016 - Injured groin during the AFC Playoffs, was unable to play past the first quarter vs. the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.
The team has won without Bell, but the overall Win/Loss totals with Bell are dramatically better than without. In each of those aforementioned seasons the team had to turn to players like Josh Harris, Ben Tate and DeAngelo Williams to fill the void left by Bell. Just like Mike Tomlin said in his press conference this week, you can’t replace a player like Bell with just one guy.
Steelers fans had a scare on Sunday night when Bell left the field after an ugly hit to his lower body.
Everything turned out to be okay, and Bell returned to the game to have a huge impact on the team’s success in the waning minutes of the Week 14 game. However, fans around the globe know what life without Le’Veon Bell is like, and it isn’t pretty.
Although the loss of Brown, Bell or Roethlisberger would be devastating to the team’s playoff hopes, in my opinion, Bell’s loss would by far have the biggest impact on the Steelers’ Super Bowl aspirations.