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Looming signing of Ben Tate speaks more to pass protection than the running game

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Even holding a workout for free-agent running back Ben Tate can be construed as a lack of faith in the health of Le’Veon Bell, as well as in Dri Archer and Josh Harris. The reportedly likely signing of Tate is about pass protection, not the ground game.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Don't expect Ben Tate to carry the ball 20 times in the Steelers' playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. This is the signing of an offensive player to play defense.

Tate is being brought in to protect Ben Roethlisberger's backside, not to take handoffs.

The signing, which was first reported by ESPN's Adam Schefter, reflects a pessimistic outlook both for having a healthy Le'Veon Bell for the team's Wild Card round game in Pittsburgh on Saturday and a lack of desire to allow either rookie, Dri Archer or Josh Harris, to be all that stands in the way of Elvis Dumervil/Terrell Suggs/Pernell McPhee and Roethlisberger's exposed limbs.

We've already seen what Suggs will do to a player's legs this year.

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Tate is an experienced running back and, while he's sure to get a carry or two, provided he does suit up on Saturday, it should be expected for Todd Haley to utilize him in passing situations, a role Bell filled well both as a blocker and as a receiving option out of the backfield. Even with that, we can expect the Steelers to dust off the infamous package that used Heath Miller in the backfield as a last-ditch effort to provide even a semblance of protection for Roethlisberger back in 2011-13, when the Steelers' pass protection was at a far less enviable point than it is now.

Still, even the best offensive lines would have to work hard to limit the Ravens' three-headed monster. And now, they get defensive lineman Haloti Ngata back, fresh after a four-game suspension. It's possible the Ravens' defense has loosened up a bit, having faced two off-the-street quarterbacks in consecutive games, but with enough post-season-hardened players in Baltimore's front seven, there shouldn't be any realistic notion that this team won't bring pressure.

The Ravens may have their strongest group of pass-rushers back recharged and ready to get after their favorite target.

The signing of Tate would certainly be big news, but his highest and best use will be getting in the way of the surge of white jerseys permeating Pittsburgh's backfield. Any extra help the Steelers' offensive line and backs can provide to help Roethlisberger tear apart perhaps the weakest secondary to don Ravens jerseys in the John Harbaugh Era would be seen as a heroic feat.