When you're on the Internet, you read a lot of weird things from people.
One of those weird things was uttered by more than one person last week in the aftermath of the unfortunate season-ending MCL tear suffered by star running back Le'Veon Bell in the 16-10 loss to the Bengals. The weird thing that multiple people typed was that Bell was simply a luxury for the Steelers--a weapon that not too many teams could even dream of having--so, therefore, while his absence for the rest of 2015 will be huge, it isn't as if the offense can't function properly without him.
A luxury? What does that even mean? I'm still trying to wrap my head around it, but it is the Internet, after all, so maybe it's best to not waste much time on someone trying to rationalize the loss of one of the NFL's most valuable offensive weapons. OK, I lied, I'm going to waste some time trying to figure it out. Saying Bell was just a luxury for the Steelers is like saying any great running back throughout NFL history was simply a luxury for his team. It's like saying Jim Brown was a luxury for Cleveland, Eric Dickerson was a luxury for the Rams or Emmitt Smith was a luxury for the Cowboys.
What about Franco Harris for the Steelers in the 1970s? Like Mean Joe Greene once said about him, "We never won any Super Bowls before Franco, and we never won any after Franco" (in that era, of course). Obviously, Le'Veon Bell is more than just a luxury item for the Steelers; he is maybe the best running back in the NFL and will probably continue to be that for a number of years as long as he can stay healthy.
No, the true luxury for the Steelers offense is 10-year veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, because where would the 2015 season be without his massive contributions? Other than perhaps college football, it's not often a star running back misses three games and the guy who replaces him totals 374 yards in his absence, but that's what Williams has so far this season in his three starts filling-in for Bell--including 170 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday in Pittsburgh's thrilling 38-35 victory over the Raiders at Heinz Field.
Anyone who thinks a player the caliber of Bell can be replaced by just anybody and the offense will continue to function smoothly, obviously doesn't remember the disaster that was the end of 2014, when Bell was lost in the last regular season game to a hyper-extended knee, and significant drop-offs named Josh Harris, Dri Archer and the just signed Ben Tate were in-line to pick up the slack, thanks to the release of LeGarrette Blount in November. Things didn't go so well that in regard, as Pittsburgh's offense was very ineffective in a 30-17 loss to the Ravens six days later in the wild card round.
This is just speculation, of course, but if the Steelers wouldn't have gone out and signed Williams during free-agency in the spring for the specific purpose of filling-in for Bell during his two-game suspension to start the year, who knows what shape the offense would be in right now, with people like Jordan Todman and either Isaiah Pead or someone of his ilk trying to resemble starting-caliber running backs, with Bell out for the year.
Fortunately, Williams doesn't have to try and resemble a starting-caliber NFL back, because he made his 85th career start against Oakland on Sunday, and thanks to his huge effort, he now has over 7,300 rushing yards on his updated resume.
The kind of luxury and peace of mind Williams brings in Bell's absence sort of reminds me of the many times Charlie Batch filled in for an either suspended for injured Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. While Batch wasn't exactly Roethlisberger-esque, what he provided couldn't be replicated by just any backup passer in the league. Batch came to Pittsburgh in 2003 with 55 career-starts to his name as a member of the Lions. While he only started nine games for the Steelers over eight years, four of those starts came during Super Bowl years, where he went 3-1. Overall, Batch was 6-3 filling-in as a starting quarterback for his hometown team, and he mostly performed like a luxury at the position.
While running backs don't get credited with wins and losses, the Steelers are now 2-1 with Williams starting this season, and their offense has scored 102 points and totaled 1,514 yards.
Le'Veon Bell isn't a luxury; he's a necessity that any team in the league would be better off employing. DeAngelo Williams is the true luxury item, the kind of backup most teams don't have, and we're now seeing what a luxury he is and will hopefully continue to be for the rest of 2015.