The Pittsburgh Steelers need Le'Veon Bell on the field in the worst way.
In the season-opening catastrophe against the Tennessee Titans, LaRod Stephens-Howling led the team with 19 yards rushing.
He tore his ACL near the end of the third-quarter.
Isaac Redman toted the rock eight times for nine yards, and Antonio Brown had a four-yard carry.
A total of 15 rushes for 32 yards against a team that surrendered 127.2 rushing yards per game in 2012.
To make matters worse, three-time All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey also suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1.
Jonathan Dwyer, who was cut this preseason, was re-signed out of desperation and will likely see a decent amount of the rushing workload against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Sure, it was just one game, and teams change on both sides of the ball on a yearly basis—quietly, the Titans have an underrated defensive front seven—but one has to think even passing-game aficionado Todd Haley will never be happy with 32 yards on the ground from his offense in any game.
Haley made his name in Arizona as the Cardinals offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008.
In his first year calling the shots in the desert, Kurt Warner ran the show for 14 games and threw for 244 yards per contest. They narrowly missed the playoffs with an 8-8 record.
The following season, Warner put up MVP-worthy statistics—67.1 completion percentage, 4,583 yards, 30 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Arizona went on a magical postseason run and was a few minutes away from a Super Bowl title.
Pittsburgh has a Warner-like quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. Although he's not as refined from the pocket as Warner was, he's more than capable of piecing together big-yardage games and leading a potent aerial attack.
However, the most dramatic difference between the Cardinals teams Haley had the luxury of coaching and the 2013 Steelers is the talent at wide receiver.
Larry Fitzgerald caught 100 passes for 1,409 yards and 10 TDs in 2007. Anquan Boldin snagged 71 passes for 853 yards with nine scores in only 12 games. In 2008, Fitzgerald hauled in 96 more of Warner's tosses for 1,431 yards with 12 touchdowns. Boldin had 89 receptions for 1,038 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Talk about a one-two punch.
The feelings toward Mike Wallace became somewhat tainted in Pittsburgh after his holdout in the summer of 2012, and a decrease in his yardage production made many believe his free-agency bolt wouldn't hurt the Steelers in the future.
But it will.
Wallace's speed, home run-hitting ability and touchdown-catching efficiency meant he was freeing up his teammates when Big Ben wasn't throwing him the football downfield.
His impact cannot be overstated.
Wallace isn't a chain-moving, high-volume wideout, but he has proven to make his catches count...for points, that is:
Wallace is worth discussing when analyzing this year's Steelers because without him, Pittsburgh's receiving corps is far from intimidating.
Haley couldn't be much further from Fitzgerald and Boldin out wide.
Nothing against Brown—a fine player—Emmanuel Sanders, Jericho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton—who has some Wallace to him.
But outside of Brown, those players have yet to establish themselves as threatening, something Haley needs for his pass-centric offense to thrive.
Roethlisberger was sacked five times against Tennessee, and while the protection wasn't sound on any of the takedowns, it can be argued that all were "coverage sacks" due to their pass-catchers' failures to create separation.
In a Twitter conversation with Football Guys film columnist Cian Fahey and Bleacher Report AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst, the "Mike Wallace Effect" was outlined:
Here's Fahey's Twitpic:
If Wheaton can eventually warrant attention from defensive coordinators, the Steelers will be able to execute Whaley's pass-heavy system and field an effective offense.
In that case, an impactful ground attack wouldn't necessarily be imperative.
Until then, the running game must be a bigger part of Pittsburgh's offence. Big Ben can't do it all. That's precisely why Mike Tomlin's team needs Bell back in the lineup, or, at least, have consistent production from Redman and the newly re-signed Dwyer.
With unestablished wideouts, the Steelers are forced to be more offensively balanced. While we don't know how much more efficient Bell will be in the NFL, Pittsburgh thought enough of him to pick him in the second round of the 2013 draft.
We know what we're getting with Redman and Dwyer but have yet to find out what type of back Bell can be.
Predicting a team's future by peaking at schedule is typically a risky practice, as franchises routinely fall short or exceed pre-season expectations.
Can the Steelers survive without Le'Veon Bell, who's expected to be back in a month?
With an offensive coordinator proven to be enamored with passing the football, an underwhelming receiving corps, no Heath Miller, a banged-up offensive line and inconsistent backfield—it won't be easy.
In fact, they'll need miraculous play from Ben Roethlisberger and Dick Lebeau's stingy defense to get in the win column before Week 6.
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