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Tim Benz: Point finger at offensive line for Steelers' run woes

| Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, 8:00 p.m.
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is gang tackled by Browns defenders during the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is gang tackled by Browns defenders during the third quarter Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.

It's the lowest of low-hanging fruit.

Le'Veon Bell stayed away from training camp. So blame that absence for the Steelers' sputtering run game against the Browns in the season opener.

That seems to be a prevailing opinion of many fans and media members in the wake of Pittsburgh's 21-18 victory Sunday.

A+B=C

Yeah, if “C” equals Twitter hot take.

Really? That's the reason why the Steelers' run game totaled 35 yards on 17 attempts? Because Bell didn't get the eight preseason touches he got a year ago?

C'mon. That reasoning is too simplistic. Bell's teammates certainly seem to think so.

“That's on us. One way or another, we've got to make holes for him,” guard Ramon Foster said.

“We've got to do our job up front. We're highly compensated for our job. And we've got to deliver when asked.”

Foster is right. The Steelers' offensive line will count $35 million against the cap this year. Based on last year's performance, it's worth every penny.

That unit allowed Ben Roethlisberger to only be sacked 17 times in '16. And it paved the way for Bell's 1,268 rushing yards.

Against the Browns, it simply didn't have a good game attempting to run block.

The pass blocking was good enough. Roethlisberger was sacked just once in 37 dropbacks. But the gaping holes they created for Bell and DeAngelo Williams a year ago were not evident.

“(The Browns) did a good job,” guard David DeCastro said. “Give credit to them. We've got to get back in the lab. We've been able to run against good fronts before. That's the key to the game. Go back to the drawing board.”

Consider: If the Steelers' lack of productivity on the ground was all about Bell being rusty or unprepared, why didn't James Conner do any better? He got 25 touches in the preseason. He participated in training camp. Yet, he only had 11 yards on four carries Sunday.

And since he was anointed by some — including Pro Football Talk — to be worthy of a Bell comparison after his first good preseason carry, I guess we should assume Conner is NFL-worthy as a rookie, right?

Yet he struggled, too. So maybe, just maybe, were the Browns surprisingly strong up front and the Steelers blockers surprisingly off?

“Cleveland just played solid on defense,” Conner said. “It was tough for us to move the ball. I'm not saying that the O-line played bad or anything like that. They had aggressive corner play. They had a lot of guys in the box. It could've been better.”

None of this is to absolve Bell from blame. He looked rusty. He didn't appear to be on the same page with his blockers. Nor did he appear to be in sync with his quarterback in the pass game.

And when Bell did have a chance to make a big play, he wasn't close to his dynamic self.

If you are demanding $15 million a year, you better be dynamic.

Or is it $17 million? $19 million? Did he drop another rap release in the last week that I missed? I'm losing track.

Bell set up himself for criticism. Anything he does wrong this year will be deemed by some to be the result of his summerlong quasi-holdout. Whether it's true doesn't matter. We're quick to call out millionaires who demand more millions.

That offensive front is made up of millionaires as well. We've heaped praise on the unit for two years. They were worthy of it. And more.

But when it comes to the run game failures on this individual Sunday, they were also worthy of having the finger of blame pointed in their direction.

They're willing to say it. We should, too.

It wasn't all on Bell's shoulders, though that feels good for a lot of people to say.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on Steeler Nation Radio, Steeler Wire, KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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