Both teams now feel they have a feature back. The Steelers with Le’Veon Bell, last year’s second round pick out of Michigan State and the Browns with free agent signee Ben Tate who comes over from the Texans.
Bell and his back-up Legarrette Blount, are lucky to be playing because both are facing marijuana possession charges, and Bell also has a possible DUI charge to deal with. The Steelers, who could have suspended one or both, have decided to wait for due process to play out, thus allowing both running backs to play in the opener. Another reason the Steelers are probably letting both play is because the only other running back they have on the roster is rookie 3rd round pick Dri Archer from Kent State.
Bell racked up over 1,200 yards rushing and receiving last season in Pittsburgh while Blount accumulated over 700 yard rushing in New England. The two combined for 15 touchdowns last season. So Pittsburgh has its starter and a solid back-up, plus a rookie with 4.2 speed in Archer that offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can use. That’s a pretty good trio.
The Browns were led in rushing last year by Willis McGahee, but he only gained 377 yards and reached the endzone just twice. The Browns as a team only rushed for a total of 4 TD’s all of last season. So new G.M. Ray Farmer signed Ben Tate to be his feature back and then drafted Terrance West in the third round out of Towson to be his back-up. The third stringer is undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell. Tate gained almost 800 yards playing for the injured Arian Foster last year in Houston and scored 4 touchdowns in 14 games. Now he gets his chance to be the Browns every down back running behind the better of the two offensive lines in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He must hold on to the football and stay healthy for this free agent signing to be a success, something that Tate has had problems with in his career.
Even with the lessor of the two O-Line’s, I like the Steelers running backs better because they’ve got two healthy starters and a speedster to mix in as a change of pace.
RUNNING BACKS ADVANTAGE – PITTSBURGH