After watching LeGarrette Blount play such a vital role in the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl run over the past month, I tried to get mad about it. I really did. It would have been fun to add to the anti-Blount vitriol being spewed by Steeler Nation after his ill-fated partial season wearing black and gold. But as I watched his bruising running style and how it helped the Pats stack playoff win after playoff win on their way to a championship, all I could think is “We sure could have used him against the Ravens.”
Off-the-field and character issues aside, Blount served an important purpose as Le’Veon Bell’s backup. He was a change-of-pace guy – and maybe more importantly – a proven, physical runner that harkened back to a bygone era of Steelers football. Blount’s presence in the backfield would have forced the Ravens to commit more players to stopping the run, which in turn would have opened things up for the passing game.
At this point, some of you may be recalling the fact that Ben Roethlisberger threw for 334 yards in the game, but that number is deceiving. Much of that yardage was accumulated after the Steelers were behind and would have been throwing the ball anyway. Blount could have turned the tide early in the game by grinding out yards that moved the chains and chewed up the clock. Maybe one or more of the three field-goal drives in the first half ends in a touchdown. There were other reasons the Steelers lost that game – three turnovers, eight penalties for 114 yards, the inability of the linebackers and secondary to contain Baltimore pass-catchers, etc. – but being able to run the ball effectively could have mitigated some of those shortcomings.
Maybe Blount’s presence changes the outcome of the wild card game. Maybe it doesn’t. But football is – and always will be – a war of attrition. As soon as Reggie Nelson’s helmet made contact with Bell’s right knee in the season finale, the Steelers were exposed for their lack of depth at the running back position. To avoid going into the playoffs with just an unproven practice-squad player and a rookie whose only talent seemed to be the ability to be knocked down by a stiff breeze, the Steelers signed a retread who hadn’t been able to stick with the Browns or Vikings during the regular season. Instead of Blount being the next man up, the Steelers went with a three-headed monster that produced next to nothing.
Say what you will about Blount and the metaphorical middle finger he gave to the Steelers when he walked off the field in Nashville last November, but his ring finger will soon be sporting a Super Bowl championship ring. That’s something the Steelers weren’t going to get with Ben Tate, Josh Harris and Dri Archer toting the rock in the playoffs. Bell has proven himself to be a great all-purpose weapon, but if he goes down again for any length of time, the Steelers must have a viable backup ready to take on Bell’s touches and make a meaningful contribution in the pursuit of victory. Kind of like Blount did for the Patriots.
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