Anyone miss Le’Veon Bell right now?
PITTSBURGH — James Conner won’t play for the Steelers in this Sunday’s game at Oakland because of an ankle sprain.
He’ll be replaced by a committee of running backs so anonymous they could use “Hello, my name is” stick-on tags.
Officially it’s Stevan Ridley, Jaylen Samuels and Trey Edmunds. That last one has been freshly bumped up from the practice squad.
It doesn’t mean they can’t run effectively, it just means nobody has any reason to expect much out of them.
When blowhards were yelling, “Who needs Le’Veon Bell?” the answer was always clear: The Steelers would need him if anything happened to Conner.
Now something has happened to Conner, and the team will try to patch together a running game in his absence. If there’s anything good about this, it’s the timing. The Raiders are pretty lousy.
Then again, there’s no guarantee Conner will miss just this one game. The next two are home against New England and at New Orleans. That’s difficult.
It’s the point in the season when every team’s depth is being tested by injury absences. The problem here is the lack of proven running backs the Steelers have behind Conner. Remember, Conner was supposed to be Bell’s back-up.
They could still sign someone who’s currently unemployed, but that doesn’t leave much time for a potential new addition to learn even the basics of the playbook.
Four games left in the regular season, and the Steelers are down to their third option at running back. Even against the 2-10 Raiders, that’s not a good feeling.
In other Steelers developments:
n It’s only Wednesday, but there still hasn’t been a apology from the NFL about the way the officiating crew missed a blatant false start penalty against Chargers right tackle Sam Teve.
Instead of a whistle and penalty, the play was allowed to continue and turned into a touchdown for the Raiders. How does an entire crew miss an infraction that was so obvious? The NFL has some explaining to do.
n Fans love to blame coaches when things fall apart. Those who did that had a valid point in Sunday’s game. The Chargers figured how to exploit the match up of receiver Keenan Allen against Steelers linebackers.
The Chargers found something that worked. The Steelers had no answer for it. Allen wound up with 148 receiving yards. That can’t happen.
n At the risk of being redundant, Mike Tomlin needs help. Specifically, he needs an assistant who can advise him on details like clock management and replay challenges. Tomlin threw away a time out by challenging a play that had virtually no chance to be overturned on review.
He’s been on a significant losing streak with challenges, which means he’s either getting bad advice or using bad judgment. It’s time to examine the Steelers’ process and find a way to improve it.
n Two notable absences on Alumni Night — Jack Lambert was missing from the 1978 Super Bowl team and Troy Polamalu was a no-show from the 2008 championship team.
It would have been a bigger surprise had Lambert been there. Word is he wants to be paid for any appearances, and the Steelers haven’t been willing to do that.
Polamalu apparently has bruised feelings because he felt the Steelers forced him into retiring before he was ready. They were right, though. Polamalu’s once-spectacular game had become ordinary, and the Steelers hoped he would retire so they didn’t have to release him.
Maybe time will heal the rift. Then again, decades of distance hasn’t changed Lambert’s mind about reunions.
John Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org