Tomlin Takes

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'Tomlin's Takes' on RBs, December football & L. Bell

Division of labor: The Steelers have dealt with injuries at running back all season, with four of the five backs missing playing time because of injuries, Kerrith Whyte is the only one who hasn't missed time.

Last week that had an impact on the ground game because of the way injuries affected practice preparation. James Conner was a full participant all week but coming off a shoulder injury that forced him to miss three games, his status was still in question. In addition, Jaylen Samuels was dealing with a groin injury, leaving some doubt about how much of a workload he could handle.

The injuries forced the offense to give practice snaps to other players, including Benny Snell, Whyte and Trey Edmunds. Coach Mike Tomlin said they have to do a better job this week of distributing the work in practice to better reflect who is going to get the mainstay of the work at running back in game on Sunday.

"We have to run the ball better. We have to divide the labor up among the running backs a little more decisively," said Tomlin. "We had some question marks last week about James' availability, about Jaylen's availability, and I think that hurt us from a prep standpoint and subsequently I think we had some issues from a blitz pickup standpoint. I think Buffalo was able to apply more pressure on us in passing circumstances than we would like. I think with a more stable division of labor, and a division of labor at running back that we can anticipate, will allow us to be stout in that area. There is no question we are going to need to be facing a Gregg Williams defense.

"I am talking about having a defined division of labor so the things they are doing in the stadium are reflected in practice prep. When you have questionable availability, the work that you do during the week doesn't necessarily reflect the division of labor in game. James' availability was questionable last week. Jaylen's availability was questionable last week, so it affected the way we divided the work up during the work week. It's important we give the guys the work during the week they are going to get in the game."

December football: It's the most wonderful time of the year. For many that means the holiday season is in full swing. In the NFL it means the race for the postseason is in full swing.

And the Steelers are right in the heart of it, fighting to stay in the wild card race.

"We recognize what time of year it is," said Tomlin. "We recognize the urgency of it. Man, I love this time of year. The clarity of it. The weight of it. It's football. We're excited about getting into the stadium this weekend, but excitement means very little without good, quality prep. We need a good week this week, particularly in some of the areas we fell short in the football game last week.

"That is what you work all year for, that clarity, that ticket to the tournament. The finality of it all. The scarcity that's in our game. I just appreciate that. You don't get 80 plus opportunities to state your case, you don't get 160. You get 16 opportunities, one a week, over the course of the year to state your case.

"We're in December so that says it all."

Ringing the Bell: The Steelers will see a familiar face on Sunday when they play the Jets and face running back Le'Veon Bell. Bell played five seasons for the Steelers after being the team's No. 2 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Bell's numbers this year aren't what they were when he played for the Steelers, with 204 carries for 676 yards, but Tomlin knows he can explode at any time.

"We have to be ready to deal with the talents of Le'Veon Bell," said Tomlin. "He has a complete game. He can run inside, he can run outside. He is a big-time inclusion in their passing game, whether it's out of the backfield, or whether they remove him from the backfield and he is route-running in empty sets and so forth. We have to minimize his impact in the game. When he is productive, they are a tough nut to crack.

"I don't have to tackle him. I don't have a lot to worry about. His teammates have seen him in training camp like settings. We are a team that we tackle in preseason and training camp like settings. It won't be the first time those guys have had an opportunity to combat him in those ways.

"We have a lot of respect for Le'Veon. We know the type of competitor he is. We know he is going to answer the Bell and be L. Bell in this game. It's our job to minimize that."

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