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RB Bell could see workload reduced for Steelers

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

(TSX / STATS) -- PITTSURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are paying running back Le'Veon Bell $12.1 million this season so they want to maximize his contributions to the offense. But the days of Bell staying on the field for every offensive snap appear to be over.

The Steelers limited Bell's usage to 43 of the team's 60 offensive snaps in the opener against the Browns. He had just 32 rushing yards on 10 carries and three catches for 15 yards. It was a much lighter workload for Bell compared to last season when he stayed on the field for almost every snap.

Some of the usage had to do with easing Bell back into the swing of things after he missed training camp due to a contract dispute. But some of it also has to do with the Steelers believing they have better options in the passing game, which is a significant development considering Bell's receiving numbers in recent years.

The Steelers played nine snaps Sunday without a running back on the field. They replaced Bell with rookie receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.

"We've got a lot of guys we can get on the field," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "We want to be able to get JuJu on the field. That's what that does. It creates an opportunity to get him on the field to create even more of a mismatch problem. I think you'll see more of it because it was very good to us."

That would mean less of Bell in the passing game. But the Steelers still plan to rely heavily on Bell in the running game. The game circumstances against the Browns made it difficult for him to get deeply involved in the opener.

The Steelers were heavily penalized in the first half, which put them in second- and third-and-long situations. That effectively took Bell out of the game in terms of running the ball.

"When you get penalties, you get backed up, you're not going to run the ball on second-and-20," Roethlisberger said. "You have to find ways to get some chunks back. The game dictated the way the game went and their defense dictated things. It wasn't, 'Let's shut Le'Veon out and let's see this that and the other.' It was how the game unfolded."

The Steelers will need a more balanced offense against the Vikings, who are expected to have one of the league's top defenses again this season.

The Vikings are coming off an impressive 29-19 victory over the Saints in their opener. Sam Bradford passed for 346 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Rookie running back Dalvin Cook also chipped in with 127 rushing yards.

"It's about Sam Bradford and the things he's able to do," head coach Mike Tomlin said. "You know, oftentimes people forget how credible his resume is. The fact that he is a Heisman Trophy winner, first overall type guy. I think he threw for over 70 percent on the season last year, so the fact that he threw for 80 percent or so (against the Saints) is not surprising to me. He's got a wide array of people to work with, talented receivers, big-play guys, possession guys. They do a nice job of utilizing all of those guys."

Updated September 13, 2017

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