PITTSBURGH -- Before the season started, a 2-1 record without the best running back in the NFL seemed like a reasonable goal to achieve.
But after the Pittsburgh Steelers were blown out, 34-3, in Philadelphia on Sunday, a 2-1 record is raising all kinds of questions about a team that was supposed to be a strong AFC contender for the Super Bowl.
One thing the Steelers have that other AFC teams don't in Week 4 is the addition of Le'Veon Bell, who will start against the Kansas City Chiefs after missing the first three games due to a drug suspension.
When healthy and available, Bell is regarded by many as the best all-around running back in the NFL. In his 2014 All-Pro season, Bell rushed for 1,361 yards and caught 83 passes for 854 yards.
Last season, he rushed for 556 yards in the six games for which he dressed and had a 4.9 yards-per-carry average before a knee injury ended his season in Week 8.
With the offense coming off a poor performance in Philadelphia you can expect Bell to get a heavy workload in his first game back. Coach Mike Tomlin said as much earlier this week.
"We're going to let practice be our guide in terms of that division of labor, but his level of conditioning is not a concern to us," Tomlin said. "He's a guy who is highly conditioned over a 12-month calendar. We've seen him every day, he's been a part of us, he's been in the building, and he's up to speed on what we're doing from a schematic standpoint and really in tune there.
"We'll see how sharp he is physically once we get him out on the practice field and kind of go from there. But, rest assured you're going to see Le'Veon Bell, and probably a lot of him on Sunday."
Backup running back DeAngelo Williams played well in Bell's place, despite rushing for only 21 yards against the Eagles. But if last season is any indicator, Williams won't see a lot of action with Bell back in the lineup.
When Bell returned from a two-game suspension last season, Williams barely touched the ball in the six games Bell played before he was injured. In those six games, Williams had 21 carries and nine of those came in the game Bell was injured.
One thing that might change Williams' usage this season is the murky situation at receiver.
Eli Rogers is questionable for Sunday's game against the Chiefs due to a turf toe injury. With Markus Wheaton coming off a bad game and Sammie Coates still trying to find his niche in the offense, coordinator Todd Haley could get creative and play with Bell and Williams.
Haley could align both in the backfield and then shift Bell outside to receiver, where the Chiefs defense must account for him in the passing game. Bell is known as the best receiving back in the league.
"I want to be a guy who is reliable," Bell said. "I want to make sure I take care of the football, make plays on situational downs, get into the end zone and help the offense move the ball and win games. That's what I feel like I can do and I look forward to it."
Bell has faced Kansas City twice in his career. In a 2014 meeting at Heinz Field, the Chiefs held him to 73 total yards (63 rushing and nine receiving). Last season, Bell rushed for 121 yards and caught four passes for 16 yards in a 23-13 loss at Arrowhead Stadium.
SERIES HISTORY: The Steelers lead the series, 20-10. They beat Kansas City three consecutive times before losing to the Chiefs, 23-13, at Arrowhead Stadium last season. The Steelers are 10-4 against the Chiefs at home. The previous time the Chiefs won in Pittsburgh was Dec. 21, 1986. This is the fourth time in the past five years the Chiefs have played at Heinz Field.
--With starting safety Robert Golden (hamstring) and starting slot corner Sean Davis (back) questionable for the Chiefs game as they deal with injuries, the Steelers will give some reserves that haven't seen much playing time a chance to get some valuable practice time this week.
Shamarko Thomas is a candidate to play safety and Justin Gilbert, who was acquired in a trade with Cleveland before the season, is a candidate to play cornerback. Gilbert has spent the first three weeks getting used to a new defensive playbook.
"He's past the learning what to do stage now, he's moving onto the critical element of gaining enough detail to be successful where we're comfortable and he's comfortable," coach Mike Tomlin said. "I like the progress he's made thus far though."
Thomas fell way down the depth chart after he lost the starting strong safety job in the summer of 2015.
Golden earned the job in the spring and Davis is the future starter there, but Thomas, who is in the final season of his rookie contract, might get another opportunity to prove he can play.
--Coach Mike Tomlin left his starters in the game to the bitter end of the 34-3 loss to the Eagles on Sunday. That meant his two most indispensable players -- quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown -- were playing meaningless snaps when the game was out of reach. For that, he has received some criticism.
"There are always a couple schools of thought and ways you can go there," Tomlin said. "I've always been one to be slow to acknowledge defeat and the acceptance of defeat. I take responsibility for those guys remaining in the game and I always do and will.
"It's just something that we do. We play and we play to win. We understand that injuries are a part of football, but we don't let that fear be our guide in terms of decision making. That's generally our approach across the board, regardless of what subject or circumstance you're talking about."
Roethlisberger said he wouldn't have come out of the game even if Tomlin had tried to out in backup Landry Jones.
"You've been around me long enough to know I'm not (leaving the game)," Roethlisberger said. "Even if Coach would've said 'Get out' I would've kept going in. We don't quit. I don't quit. That's not the Steeler way. That's not my way."
NOTES: LB Ryan Shazier, who aggravated an MCL injury in his right knee against the Eagles, did not practice Wednesday. ... OL Ramon Foster, who left the Eagles game and did not return due to a chest injury, did not practice Wednesday.
--S Robert Golden, who exited the Eagles game and did not return due to a hamstring injury, did not practice Wednesday. ... S Sean Davis, who injured his back in the Eagles game, did not practice Wednesday. Davis is getting treatment this week and wants to play, but coach Mike Tomlin likes for his young players to practice so the rookie will have to get on the practice field at some point this week. ... WR Eli Rogers, who suffered a turf toe injury in the Eagles game, did not practice Wednesday. ... LB Lawrence Timmons, who left the Eagles game and did not return because of a wound on his shin, was a full participant in practice and is expected to play against the Chiefs. ... FB Roosevelt Nix (back) was a limited participant in practice.