By Matthew Marczi
Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back Le’Veon Bell has now had arguably his two best games thus far against the team’s biggest rival, the Baltimore Ravens. This past game was even bigger than the first, as he combined for 136 yards on the ground and in the air.
His 4.6 yards per carry was just the third time this season rushing for over four YPC in a game, with his best coming in the first Ravens game. This time, he benefited from a big 43-yard run, the longest of his career and just his second run of 20 or more yards, first of 40+.
He also had a career-high seven receptions for 63 yards, which included a key 29-yard reception following a personal foul penalty on Mike Adams that threatened to derail the Steelers’ momentum, so let’s take a closer look on the rookie’s impact in the latest installment of this great rivalry.
The Steelers only ran out of the Wildcat once in this game, but that one play was effective thanks to the rookie’s infinitely patient demeanor. On second and five, he was able to gain six yards and a first down even though he was rejected out of his gap. After he bounced out of that hole, he snuck around between left tackle and the pulling guard for the first down.
Later in the third quarter, on the team’s first scoring drive, Bell ripped the game open on third and two as he burst through the hole provided by David DeCastro and the double-team of Fernando Velasco and Ramon Foster. That running lane got Bell the first-down yardage, but the block by Antonio Brown on Jimmy Smith won him the edge as he raced down the sideline for 43-yards.
Perhaps his strongest area of growth outside of pass protection since his first game has been his reliability as a short-yardage back. Here on second and short at a critical time, Bell showed that nose for the first-down marker as Heath Miller’s block on Pernell McPhee gave way, nearly stopping him short.
The key short-yardage play that everybody is talking about, though, is of course his touchdown run. Not the one that actually counted on the scoreboard and the stat sheet, but the one that counted to his teammates—the one that was taken away.
Much has already been written about this play, by myself and others. The sheer heart and will displayed on this one-yard carry will probably mean more than anything else that happens for the rest of this season, short of a miraculous Super Bowl run.
His instinct to take it to the outside, the decision to cut it in, the sacrificing of his body, the resilience to hold on to the ball as he crashed into the end zone: these are the traits of a true teammate. Not just a playmaker, but somebody that understands that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and that that whole is worth sacrificing a part of yourself for. His teammates all saw this, and they won’t forget it.