Five weeks ago, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell went on a historic tear, during which he became just the second player in NFL history to total at least 200 yards from scrimmage in three consecutive games, in the process setting the franchise single season record in yards from scrimmage.
Much of that came on the ground, which included performances of 204 and 185 yards, but in the last two games combined, Bell has only rushed for 110 yards. And while he had 72 receiving yards the week before, he was held to just one catch for nine yards on Sunday.
Despite gaining only 110 yards on the ground, that doesn’t mean that Bell hasn’t been getting in his full workload, however. In fact, he has had 20 rushing attempts in each of the past two games—he simply has not been able to have the same level of success that he saw so recently.
In those two games, on his 40 carries, Bell has only averaged 2.75 yards per run. What has changed?
Much of it has to do with the fact that the last two teams the Steelers have faced game planned significantly for what they saw on tape, and they were seeing an awful lot of Le’Veon Bell in the weeks leading up to that.
In that three-game span, in fact, he totaled 80 carries and 16 receptions for 96 total touches, or 32 touches per game. That is a lot of offense coming out of the backfield, so it should have been no surprise that defenses began to adjust for it.
Yesterday, after the game, Tamba Hali talked about the fact that the Steelers had playmakers, and listed off names, but he admitted that the Chiefs really wanted to stop the running game because they saw Bell on film and what he could do.
That did open some things up in the passing game, as Ben Roethlisberger has averaged 9.67 yards per pass attempt over the course of the past two games, even if he has thrown just one touchdown pass in that span. The fact that Bell has punched it in on the ground three times in the span of the last two games helps.
So what will be in store for Bell and the running game in the season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals? Remember, the Bengals are the last team that the Steelers were able to run all over when Bell put up 185 yards, much of it in the fourth quarter alone.
It would certainly help to get tight end Matt Spaeth back, who suffered an injury two games ago and sat out Sunday’s game, but the blame obviously can’t all be placed on his absence. Mike Tomlin doesn’t seem the think that the Bengals will attempt to defend the run any differently than last time. Let’s hope he’s right.