In case you were hiding under a rock during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 30-17 loss to their hated rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, it wasn’t hard to notice the ground game that equipped their offense with so much balance all year, come to a screeching halt. As a whole, the team was held to 68 yards rushing, but part of that can be attributed to them missing a key cog, 1st Team All-Pro running back, Le’Veon Bell. A true jack-of-all-trades, his exceptional skills in the passing game were missed the most, and just how badly Pittsburgh missed Bell’s services can be summed up in one fourth quarter play. As the Ravens led 23-17, newly signed insurance policy running back Ben Tate, whiffed the block on a blitz as Ben avoided the rush. On top of that, Tate couldn’t haul in the pass that followed, which ended up in the belly of Terrell Suggs, and just like that the 2014 season simply vanished into the chilly Heinz Field air.
Pass protection and soft hands out of the backfield are two of the many traits of Le’Veon Bell that makes him great. In his first full season as a starter, he amassed a team single-season record 2,215 yards from scrimmage along with 373 touches to boot. Bell, still just 22 years old, doesn’t seem to be worried about the punishment however. “I’m a young guy. I feel like all of the training I’ve done prepares me for the season,” Bell said. “I know next year I might not even need to play more.”
Playing more might seem like a good idea for the 2015 Steelers’ hopes of making another postseason run, but what about beyond then? An NFL running back’s shelf life is so short, and although Bell is obviously a special talent, a legitimate backup is sorely needed. Last offseason, LeGarrette Blount was thought to be the solution, but that plan backfired in a major way, as he was released midseason.
The 2015 free agent running back class features such names such as Stevan Ridley, Roy Helu, Bobby Rainey, Ryan Mathews and Shane Vereen, among others. Helu would seem to be a “Steelers-type signing”, as it would be both an under-the-radar pickup as well as a cost-effective one. Still young, he excels in the screen and passing game and also possesses soft hands for a bigger back. One thing is for certain, running the 5’8″, 173 pound Dri Archer up the middle more than a handful of times per game, or asking him to pick up a blitzing 270 pound linebacker is going to get the franchise quarterback seriously hurt. Whether it be via free agency or the 2015 NFL Draft, a backfield caddy is needed to help alleviate some of the pounding on Bell, who ran for 77.7 percent of the team’s rushing yards this season, second in the league.
“This is only my second year so I feel like I have room for improvement,” Bell said. “There’s still a lot of things I can work on and get better at. I just want to continue to try to be as productive as possible.”