This was a game in which the headline should have been the return of Le’Veon Bell, but that was overshadowed for obvious reasons when Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a knee injury, the severity of which is yet to be determined as of this writing.
While Bell may no longer be the headline of the afternoon, however, there is certainly plenty to discuss in his first game back on the football field following the completion of his two games served on the suspended list.
As was expected, head coach Mike Tomlin let Bell get his work in, choosing not to slowly integrate him back into the proceedings. While the first handoff of the game technically went to DeAngelo Williams, it was the only designed running play for the rest of the game in which the ball was in anyone’s hands but Bell’s.
In all, the third-year back carried 19 times for a hard-earned 62 yards, including his first touchdown of the year, the Steelers’ fifth rushing touchdown of the season—a category in which they struggled last year—and the game’s only touchdown from either side.
As I wrote early yesterday prior to the game, however, it was his work in the passing game that proved to be the biggest upgrade, as he picked up right where he left off, essentially, as the team’s number two wide receiver behind Antonio Brown.
For his part, Brown finished the game with 11 receptions for 108 yards, and Bell was right behind him, adding seven receptions for 70 yards. All told, he put up a combined 132 yards on the day, doing so on 26 touches.
If you watched his carries, however, you will understand how impressive those 62 yards on the ground truly were, as the Rams’ defensive line, for the most part, gave the offensive line fits all day, particularly in the second half, in that department with their quick penetration, forcing the Steelers to try to keep things between the tackles to minimize defenders shooting the gap.
Even still, Bell posted four carries that went for negative yardage, including two on the same drive, and he had another run that went for a loss on which the Steelers were penalized for holding, which negated the run.
It was thanks, as usual, to his patience, vision, and elusiveness that there were not more negative plays, as there were multiple instances of Bell turning potential losses into short gains.
All told, of his 26 touches, five went for at least double-digit yardage, with three being explosive plays, with another that went for 19 yards. He had two receptions that went for 20 yards and added a 23-yard rush late.
Given the circumstances facing the Steelers coming out of this game, losing their quarterback and facing a short week in a divisional matchup, it was certainly fortunate that it was this week for Bell’s return. Not only did he show well, he was able to knock off any residual rust in preparation for what will surely be a heavy workload.