There is little question that Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell has been the straw that has stirred the drink on offense over the course of the past month without Ben Roethlisberger, posting three 100-yard rushing games in that span as he worked tirelessly to pick up the slack.
The third-year back capped off his largely one-man expedition out of the backfield yesterday, albeit in defeat, rushing for another 121 yards on just 17 carries, which has been his lightest workload since returning from the suspended list with the third game of the season, but his second-most yards.
And the truth is, as has often been the case, that much of his productivity was of his own doing, turning meager blocking into big gains, and weaving through missed blocks to turn negative runs into positives.
Of his 17 carries, three went for double figures, two of which were explosive plays—Bell leads the league in explosive runs with eight—and one of them went for over 40 yards, his first such run of the season.
Of note is the fact that Bell had only one negative run on the day, which went for a loss of just one yard. It does without saying that negative runs are more of a team statistic than a reflection of an individual running back, particularly when they occur.
But Bell also was able to avoid many negative runs, as he has throughout the season. That is, except for the Cardinals game, during which, if my memory is correct, he was hit for seven negative runs for a total of 19 yards lost—on a day on which he rushed for 88 yards. So the line’s inability to withstand Arizona’s line consistently prevented Bell from having four-straight 100-yard rushing performance.
Consider this—in spite of the fact that he missed the first two games of the season, Bell has already caught up with the rest of the pack around the NFL, and stands as the fourth-leading rusher in the league, as of this writing, though that is pending the results from tonight, which features two runners in the top 11 in yardage.
In five games, Bell has rushed the ball 103 times for 511 yards, averaging over 100 yards per game on the ground—a feat that he failed to achieve last year during his first-team All-Pro campaign.
He is averaging five yards per carry, which stands as the fourth-best average among qualified runners with at least 50 carries on the season. interestingly, Bell’s 103 carries has him averaging 20.6 carries per game, which ranks second in the league at the moment, behind only Matt Forte’s 21 carries per game.
Of course, that should not be surprising given the Steelers’ need for him to produce without Roethlisberger, and there’s no question that he has. But there’s also no question that Roethlisberger’s return will only elevate his production in the passing game, which has virtually fallen off a cliff since the franchise quarterback has been out.