There were a few firsts for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday afternoon. It was the first snap of Landry Jones’ career. The first snaps as a lineman in a game for Alejandro Villanueva. The first interception as a Steeler for Mike Mitchell. The first start for Robert Golden. The first game on the active list for Anthony Chickillo.
It was also the first time in Le’Veon Bell’s 33-game career that he did not record a single reception, which in itself is an astounding feat.
In every one of the first 32 games of Bell’s career, he recorded at least reception, including, the 2014 regular season finale in which he missed a good chunk of the game due to injury. Of course, he had the services of Ben Roethlisberger throwing him the ball for most of the first 30 games.
Since Roethlisberger has been out over the course of the past three games, Bell’s production as a receiving back has taken a sharp nosedive, becoming figuratively nonexistent for the first two games without him before it became literally nonexistent on Sunday.
Against the Ravens and Chargers, Mike Vick was able to find Bell a number of times for a combined 11 receptions, but the quarterback struggled so much to put him in the right position to gains yards after the catch, or to deliver the ball on time and on rhythm, that his 11 receptions totaled just 35 yards.
For some perspective, that is only half as many yards that he gained as a receiver in his first game back, during which Roethlisberger played about the first three quarters before his injury.
In all, Vick fed Bell through the air 14 times over his tenure under center, for a total of 62 yards, or an average of 4.4 yards per reception. He averages more than that on the ground. And that figure includes a 20-yard reception in the Rams game.
How about some more perspective? Bell has gained at least 35 yards through the air—his total in the three games in which Vick started—on 17 separate occasions in a single game over the course of his career, or more than half the time. He did it 11 times alone during the 2014 season.
Antonio Brown may have a lot to gripe about with respect to the quarterback play without Roethlisberger under center, but Bell’s receiving game has suffered as much as anybody with Vick in the game. Jones gets a pass for now because he has had such a small sample size, so it is hard to say how he would adjust to playing with Bell.
He may get that opportunity next week if Roethlisberger is still not yet ready to return, which seems to be as likely to be the case as not, with this week’s practice being the determining factor. Whoever is under center must do a better job of involving Bell in the passing game, which has proven to be a primary catalyst of offensive success over the past two years.