The Pittsburgh Steelers offense has changed in look and feel over the course of the past three games for obvious reasons, but the aspect that most interests me is how the ratio of runs to passing plays shifted without Ben Roethlisberger, and it has me curious how it will affect the workload of Le’Veon Bell when the quarterback is able to get back on the field.
Of course, Bell’s touches should not be affected too greatly. If indeed he loses more carries, that should be offset in the number, and efficiency, of the receptions that he stands to get back with Roethlisberger. Bell as a receiver has been almost entirely taken away since Roethlisberger went down 13 quarters ago.
Over the course of the first three weeks—during with 11 quarters were played by Roethlisberger—the Steelers threw the ball 114 times, averaging 38 pass attempts per game. the second game against the 49ers stands as an outlier, where they passed just 31 times, turning to the ground game a bit more, by ratio, to milk a substantial lead.
In that same time span, the Steelers ran the ball 79 times, averaging just a bit over 26 designed runs per game. Thus, crunching the numbers, Pittsburgh threw the ball 59 percent of the time—just a bit over—on 193 plays through the first three weeks.
Over the next three weeks, the Steelers threw the ball 95 times, just under 32 times per game, and it’s notable that all three games were close and contested. Still, they ran the ball 85 times, a bit over 28 times per game.
As is obvious from those numbers, the run-to-pass ratio, while still in favor of the pass, has been much more balanced without Roethlisberger, throwing the ball under 53 percent of the time on 180 offensive plays run.
In spite of the fact that their total number of offensive plays run decreased by about seven percent, the number of total running plays carried out still increased slightly, also by about seven percent, while the percentage of run plays out of total plays called also increased by a similar proportion.
Bell has logged over 20 carries in each of those games, culminating in 24 in the last game. He has totaled 67 carries over this span of three games for a total of 328 rushing yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry in doing so.
When Roethlisberger does return, will the Steelers rely less upon the running game as the catalyst of their offense, as they have been forced to do without him? They have run to set up the pass, whereas they are able to go the opposite way with their Pro Bowl quarterback in tow.
Bell has certainly done a commendable job driving this offense without Roethlisberger, but when he is back, I would hope to see more of Bell’s touches come in the form of receptions, where he proved to be equally deadly last season, and which may be less of a grind for him over the course of a season.