In spite of the fact that he played remarkably well, the fact that Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was limited to just six games last season seems to have mostly made him an afterthought when speaking globally, and league-wide, about the 2015 season.
The most remarkable fact about his 2015 performance in my estimation, however, is the fact that, for the bulk of the time in which he played, he was by necessity the focal point of the offense’s game plan, and largely carried the team through that six-game stretch from Week Three to Week Eight in which they were without Ben Roethlisberger for a single complete game.
Roethlisberger suffered a sprained MCL in Week Three, which was the same game during which Bell returned from a two-game suspension. Roethlisberger returned from injury in Week Eight after missing four games. That is also the game in which Bell tore his MCL and PCL. In other words, the two never played a full game together in 2015.
In spite of the lack of a passing threat from under center for the bulk of his playing time, the first-team All-Pro was extremely efficient running the ball, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He rushed a total of 113 times in his six games for 556 yards, equating to 18.8 attempts and 92.7 yards per game. Bell was injured in the first half of that final game, however. With that in mind, he was averaging over 20 attempts, and over 100 yards, per game.
There’s more to the efficiency with which he ran, however, than simply looking at the amount of yards that he gained per rushing attempt. There is also to be considered the amount of yardage that he gained per rushing attempt after contact, and according to Pro Football Focus, no back with at least 100 rushing attempts on the season was more efficient in that category.
Bell averaged 3.4 yards after contact per rush in 2015, which led the league in the site’s data. Yards after contact, of course, can come five yards behind the line of scrimmage or 35 yards down the field.
Another point in the data that I find interesting was Bell’s play-to-play consistency. The reality is that he only had eight explosive runs on the season, and only two of those runs were beyond 25 yards. Even without the explosive plays, which is a hugely significant component, Bell still ran for 348 yards on 105 attempts.
Only 15 of his carries went for negative yardage, and only 19 in total failed to move the ball forward. Very nearly half of his carries went for at least four yards. It should probably be noted as well that two of his one-yard carries were touchdowns.
Though he was an All-Pro back in 2014, I believe that as a runner, Bell only improved last season in many areas, including his patience and burst, and the ability to combine the two. The only thing that could prevent him from dominating the league in 2016 is a less than adequate recovery from his knee injury, which seems to be going well.