He may not have had a great deal of success running the ball, but Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was excellent yesterday as a wide receiver, catching a career-high nine passes for 88 yards. The 88 yards is in a three-way tie for the second-highest receiving yardage output in a game in his career, behind an eight-catch, 159-yard game against New Orleans in 2014.
On the ground, he could muster just 66 yards on 20 carries, with a long gain of 10 yards, as a very stout Jets defensive front seven posed a difficult challenge for the Steelers’ somewhat makeshift offensive line, coming off a game in which he rushed for 144 yards.
But he was a constant threat, and a constant menace, for the Jets coming underneath time after time, and the damage could have been even greater had Ben Roethlisberger not missed the mark and led his All-Pro running back just a bit too far with two passes over his head, one of which would have given him a lot of room to run, the other likely ending up in the end zone.
Through two games, Bell has not yet gotten into the end zone, but he has certainly done his part in getting the Steelers into scoring position. He has compiled 210 rushing yards on 38 carries through two games, and has added to the top of that 122 receiving yards on 14 receptions, averaging 8.7 yards per reception, and 5.5 yards per rush.
What is interesting about his production as a receiver is that it hasn’t necessarily come in large chunks. In fact, he does not yet have an explosive play through the air through two games. His longest reception on the season is 17 yards, and he longest of the game yesterday was only 16 yards.
Perhaps nothing epitomizes that more than a two-play sequence late in the game in which he caught passes for 11 yards apiece, the second time bowling over a defender or two in order to get the first down, even though it was only a first-and-10 play.
Bell also caught a pair of 12-yard passes in the span of three plays earlier in the game. His 16-yard reception helped to jumpstart the Steelers’ final scoring drive, which put the Jets out of their misery, on the second play of the sequence, and he should have put the ball in the end zone to end the drive had Roethlisberger not thrown the ball a bit too far.
He has 11 official targets in all and caught the nine that were catchable. He had a 12th reception that was scrubbed off the books because it drew a defensive pass interference call.
Bell has proven time and time again that he is a nightmare for defenses to match up with when it comes to the passing game. His pure receiving ability merits the coverage skills of a cornerback, but his size and physicality prevent teams from using that approach, so instead, we watch him running away from linebackers 10-plus yards at a time.