The Pittsburgh Steelers’ running game is not near yet what it was a year ago, that much at least we already know. What is more difficult is determining the causes—or more likely the causes. Over the course of the first three games, we have already put up a couple of film sessions examining some instances of failures in the running game.
For as many issues on any given play that there have been on, say, an offensive lineman getting beat on a block or a tight end failing to reach an edge defender through the C Gap, however, the truth is that there is more than enough blame to go around to include the guy who is actually carrying the ball as well.
And that guy carrying the ball—two-time All-Pro Le’Veon Bell—spoke again about the running game to reporters yesterday, admitting that he doesn’t feel as though he is where he feels he should be, either, saying, “I haven’t been that special player yet”, according to Chris Adamski.
“I’ve been kind of just playing football. So I have to go out there and be the special player I can be”, the running back continued. That special player averaged a whopping 157 yards from scrimmage a year ago over 12 games, which was the third-highest yardage total per game for a single season in NFL history.
As Adamski notes, Bell also acknowledged publicly for the first time that the offseason that he missed could be playing a role in the run game’s struggles through the first three games of the season. “It could be the surgery”, he started. “I would say it could be rust from not being in camp. It could be a combination of a lot of things”.
Personally, I view that as a pretty notable, if not obvious, admission on his part. While many have been quick to note that he ‘has missed time’ before due to two previous suspensions, and that he hasn’t gotten a lot of work in training camp anyway, there is a clear distinction between those instances and this.
For one thing, in the seasons in which he was suspended, Bell only missed time during his suspension. He was a full participant in every other aspect of the team at every other point in time of the offseason. While he may not have been given an extensive workload in training camp, he was still there learning and observing, taking mental reps, absorbing the offense.
This year, he was literally absent from all aspects of the team since the end of last season until six days before the first regular season game. He didn’t just miss the preseason. He didn’t just miss training camp. He missed the entire offseason.
He was within his rights to take that course of action, but even he is now seemingly acknowledging that that route could be contributing to the slow start that we are seeing from the running game. His 180-yard rushing total through three games is a mark that he has hit in three separate games previously.