Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell over the course of the team’s first three games carried the ball 102 times, averaging slightly more than 20 carries per game. That is a heavy workload, to be sure, but one that could be sustainable over the course of a full season, producing roughly 320 carries by year’s end.
But he has carried the ball another 67 times over the course of just the last two games, averaging more than 33 carries in that span, nearly even divided between the two efforts. That is an incredible but effective workload, but entirely unsustainable. Over the span of a full season, it would be the equivalent of well over 500 carries.
For the record, only five players in NFL history have ever recorded 400 or more carries in a single season, with Larry Johnson’s 416 in 2006 being the most ever. The most recent season even in the ballpark was DeMarco Murray’s 2014 campaign, when he recorded 392 carries.
At 169 carries over the course of the first seven games, Bell is currently second in the league in rushing yardage with 684, but first in rushing attempts, and in rushing attempts per game, averaging better than 24 carries per game, the past two games upping that number by about four carries on their own.
Can he keep up that pace? Only four other backs are even averaging 20 carries per game, and none are within two carries. He was asked about it after the game. “How many more games do we have?”, he asked back, non-rhetorically, according to Will Graves.
“No, for real how many more games to we have?”, he asked again. “Nine? At least nine” more games, was his response.
Earlier in the season, of course, he was walking the fine line with the media in attempting to address the fact that he felt the offense would be better-served with him getting more touches. That doesn’t exactly seem to be a problem at the moment.
Nor did Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick prove to be much of an obstacle on his longest play of the game, a 42-yard reception, on which he provided a stiff-arm on the fifth-year defender that even he doesn’t fully understand.
“I don’t know what happened or what came over me that play”, he attempted to explain, citing his recent boxing training as perhaps a catalyst for what he described as “one of my better stiff-arms of my life”.
Looking long-term, Bell is looking at a potential 1563-rushing-yard season, which would set a new career-high for him by about 200 yards. His production through the air has been slower to come, but he has set a pace to add another 489 yards through the air, which would set him up for the second 2000-yard season of his career.