There can be a tendency to forget that the running game is often one of attrition, but that proved to be exactly what it was today for the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Ravens, in their first victory in Baltimore since Le’Veon Bell was drafted.
The All-Pro running back had easily his best game of the 2017 season through four weeks, almost doubling his total yardage to date. He had quite a workload with 35 carries, but he put it to good use, gaining 144 yards on the ground for 4.1 yards per carry. That included a pair of one-yard touchdown runs.
Not only that, he also had his best game of the season as a receiver as well, catching four passes for 42 yards, including an 18-yard reception and another for 15. He had three runs of 15 yards or more, two of which came in the second half, including a 21-yard run for his first explosive run of the season.
In truth, it wasn’t all pretty. In fact, the Steelers were dropped for a loss in the running game five times, which I don’t think has ever happened in a game in which Bell was the primary ball carrier before—something that I will have to dig deeper into.
I don’t think that Bell and the rushing game as a whole is completely hitting on all cylinders right now—there are still too much negative or unsuccessful running plays—but they are clearly warming up, and that is coming with a greater and greater workload.
Basically, the only way to sort out the issues is to keep working at it, and that is exactly what they were looking to do during their third road trip in four games. Ben Roethlisberger attempted just 30 passes during the game, with 31 total dropbacks; Bell had more rushing attempts by himself, and the other backs added five more.
Bell game into this game with 180 rushing yards on 52 attempts on the season and another 56 yards on 13 receptions for a total of 232 yards from scrimmage over a three-game span. Today, he added 186 yards to that total.
He has reached the quarter pole, then, with a total of 418 yards from scrimmage, now averaging 104.5 yards per game, up from just 77.33 through the first three games. During the week, he acknowledged that the groin surgery from last year and missing the offseason could have been affecting his play.
It would be hard to say that he was affected much by injury or rust in today’s game, as there were plenty of times in which he clearly looked like the All-Pro from recent years.
The Steelers need him to continue to build off of what we saw from him this week, especially if they have any intention of trying to feature him the way they did today. Still, every game will not be like this. The Ravens were down two linemen and they game planned to take advantage of that.