In spite of all the hand-wringing over Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell with regards to his off-field concerns, most notably his contract demands that according to reports are truly exceptional for the running back position, I think that most reasonable fans would be able to come to the agreement that he is a very key part of the team’s offense.
It would be hard for him not to be, after all, when you consider the fact that he averages more yards per game played than any other player in NFL history. The percentage of the offense that runs through the sixth-year running back is truly massive when measured by yardage, touches, or points scored.
While there have been key lapses when he has been off the field either due to injury (including a major knee injury for the final eight games of the 2015 season) and suspension (for a combined total of five games), neither of those were an issue last year.
Bell played in every game and rarely came off the field, logging over 400 touches while playing more than 90 percent of the Steelers’ snaps, which is unique for his position in the current manner in which running backs are managed around the league.
While he may not have statistically had his most efficient season, averaging four yards per carry and 7.7 yards per reception (both numbers below his career averages), he still churned out nearly 2000 yards from scrimmage and tied a career-high with 11 touchdowns.
He was hugely instrumental in the Steelers’ postseason offensive success despite their lone game ending in defeat, producing 155 yards on 25 touches and scoring twice, including on a beautiful reception over All-Pro linebacker Telvin Smith, known for his coverage skills.
One can argue that while his absence in the early portions of the offseason had an obviously deleterious effect on his ability to perform early in the season, the overall shortfall in productivity numbers go beyond just what he did on his own and into what the offense did as a whole.
One example that might point to this fact is the reality that Bell, despite not breaking many long plays, was still among the most elusive players in the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus, for example, he recorded seven games in 2017 in which he forced at least five missed tackles, with Kareem Hunt the only player in the league to have more such games.
Another reason why Le’Veon Bell is so key to the Pittsburgh Steelers offense pic.twitter.com/y9KhBhGsNK
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 1, 2018
Missed tackles are one of the clearest examples of a player that produces his own offense rather than simply taking what is given to him or provided for him by his blocking. Leading the league in yards after contact over the course of the past two seasons, and since he has entered the NFL, the truth is that too much has been made about a supposed decline based on his 2017 statistics.