By Matthew Marczi
Last week, I wrote about Le’Veon Bell’s performance in which he ran for just a 2.1 yard per carry average. I noted that while the poor run-blocking performance of the offensive line was at issue, the rookie back displayed some tendencies, particularly earlier in the game, of not trusting himself, and as a result, missing holes and being too impatient in his decisions.
I wrote that I was hypercritical of his performance because I believed that I saw in that game a back that had a lot more to offer, even in the same game circumstances, than he showed against a stout New York Jets front. Bell’s performance yesterday against the Baltimore Ravens showed that to be the case.
First and foremost, it is worth mentioning that the run blocking was improved this week. A lot of this had to do with an inferior opponent, as the Ravens’ front is nowhere near as daunting as the trio of Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison, and especially Muhammad Wilkerson. Even though the Ravens had Haloti Ngata, the offensive line did not have nearly the troubles that they did last week.
Additionally, Heath Miller also had a relatively unrepresentative game as a run blocker in spots last week, while the team was caught reeling from the surprising early loss of tight end David Johnson, and were forced to make do on the fly with David Paulson, the latter of whom did better this week.
Finally, this week, the Steelers utilized former starting left tackle Mike Adams—who was arguably the team’s best run-blocking lineman last season—as an extra lineman in spots in this past game.
Thus, the table was also set for Bell to have a better day this week, even with Guy Whimper replacing Marcus Gilbert at right tackle for most of the game. The results were evident: a career-high 93 yards on 19 attempts, just south of five yards per carry. That more than doubled his total from the first two games and improved his per-carry average from 2.8 yards all the way to 3.6.
So why the steep improvement in production? As previously mentioned, the performance of the offensive line and the quality of opponent are obviously key factors, but there was also clearly a change in Le’Veon Bell and his demeanor evident on the field.
It started early, on the second play of the game, when Bell carried for six yards, and then went for eight on the next play. He displayed patience and confidence in his blockers that the play would develop as it should. He hit creases hard when he had to, and took his own path when necessary.
Consider this: of Bell’s 19 carries, only seven went for less than four yards, and only three went for no gain or a loss of one. One of those carries came on the penultimate play as he set up Shaun Suisham on the left hash mark for the game-winning field goal. Yes, Le’Veon Bell certainly passed the eye test yesterday, but he still has even more to offer, with time.