By Jeremy Hritz
There were tremendous expectations for Le’Veon Bell when he was selected by the Steelers this past April in the second round of the NFL Draft. During the Rashard Mendenhall experiment at running back, the Steelers were never able to truly establish a running game that could strike fear in opponents, and even when Mendehall was in a groove, he had the tendency to undercut his success with untimely turnovers, none more significant than the fumble in the Super Bowl that prevented would could have been a go-ahead score for the Steelers against the Packers.
With Mendenhall, the Steelers offense had the potential for long runs, but as far as chunking yards with consistent short gains to sustain drives, that element was missing. Mendenhall had the tendency to dance too much and lose yardage which was a cause for much frustration.
With Bell as the new starting running back, he has shown that he is the antithesis of Mendenhall, as he possesses the unique ability to always fall forward and to consistently get positive yardage but has not shown the potential to break off the big 50-60 yard blast (yet).
So how does Bell compare to Mendenhall in his first six starts? Take a look at the table below:
|RUSH ATT||RUSH YDS||RUSH AVG||RUSH TD||REC||REC YDS||REC AVG||REC TD|
At first glance, Bell appears to have performed significantly below Mendenhall in his first six games as a starter; however, what has to be taken into consideration is that Mendenhall only started one game in his rookie year against Baltimore and that his next five starts came in his second year in the league. Bell, conversely, has started six games in his rookie season, and he is still learning the nuances of the professional game and the Steelers offense.
So what jumps out the most when examining these numbers? Firstly, both backs had the same number of carries in their first six starts, which may indicate a similar approach in how many carries the Steelers coaching staff want their young runners to get.
As discussed earlier, the element of the explosive play has been absent in Bell’s game thus far in his first six starts, while in Mendenhall’s first six, he accounted for a yard per carry average that was 2.1 yards more than Bell. Again, Mendenhall benefited from having a full year of experience before carrying the load as the Steelers starter, and that may be a factor in accounting for the difference in the average.
The reason for the greatest optimism surrounding Bell’s game is his performance in the passing game, as he has made eleven more receptions than Mendenhall did for 115 more yards. Bell was noted in college for being effective in catching passes out of the backfield, and if this is a component of his game that continues to grow, which there is no reason to believe that it won’t, he will be a versatile weapon at the running back position, something that the Steelers have not had in quite a while.
The bottom line is there is no reason to be alarmed at the lack of explosive plays from Bell, and the more comfortable that he gets as the season moves on, we can expect him to play at a higher level.
With only seven games to go, it will be interesting to see if Bell can hit 1000 yards for the season, and he will need to average 94 yards over the last seven games to do so.
In a season of not many positives, Bell hitting a 1000 yards would be something to smile about. But before we even think about that, here’s to Le’Veon earning his first 100 yard game this weekend against the Lions.