By Matthew Marczi
With his 96-yard total haul on the final regular season game of the year, Le’Veon Bell finished his rookie campaign with 1259 yards rushing and passing—the most ever in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise, besting the mark set by Franco Harris in 1972 when he gained 1235 yards in 14 games.
Remarkable is the fact that Bell missed the first three games of the season, meaning that he gained more yards than did Harris in one less game.
The running game as a whole got off to a slow start as the offensive line and absence of tight ends made it difficult to create running lanes, regardless of who was carrying the ball.
Even at season’s end, as the blocking improved, Bell still finished the year averaging just over 3.5 yards per carry. His 244 carries earned him 860 rushing yards. 214 of those yards, however, came in the last two weeks of the season. He had his first and only 100-yard rushing game last week against the Green Bay Packers.
The difference for Bell was his receiving ability. Though he had just two receptions for 11 yards in his last two games, he finished his rookie season with 45 receptions for 399 yards, an average of about 8.7 yards per reception.
With his touchdown run today, Bell finished the season with eight rushing touchdowns—though it would have been nine had it not been for an unusually applied rule that blows a play dead the moment a player’s helmet comes off, even if it happens to occur with the player suspended in midair.
One of the most impressive things about Bell in his rookie season is that, despite nearly 300 combined touches, he fumbled just one time all year. And though he gave himself a moment to hang his head, he came right back on his next opportunity, bursting through the middle of the first for a 25-yard gain.
The Steelers are rightfully excited about what Bell achieved in his first season. After all, his versatility is why they drafted him in the middle of the second round of the draft, over the more pedigreed Eddie Lacy.
Keep in mind that Bell’s season got off to a slow start. He missed nearly all of training camp and the preseason, and then missed the first three games of the year before being tossed into the fire as the starter in Week Four. He spent most of the year working on a learning curve because of the time he missed.
Setting the franchise record in yards from scrimmage is no small feat, especially when that record was previously held by a Hall of Famer the likes of Harris. That he continued to improve in all areas throughout the season bodes well for the future. Bell already established himself as an every down back as a rookie. Who knows how much better he can be in his sophomore campaign. All I know is that he has me excited for 2014.