By Matthew Marczi
There’s no question that today’s win over the Green Bay Packers was a big one for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thanks to a lot of extra help, the victory assured that their final regular season game will still mean something. That wasn’t the case last season, when they were also 7-8.
But this was also a big game for Pittsburgh’s rookie running back, Le’Veon Bell, who had a pair a of firsts in his young career against the Packers, both of them equally surprising this late into a season.
Yes, tonight, Bell had both his first career 100-yard rushing game as well as his first career fumble. On a season-high 26 carries, he rushed for nearly 4.8 yards per carry en route to a 124-yard day on the ground.
Though he only had one reception for five yards, his 27 total touches is also a career-high, while his 129 total yards is his third-best yards-from-scrimmage mark of the season, giving him a total of 1173 yards through 12 games played.
Bell now has 770 rushing yards on the year, so unless he goes off for 230 yards or more, he will not finish off his rookie season as a 1000-yard rusher in 13 games. But unlike Eddie Lacy, Bell was never drafted to be a pure runner. His 44 receptions and nearly 400 yards through the air attests to that.
Despite his first-career 100-yard rushing game, Bell is still averaging just 3.4 yards per carry on his 224 rushing attempts. That of course has a great deal to do with the quality of run blocking put forth by a depleted and reshuffled offensive line, but it also explains why it took so long for that first 100-yard game to arrive.
It was the first such game by a Steelers back since Isaac Redman rushed for 147 yards against the New York Giants in the eighth game of the 2012 season, or 23 games ago, ending a 22-game drought.
What was even more surprising than the 100-yard rushing game, and how long it took to come, however, was Bell’s fumble. It was his first in over 250 touches as a professional football player, and now gives him one fumble in 268 total touches as a rookie.
The Steelers did everything they could to negate the damage when he fumbled near his own goal line. First, they forced a field goal attempt. Then they blocked it. But the officials missed the Steelers gaining possession, and long story short…the Packers scored a touchdown a play later.
But Bell was motivated coming off the fumble. On the first play of their next possession, he burst through the middle of the field, leaping over a defender for 25 yards, which put him over the century mark. After a fumble by Matt Flynn, he helped finish off the game with the go-ahead touchdown, his seventh of the season.