It was an unfortunate set of circumstances in 2015 that prevented the Pittsburgh Steelers from having even one single full game from start to finish with both quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Le’Veon Bell healthy. But it may serve as good preparation for Sunday.
Bell, of course, served a two-game suspension to start the 2015 season, and returned for the third game. But Roethlisberger suffered a knee injury in the second half of that game that knocked him out for the next four weeks, and when he returned nearly a month later, Bell suffered a torn MCL that resulted in his season coming to an end.
In between, however, was a four-game slate in which the Steelers ran their offense through Bell, and as Dave Bryan wrote about in the wake of the news of Roethlisberger’s injury, it is likely that they are going to have to follow a similar model if they hope to come out of however many games he might miss with a victory.
Just to start off my point, Bell only got 16 touches on Sunday in their 30-15 loss to the Dolphins. Even under ideal health circumstances, that is simply not enough opportunities to future your most unique talent, and one of your most valuable assets.
During the Steelers’ four-game stint without Roethlisberger last season, Bell got over 20 touches in each game. The only game in which he had fewer than 20 carries was one in which he picked up yards by the chunk, and gained over 100 yards on the ground.
In the first week without Roethlisberger, against the Ravens, Bell carried the ball 22 times for 129 yards and a rushing touchdown. He also added seven receptions for 21 yards. The low yards per reception number was a result of a series of Mike Vick check downs, of course.
The following week, the All-Pro added another 21 carries, on which he picked up 111 yards on the ground, with another rushing touchdown. He also threw in four receptions for another 16 yards. This was the Chargers game on which he had the walk-off touchdown with time expiring, taking the snap out of the Wildcat.
Against the Cardinals, Bell did not catch any passes, but he did rush the ball 24 times, gaining 88 yards in a game in which it was tough sledding on the ground. Landry Jones came in at the end of this game to lead a comeback victory.
The final week without Roethlisberger saw Bell carry just 17 times, but he picked up 121 yards, and added 16 more on four receptions. With Jones under center this time around, he should be more involved in the passing game.
In all, Bell carried the ball 84 times for 449 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.3 yards per carry in Roethlisberger’s absence on 21 touches and 112 yards per game. He added another 15 touches as a receiver in that span. He is the reason they went 2-2 in that span, and he is their best chance to come out with a victory on Sunday.