Workhorse Le’Veon Bell Just Wrapped Up Playing Nearly 200 Consecutive Snaps

From the middle of the third quarter in the game against the Ravens to the third snap of the game against the Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell did not come off the field for a single snap. Including the entirety of the games against the Cowboys and the Browns, the fourth-year running back was on the field for Pittsburgh on 190 consecutive snaps.

And I can’t help but wonder if, had the Steelers not been on a short week, he would have stayed on the field for every snap against the Colts as well. But Bell logged a career-high 36 touches on Sunday against the Browns. And then he still played all but seven snaps against the Colts, which is the highest number of snaps that he has taken off for any game. And of course five of those snaps came at the end of the game with a 21-point lead in hand.

Le’Veon Bell is a true workhorse running back, and Head Coach Mike Tomlin knows it. But he is also smart about the way in which he uses his workhorse, because, as I have written about previously this season, he understands that he can distribute his workload to assignments in the backfield as either a ball carrier or pass protector and up at the line of scrimmage as a route runner.

In just eight games so far this year, the former second-round draft choice has already accumulated 208 touches, which works out on average to exactly 26 touches per game. Over the course of a full 16-game schedule, that would work out to the equivalent of 416 touches, which, needless to say, is an incredible number.

Compare that to 2015, where in only six games of action, he averaged a bit under 23 touches per game. That, however, obviously needs to be qualified because he was injured in the second quarter of that final game. In 2014, over a full 16-game schedule, he averaged 23.3 touches per game. As a rookie in 2013 22.2 touches per game.

As a general barometer, it is clear that his per-game usage has been on an upward trajectory over the course of his career, considering that his 2015 average would have likely fallen between 24 and 26 touches has his final game of the year not ended early.

But part of the reason that he has been able to so seamlessly increase his workload is because it has become distributed in greater and greater amounts to the receiving game. This year, in fact, over a quarter of all of his touches have come on receptions. In 2014, when he caught 83 passes, that represented only 22 percent of his touches, in comparison to the 27.5 percent of 2016.

It is because of this workload distribution between the responsibilities of a running back and a wide receiver that Bell is able to sustain such a high snap count game in and game out. And why his brief respite last week on a short week in an eventual blowout is likely to be an outlier.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • WilliamSekinger

    It would be nice if the Steelers were leading by so much in all their remaining games they can rest Bell for the 4th quarter of all of them 🙂

  • J.

    Tomlin doesn’t know how to rest his running backs.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Hopefully DWill can get back soon.

  • History shows running backs with 390+ carries have a diminishing effects lasting on their career. No doubt Herm Edwards shorten Larry Johnson’s career by a few years.

    That being said, the fact that Bell is doing a quarter of his damage through the air is different. Generally speaking, getting tackled in space is much different than crashing bodies at the LoS. Bell does a lot of both so the cumulative effect on him wouldn’t be the same as a guy who doesn’t catch the ball at all with a similar amount of touches. Also Bell takes great care of his body and is always in tip top shape, that helps too.

  • Ahmad

    I know some of his production is coming in the passing game, but I’m still alarmed about the high number of snaps. Bell is still a RB and I’d like to have him around for the next several years. That’s not likely to happen if he’s barely coming off the field.

  • David lewis

    It’s about time pass happy Haley realized that you have a workhorse use him instead of lining him up four times in a row (Dallas game) has a wideout.

  • RickM

    I admire Bell’s endurance. But I’d be lying if I said I understood the need for him to play every snap against Cleveland. Against Dallas with Landry Jones starting for sure. But we need to get him some rest during other games when we have more than a TD lead. I understand that may be tougher down the homestretch, but if there is an opportunity take it.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Honestly, I think they consider a lot of his receiver reps his rest. Specifically the ones where he is like the fifth read on the play and generally isn’t doing anything.

  • dany

    Yeah I’ve thought about that. Then again no contact injuries are a thing and they so often happen to receivers

  • RickM

    I agree that running routes most times involves no contact and his routes are usually short ones. But he had 51 carries the last two games, easily the highest two game total of the year. When you’re asking the guy to carry the ball 28 and 23 times, and be a pass receiver, and a blocker occasionally, I just think they need to get him a little more rest.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Well, they did rest him more against the Colts than they did in any other game. But they also didn’t have to rest him as much, because they also had the fewest total offensive snaps they had all season.