Recent Run Of Backup RBs During Playoffs Adds To Appreciation Of Le’Veon Bell

On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers played their first postseason game with their starting running back in five games, dating all the way back to Super Bowl XLV at the end of the 2010 season. third-year running back Rashard Mendenhall was the Steelers’ workhorse at the time, though he rushed for just 63 yards on 14 attempts in that game.

Against the Dolphins, the Steelers actually had the luxury of having Le’Veon Bell healthy. He had not been for the team’s three previous playoff games over the course of the past two years; in fact, it marked his postseason debut.

And he played like a man hungry for that opportunity, rushing for 167 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns. The 167 yards broke a 42-year-old franchise record for rushing yards in a playoff game, which was held by Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris.

The four postseason games between then and that Super Bowl have all featured backup running backs—even third-string running backs, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have always delivered a poor performance. In light of Bell’s record-setting day and how much it meant for him to be healthy for the first time in three trips to the playoffs, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on that four-game period.

The ‘journey’, shall we say, started in the 2011 postseason, and actually began very promisingly, if I must say. Mendenhall had torn his ACL at the end of the regular season, and that thrust former undrafted free agent Isaac Redman into the starting lineup. He delivered with a 17-carry, 121-yard display that helped keep the offense afloat. But it wasn’t enough, as we know how that game ended.

The Steelers went through a period of missing the postseason for two years, returning at the end of the 2014 season. By then, Bell had already been established as an All-Pro, but a knee injury in the regular-season finale knocked him out for the playoffs.

You might recall that LeGarrette Blount was signed to spell Bell that year, and that things escalated to the point that he was released midseason. That resulted in the team starting yet another undrafted player in Josh Harris, playing basically his only meaningful game. He carried the ball nine times for 25 yards.

The Steelers also signed Ben Tate, but they didn’t really get him up and running in time. He had just five carries for 19 yards. He also dropped a pass and missed a blocking assignment that, if I recall correctly, helped contribute to an interception.

Last year, Bell tore his MCL midseason, so they had time to adjust—until DeAngelo Williams, his new backup, also went down in the regular-season finale. That thrust Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman into the limelight, neither of whom were on their 90-man roster.

The pair were actually impressive in the Wildcard victory over the Bengals, combining for 123 yards on 28 carries, and Toussaint also contributed 60 receiving yards on four receptions. The Divisional Round went, shall we say, less well.

Todman gained just six yards on five carries. Toussaint did add a rushing touchdown, but he was limited to 39 yards on 12 carries, and two yards on three receptions. He also had the late fourth-quarter fumble that many attribute directly to losing the season.

The Steelers’ recent postseason history is checkered with performances from backup running backs that have ranged from good to debilitating, but none of them are able to compare to having a player of Bell’s quality in the backfield. That’s why he was preserved in the regular-season finale and in the final minutes of the victory over the Dolphins. They remember what it’s like without him. And now you do too.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Reading an article like this really makes you yearn for knowing what happens if he is in the playoffs those other times. The 3 B’s were born to be a dynasty, if only injuries didn’t slow them down. We could be talking about a pretty amazing run with them. There is still time though……

  • TMP_22903

    Going back a bit further to 2007 season, Coach Tomlin’s first … the Wild Card playoff loss to the Jaguars with Najah Davenport.

    Najah Davenport … Isaac Redman … Josh Harris … Ban Tate … Jordan Todman … Fitz Toussaint

    Some of those guys were or are decent backs (Redman, Todman, Toussaint) – but what a history of having below-average skill players when needed most!

  • StillersInThe6

    Not only that, but knowing what happens when you don’t reside in the AFC North, ie. the toughest division in football. Would be very interested if someone were to break down all the serious injuries over the last decade that have come between AFC North rivals (eg. Bengals/Steelers, Bengals/Ravens, etc.) compared to the average in other divisions. Gift and a curse though, b/c I’m sure others would agree that it doesn’t get any better than seeing these rivalry games.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Glad Williams is healthy and ready to go. Hopefully we won’t need him except for in a relief situation. Great decision by Tomlin to take a rested Bell into the stadium for the Dolpins game. It paid huge dividends and going forward it would be nice to keep Bell fresh by giving Williams some carries. I feel good about our backup RB situation this year as compared to years past.