Running Game Hopes To Rediscover Explosive Tendencies

As is more or less taken as a given at this point in his career, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell had himself yet another excellent season in 2016, but one thing that was somewhat missing during the year were the explosive plays. Now he was never, and never will be, one of the fastest players on the field, but it is something that was in his game earlier in his career.

During his breakout 2014 season, following which he was named a first-team All-Pro, for example, Bell recorded eight runs of at least 20 yards, which was the seventh-most in the league, and he also had two runs that went for at least 40 yards. Nobody that season had more than three such carries.

Even in the 2015 season, when he was limited to fewer than six full games, he still ran for eight explosive runs on 113 total attempts, and that included another run of 40 yards or more. It was certainly beginning to seem as though it would be a notable feature of his game.

Yet it sort of disappeared last year, even considering that he only played in 12 games. in 261 carries, he managed just four explosive runs, which ranked tied for the 23rd-most in the league. He had only one run of at least 40 yards, and that came in his first game back off a three-game suspension.

So the question is, was that a statistical anomaly, or is there something that changed in his running style or in the offense that makes him less able to break off long runs? Well, to start off answering that question, we can just turn to the postseason.

In a little over two games’ worth of work, Bell recorded three explosive runs. There were only eight explosive runs recorded during the entirety of the 2016 playoffs, so commanding three of them is a big chunk, although he did have by far the most carries, leading the way with 65, while nobody else had 40.

Still, he if he averaging roughly one explosive play every 20 or so carries, that is certainly a more than acceptable ratio. Based on his 2016 regular season carry totals, that would put him in the ballpark of 13 explosive runs, which would be an excellent body of work for a running back who is not only known for his patient running style that allows defenders to crowd the box, but also a back who is not built for pure speed.

I do think that perhaps it took some time over the course of the regular season for Bell to reestablish what I might characterize as a second-level groove, and we did see improvements in the bigger running plays as the season progressed.

This is one thing that I will be looking to see as we head into the 2017 season. While Bell will presumably not be starting the year on another suspension, he is coming off another groin injury.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Alan Tman

    I’ll take the exact same run game, but with MB10 on the field at no time will there be a 8 in the box. We just need to play action pass more, and we’ll have all the explosive plays we need.

  • James Churchwell

    Yes sir, 100% in agreement with you there.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    He has more pausing and hesitation in his game than ever before. This results in him getting caught from behind all the time. Once he gets 5 yards downfield you really wish he would commit, put his foot in the ground, and go. One of the reasons I wanted a back with breakaway speed instead of a slower less elusive version of him.

  • Steelsmoke

    That is the 9 million dollar question.

  • Jaybird

    Trap , I think he hits the hole when it’s there. When he dances he turns a zero yard gain into a 4 yard gain . But when he sees some daylight, he hits it hard. I think he is one of the best in the game actually , at locating a hole and then going from 1st to fifth gear through it.
    As good as our O line is, they don’t move people off the ball like Dallas does. A lot of times he has to wait for these guys to hold their blocks and something to open up. But Bell just isn’t fast enough to turn some of these runs into huge gainers.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    I agree with what you say about the line not being great people movers, which is why my optimism about Conner is very restrained. I just don’t know if he’s going to be any more than a 2.5 yards and a cloud of dust kinda guy. As for Bell, the positive certainty outweighs the negative but he is a little frustrating to watch at times. Maybe having Juju and the enlarged Martavis on the field at the same time will result in better blocking downfield.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Phenom running And receiving. But if you are looking for breakaway speed, forget that. He does not have it.

  • mhurk

    Bell is the best Player in the league, if He could finish a season He wears a ring! Coaches need to use Him wisely and not run HIm till the wheels fall off. Enter James Conner if He could lighten LB load and keep Him healthy #7 will be a reality.

  • VaDave

    Also agreed. In addition, I think defenses have changed how they account for him. That said, it could be the]at Bryant factor that I’ve noticed.

  • ryan72384

    Hope that groin injury doesn’t linger. Those things are tricky. Never know when it might pop back up and once it happens in a season running backs never seem to get back on track. I think that’s what derailed Arian Fosters career.