The 2017 regular season has been mostly a grind so far for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the running game, with the blocking not affording running back Le’Veon Bell a whole lot of running room. While he had a pretty big game three weeks ago against the Ravens, it was more out of an effort of attrition than explosion.
The running game finally broke through on Sunday, however, with Bell picking up 179 yards on the ground at 5.6 yards per clip, and that didn’t even factor in a 25-yard run that was wiped out by a penalty. He has finally gotten his rushing average for the season north of four yards per carry as well.
Now third in the league in rushing with 550 total yards behind rookies Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette, whom the Steelers have faced in consecutive weeks, it is no surprise that Bell is getting some more attention again as he has looked closer to his former self.
Pro Football Focus, for example, added him to their list of the top 10 running backs of the season so far, based on their grading, placing fifth on the list. I’m sure that many would like to see him higher, and perhaps even feel that he deserves to be higher, though I can understand why he would be viewed as having more to prove.
It’s no surprise that Hunt is at the top of the list. After all, he just set a record by having at least 100 yards from scrimmage in his first six career games, though he had something like just 28 rushing yards on Sunday against the Steelers. According to the site, his 43 forced missed tackles is far and away the most in the NFL.
PFF listed Devonta Freeman of the Falcons second on the list, with Jay Ajayi earning third-place honors. Melvin Gordon of the Chargers earned the last spot ahead of Bell, with the site writing that he has generated over 70 percent of his yardage after contact.
Of Bell, they write that after his three runs of 15 yards or more in Kansas City, he is tied for the second-most such runs in the league, behind only Hunt. “After a slow start the season, the reigning top graded running back has come alive”.
“His combo of speed, power and vision has him frequently making explosive plays. Most notably in his second ranked 29 forced missed tackles and second ranked eight carries of 15 yards or more”, it goes on. “This past week, Bell lit up the opposing defense with nine forced missed tackles and three breakaway runs of 15 yards or more”.
I have little doubt that Bell will only continue to perform better and better as the season goes on, and will probably finish once again as the best back in the league, provided that the run-blocking continues to allow him to succeed as it did on Sunday.