Volume No Substitute For Efficiency With Le’Veon Bell’s Workload

Last Sunday, running back Le’Veon Bell touched the ball 31 times, which had been roughly par for the course relative to the workload that he was getting during the final three games leading into the bye week.

Playing on a short week, he only had 21 touches against the Titans, and a full nine of them were receptions, which tend to be less of a physical detriment than running plays. Still, that is 52 touches over the course of four days, including 38 rushing attempts and 14 receptions.

And what does he have to show for that, exactly? 126 rushing yards combined, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, without a score, though he did have one taken away after he was ruled down just short of the goal line on Thursday against the Titans. He also has 89 receiving yards on his 14 receptions, averaging about 6.4 yards per reception.

These are not exactly the All-Pro numbers that we have come to expect from him over the years, though they have been somewhat par for the course this season. On the year, he has 232 total carries for 886 yards. While that is the highest total in the league, it is also quite inefficient.

Bell is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry on the season, and is the only back in the top eight in yardage to dip below four yards per carry. Only six of the top 20, nine of the top 30, and 18 of the top 50 running backs this season in terms of rushing yards are averaging fewer than four yards per carry.

Even though he has by far the most rushing attempts in the league—the next-closest is Jordan Howard at 192—his five rushing touchdowns is still only fifth-most, and a staggering 29 players have registered more explosive rushing plays than his two. The 19 other running backs with two explosive plays all have fewer carries, of course.

He is also not one of the 35 players this season to have at least one carry of 40 or more yards. His longest run on the season is just 27, while 57 players have recorded a run longer than that on the year. Not that this is a particularly stunning statistic.

But the most disturbing statistic, to me, is this: a full 41 of his carries this season have gone for no yardage or lost yardage. In fact, the majority of those—23—lost yardage. That means almost 18 percent of his carries gained nothing, and 10 percent lost yardage.

Is that bad? For Le’Veon Bell, yes. Last season, on 261 carries, he only had 34 carries gain no yardage, which is 13 percent. Only 13 carries lost yardage, or about five percent. These are huge and concerning increases.

About 140 of his 232 carries this season have been unsuccessful runs. His success rate of below 40 percent is worse than last year, when he had almost exactly the same number of unsuccessful plays—though fewer plays that gained no yards—on more carries, with a success rate of about 47.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • The O-Line has been off in the run game most of the year. Bell’s fine and his value will increase as the weather continues to change.

  • falconsaftey43

    I attribute most of what happens behind the line to the blocking. Bell is being met in the backfield a lot more than he did last year. But he also doesn’t look quite as elusive as he did last year. Not turning in as many wow plays were he makes a guy miss in space.

  • heath miller

    i agree .. i think most of the decline in production of bell is due to the OL… just seems they are off… but maybe we can sign him for less because of the stats? or is he starting to show the decline and we dont want to sign him long term?

  • Steel Realist PAul

    So what’s the answer? Is the team relying on Bell too much because their passing game hasn’t/hadn’t clicked? The same line, RB, plays and play callers are all still in place.

  • NinjaMountie

    Again, don’t get me wrong, I think Bell is one of the better RBs in the league. I was never in favor of paying him this much money and I’m definitely not in favor of paying him next season what he wants or tagging him.
    His biggest drawback is that he is slow. He’s quick and has a great jump cut but he has no speed. This year his style of “patient” running isn’t having the same impact. I do think he will have more big games this year, though.
    I’ll say it again, run the wheels off and let him walk.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    I was surprised we didn’t see more Nix out there against the Titans. All in all, the line isn’t quite as efficient opening holes as they have been the past few years. But I also think the Steelers could afford to switch to personnel groups where Bell is split out wide more often. Get him out in space with the receivers blocking, or have him run routes against a linebacker. His receptions these days seem to be more along the lines of check-downs than actual routes run.

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    He doesn’t look as sharp or as effective as he has in years past. I’ve seen individual plays or brief stretches where he looks like the explosive playmaker we’ve come to know, but he’s not had a stellar year. Certainly not by his standards. I think he’s been way overused. What percentage of the offensive snaps has he been on the field for? How does that compare to other backs in the league? I’d be willing to bet he is on the field a lot more than other backs. Gotta find a way to get Conner up to speed in the passing game and get him on the field.

  • Ichabod

    This is concerning.
    Granted there may not be gaping holes, but he doesn’t seem to be making people miss. He gets brought down by 1st player making contact often. It seems he chooses the wrong lane at times. He looks slower than last year…almost worn out at times

    I hope Conner is working on his pass protection

  • Dewayne Braxton

    The Steeler’s O-line is good, however regarding run blocking the painful truth is these guys are overrated but no one wants to say it. This team struggles to run the ball in the red zone and in short yardage situations. Pulling and sealing the edge is their strength. But when the field gets shorter or when they need two yards, this line lacks the power to just pound people and get it done. This issue isn’t a new one but a plague they’ve been dealing with for years. Many of Bell’s two yard gains could’ve been two yard losses.

  • pittfan

    Defenses to some degree have figured him out, as most good DCs will. Also, the slow start by Oline has contributed to his bad avgs. I took a lot of heat his first couple of games saying he didnt look the same and he still doesnt. Hope they lighten his load and mix in more Connor/Watson. Even give Rosie the rock now and then. Be unpredictable.

  • dany

    “Is that bad? For Le’Veon Bell, yes.”

    Do you mean that number of negatives play is the average for most runningbacks?