Lookout league: Le’Veon Bell is back
Arguably the most explosive running back in the NFL returns this Sunday, and it couldn’t come at a better time for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers offense struggled to put up points in last Sunday’s game against the Eagles. A myriad of receiving options struggled, outside of Antonio Brown. Markus Wheaton‘s return was marred with dropped opportunities (including a sure touchdown catch in the endzone). Sammie Coates hauled in one long pass, but anything else by him, Darrius Heyward-Bey or Eli Rogers, all went unnoticed.
While we anticipate a bounce back by Wheaton, Coates is still unproven, DHB has proven to have stone hands on occasion, and Rogers was last seen with a walking boot on his foot.
You may have noticed I’m mentioning all of the Steelers receiving threats, and that’s because Le’Veon Bell might be the second-best receiver on this roster, aside from Antonio Brown (who was the only receiver who appeared to show up against the Eagles).
That makes the return of Le’Veon Bell from a three game suspension all the more anticipated. While DeAngelo Williams has done admirably in Bell’s absence (leading the league in rushing through the first two weeks) he himself has had a case of dropped passes and missed opportunities. Williams is an explosive player in his own right, but at 33-years-old, is best used in small doses.
It’s great to have a player like Williams waiting in the wings, but Bell antes up the offense like no one else.
Before being lost to injury in 2015, Bell gained 692 yards from scrimmage in 6 games: 556 yards rushing and 136 yards receiving, including 3 touchdowns.
Most notably among those games last season is Bell’s game against Sunday’s opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs. Bell racked up 121 yards rushing and 16 yards receiving, without QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Bell was on pace to shatter records, ranking in the Top 10 in the league in runs of 20+ yards, 100+ yard rushing games, runs for first downs and total rushing yards. In fact, only Baltimore’s Justin Forsett had more rushing yards than Bell; that was on 20 more carries and 2 additional games played!
Bell’s career has been similarly explosive, as he set franchise records for the most yards, and the second-most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, by a Steelers rookie.
He also ranks second in team history for the most rushing yards in a player’s first three seasons, but has the most yards from scrimmage of any Steeler during the same span. He also leads the NFL since 2016 with an average of 119.0 yards from scrimmage per game.
Note: I continue to make reference to scrimmage yards.
This means Bell is more than a running threat, adding another option to the already deadly Steelers passing game. Bell recorded 45 receptions for 399 yards in 2013, 83 catches for 854 yards in 2014, and 24 more grabs for 136 yards in his limited 2015 season.
Bell’s 105 targets and 83 receptions in 2014 were second-most on the team, behind Antonio Brown.
This makes Bell the second-best receiver on the Steelers; a player who can be positioned, and relied upon, anywhere on the field. Bell is a dynamic, one-of-a-kind threat, who will help the Steelers score, and keep the defensive unit off the field (and fresh!)
This will be important, as the Steelers face two scrimmage yards monsters in back-to-back games. The Chiefs anticipate the return of their own star running back Jamaal Charles on Sunday (third best average behind Bell). The Jets Matt Forte also ranks second behind Bell with 112.4 scrimmage yards per average, and the most 100+ scrimmage yard games during that time period (30).
Missing time due to injuries and suspensions in 2013, 2015 and this season, Bell has still recorded a sixth-best 21 games with 100 or more yards from scrimmage. Thus, his contribution to the Steelers offense cannot be understated, no matter how well DeAngelo Williams filled the lead role.