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Was Le’Veon Bell’s slow start in 2017 all because of his absence during the preseason?

Fans constantly point to Le’Veon Bell’s ‘slow’ start in 2017 with anger, but was it really just Bell not in football shape?

NFL: New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the drama is over, and Le’Veon Bell’s expiration date with the Pittsburgh Steelers has been sealed (March 13, 2019), Steelers fans can start to move beyond the media circus. Better yet, fans can look in the rear view mirror and see whether they spy future success, or failure.

A week (or is it a day?) does not go by without a commenter on this website chiding Bell for the slow start last season. Missing training camp and the preseason had Bell entering the season rusty, right?

I mean, Bell even came out and said he was rusty.

Is Bell falling on his sword and not throwing his teammates, or even the play calling, under the bus for the low statistical output in the first three games?

Did Bell not show the same burst he has showed in previous seasons?

Did Bell show decreased speed that he demonstrated with his electrifying 4.6 forty time at the combine in 2013?

That’s up to the fans here at BTSC to squabble over.

This is where this 3-part series comes in. I went back and took video of each one of Bell’s carries during the first three weeks of the 2017 season for you to watch, and dissect.

First up: Week 1 at the Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns have been the laughing stock of the NFL since the majority of the current Steelers players were wearing out their parents’ VHS players with the Lion King. The Browns finished 0-16, but their run defense was no joke. The defense gave up more than 100 yards in just six games last year. The seventh-ranked rush defense gave up 100-yard games to only Joe Mixon (23-114) and Leonard Fournette (28-111). This while the defense was constantly on the field due to an inept offense that turned the ball over a whopping 41 times. Holding 1,000 yard rushing backs, Melvin Gordon (19-77) and Jordan Howard (22-44) in check, was no an easy feat.

Is your memory of games skewed by father time, media and/or fellow fans? Or has that photographic memory survived for 10 months? The only thing asked of you is to set aside your perceptions and be objective. The below video is all the plays that Bell was involved in rushing and receiving. (I believe a couple of plays called back via penalty are included.)

Disclaimer: You will want to turn your sound off, the program picked up audio from stuff running on my computer. I sure like to use disclaimers, HA! I’m not an editing guru and this was my first attempt with brand new software. You’re all guinea pigs for future projects to come. I would like feedback on how to make the videos better.

A few notes about Bell’s actions during the game.

  • Bell had 10 carries for 32 yards to go along with three receptions for 15 yards.
  • Bell played 72% of offensive snaps, his lowest of the season. Twelve games he received 85% or more.
  • Bell’s first touch was the last play of the first quarter.
  • Bell was utilized three times during the game with under five yards to the first down. (Odd stat for the player who led the NFL in first downs.) Part of that was due to the Steelers being heavily penalized during the game. (13-144)
  • Bell’s combined yardage was the lowest of any regular season game in his career.

After watching the video, how rusty did Bell appear? What specific plays stood out to you indicating he left yardage on the field? Did your perspective on the Browns’ run defense change? Pittsburgh starts off their season again with the Browns, what would a disappointing stat line look like? What would a successful one entail? If Bell lights up the Browns Week one, will you put his 2017 game out of your mind?

Let us know in the comment section below!