Le’Veon Bell wants the damn ball. The more touches the better, but Bell wants it within the flow of a diverse, balanced offense.
Adam Gase’s offense hasn’t been diverse or balanced or had any flow. The Jets gave Bell, one of the NFL’s best dual-threat backs, a four-year, $52.5-million deal to help make their offense more dynamic and difficult to defend. It’s been just the opposite.
It’s been predictable: a lot of handoffs and short passes to Bell and not much of anyone or anything else. And it’s been shut down.
The winless Jets have gone three-and-out 13 times in 36 series. They have produced only three scoring drives, and just one touchdown in three games. Their passing leader is Luke Falk with 296 yards. Originally the Jets’ practice squad quarterback, Falk will get his second consecutive start Sunday against the Eagles with Sam Darnold (mono) still unable to play.
The offense has missed Darnold and the line has been missing in action. Having a line hold its blocks long enough to allow plays to develop and give a young quarterback enough time to make throws down the field would be a huge help.
Deep threat Robby Anderson has only 10 receptions, tied for 112th in the NFL. Slot receiver Jamison Crowder caught 14 passes from Darnold in the opener and just seven since.
Bell welcomes the help. He knows that for the Jets’ offense to be successful it can’t be all about him. His 25.3 touches per game are second only to Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey (27.8).
“We have playmakers everywhere,” Bell said. “A guy like Robby, I know exactly what he can do, how explosive a player he is. Crowder, the same type of player. We have a lot of weapons . . . ”
“I don’t really buy into everybody looking at me and saying I got a lot of touches. It’s just how the game goes sometimes. I don’t think it’s the game plan to try and go like that. Once we clean up the mistakes and get things moving the ball will be spread around a lot more and it will be a lot cleaner, things will be a lot better and I won’t touch the ball as many times.”
Bell has little to show so far.
He’s averaged only 2.9 yards per carry, the third-lowest average in the NFL among starting running backs and 1.4 fewer than his career average. Bell is on pace for 405 touches, one fewer than he had in 2017 when he led the NFL. After holding out last year over a contract dispute with the Steelers, Bell said his body is up for two years’ worth of touches.
“I just sat out a whole year, I kind of reset,” Bell said. “All the touches I didn’t get last year, you can double it up this year, that’s fine.”
So 800-plus touches?
“Why not?” Bell said. “Every time I hit the ground I get up and get right back to the huddle and do it again.”
Bell isn’t demanding the ball and is willing to do whatever it takes to win. But he’ll take a backseat or be a decoy if needed. Gase has been impressed with how team-oriented Bell has been.
He has been critical of himself and has held himself accountable. Bell kicked himself for coming up 1-yard short on a 4th down in Week 2 against Cleveland and for fumbling the ball in the red zone later in that game.
Bell hasn’t pointed fingers or complained that he’s getting hit behind the line of scrimmage or almost immediately after he gets the ball because of the offensive line’s ineffectiveness.
“He’s not a complainer,” Gase said. “He’s always, ‘Hey, what do I need to do different? How can I help?’ He’s always looking for the solution. He’s been awesome in that aspect of just trying to help, like ‘How do we get positive plays? How do we stay ahead of the sticks? How do we get third-and-manageable? How do we stay first down, second down, first down?’ He’s been outstanding as far as just trying to find the solution.”
This is new to Bell. He played with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh, where scoring wasn’t an issue.
Bell scored the Jets’ only offensive touchdown on a pass from Darnold in the third quarter of their season-opening loss to Buffalo. Bell also caught the two-point conversion. The Jets have gone nine quarters and 27 days since they’ve scored an offensive touchdown.
“It’s surprising, but at the same time it doesn’t surprise me because we’ve been making a lot of mistakes,” Bell said. “It can be one play or two plays that kill a drive and set everything back.
“A lot of it, we’ve been hurting ourselves. We just really got to fix the mistakes. Penalties and missed assignments and guys not making the plays. Everybody, even myself. Once we get that going, guys being on the details, the offense gets clicking, we’re going to look like great team. We’ve been working on the details trying to get better.”
Coming off their bye, the Jets spent extra time working on their offense this week. Gase lengthened practice and added more reps, especially for the offense. He vows it will change and he will get his system working and more diverse. Bell still believes. “We’re going to be fine,” Bell said. “I think we’re really close.”