Reviewing Le’Veon Bell’s Performance Against The Jets

bell2

By Matthew Marczi

Following the Pittsburgh Steelers’s first win of the season, head coach Mike Tomlin was highly complementary of his high-pedigreed yet inexperienced new tailback, Le’Veon Bell, who was making just his second career start. Such a dichotomy often sends Tomlin’s mind into a tailspin, as he loves to boast about pedigrees but also prefers to take a vow of silence when it comes to praising rookies.

More often than not, the stats sheet is the tie breaker, although such could hardly be said to be the case in this instance, as Bell finished with an anemic 2.1 yards per carry average on 16 carries, which equates to 34 total yards.

Yet Tomlin thought “he ran very well” when asked at his weekly news conference. He went on to lavish praise, in fact, saying

I thought the Jets provide some challenges in terms of run defense; they’re number two in the league, and they lived up to that. They’ve got some talented people up front. There weren’t many holes. I thought he did a great job of picking with vision and putting the ball where it was supposed to be and running with the type of demeanor that we desire. Obviously, the numbers don’t exhibit great success, but I thought it allowed us to have the type of balance necessary to complete splash plays, like the third-and-1 play-action to Emmanuel Sanders and so forth.

While Bell certainly deserves a lot of credit for the pittance that he was able to eke out on the ground, there is also something to be said for his inexperience, I think. It seems to me, particularly early on, that he could have run with greater patience and made better decisions as to which hole to hit, and this includes his first carry of the game.

bell1

Now, there were plenty of carries throughout the afternoon in which Bell had no room to run. This first carry is not one of them. While he still made a positive play out of it, however, he did not choose the most lucrative route. By the time Bell receives the ball, it is already fairly clear that David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert have opened up a significant gap on the right side, and a late cut would have drawn off the linebacker for what could have been a big gain instead of a carry for just three yards through the clogged arteries of the left side.

bell2

The next time he gets a chance to carry, it is late in the first quarter and he has the hulking nose tackle Damon Harrison pushing Fernando Velasco right into his running lane, sandwiching him between his center and tight end Heath Miller. He squeezes through the tight alley for a yard.

He makes the correct read for a four-yard gain on the next play, but it is negated by a hold. The play after, however, I find quite interesting in the way it unfolded, and I find it hard to determine the blame.

bell3

It is a second and 19 play, and left guard Ramon Foster is pulling to the right. Bell has the backside defensive end trailing him, so he has to be quick, yet I still feel that he could have shown more patience on this run and gotten behind his blocker more.

Doing so would have afforded him the opportunity to cut inside the pulling guard rather than between Foster and Miller, neither of whom secure their blocks and allow the lane to close after just a four-yard gain. Had he had the patience on this play to cut inside Foster’s block, the play could have gone for double-digit yards. What is worse is that it spoiled another of Gilbert’s best blocks of the day, which, on this afternoon, were rare.

Later, on his first carry of the second quarter, he is faced with a one-on-one situation with the linebacker as the center and nose tackle battle. The linebacker is shaded somewhat heavily to the offensive left A Gap, yet Bell chooses to cut in that direction rather than take the right side, which appeared not only more intuitive, but more open.

bell4

On the play above, I give Bell full credit here for making the proper read to bounce this run outside rather than try to hit it up a middle that was quickly collapsing. I even give him credit for attempting to maximize the end of the run with a spin move that did not work. On the following play, however, he makes the wrong call trying to bounce it outside with three defenders already in pursuit. I see this as a cut your losses carry in which he should have taken what he could get and live to fight another down. Bell simply does not have the speed to break this one to the outside. Probably not many backs do.

bell5

On his last carry of the first half, he is dropped for a four-yard loss after Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson make quick work of Gilbert and DeCastro, just to remind you of the kind of blocking Bell had to work with for most of the contest.

He followed that up with his first carry of the second half being perhaps his best run of the day, as he simply hits the hole hard right up the middle for a seven-yard gain through a tight alley. Early in the fourth, however, it was back to being dropped for a loss, as Harrison once again beat Velasco cleanly.

Fortunately, he was able to finish off his day with another of his better runs, this time displaying some patience.

bell6

The Steelers are facing second and eight, attempting to run out the clock. The initial read does not leave Bell with many options, but he is able to hang back just long enough for a small crease to open in the A Gap between Velasco and DeCastro for a six-yard gain.

This article may seem highly critical of a rookie performance, and that is because it is. I chose to point these things out because I believe that Le’Veon Bell is capable of offering even more to this offense, and that he can average more than 2.1 yards per carry with this type of blocking if he trusts himself and his teammates more, displays a bit more patience, and allows the game to slow down enough for him to make better decisions on the fly. As critical as the above may be, I still came away from this game encouraged about what Bell will be able to turn into in the near future.

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

    Didn’t roughly half his yards come after contact? That’s ridiculous.

  • steeltown

    He’s pretty nimble for his size. Once he gets a little seasoned he should be pretty dangerous.

  • HarryBackside

    I disagree that Bell should have gone right on the first play. The steelers were gap blocking, and he went were the play was designed to go. He had plenty of blockers, which gave him the best chance to gain yards.

    If he went right, there was no one to account for the LB an CB. I don’t know who it was, but if Bell went right, the LILB would have stayed home, and would have had a clear path towards Bell. Also, you can see 26 come into the picture as the play develops. He’s coming from the left side of the defense, and would have been able to get to Bell quickly if he went right

  • edrabs

    I’m sorry, but I think that this analysis needs some work. The majority of the points here are highly debatable at best.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I agree. Had Johnson been able to hold his block, Bell would have had more yards.

    I also think that looking at the plays that way, it wasn’t horrible blocking overall on the day, but the Jets played the run very well. It makes me believe we are predictable.

  • Dr. Doom

    I think we have another Arian Foster of a few years ago on our hands.

  • Tito Marin

    All I know we had the chance to take Eddie Lacy and now he is doing much much better than Bell. Another bad choice? maybe, may be not.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    With the way Dwyer has been beaten up by the writers here I find this to be a fair assessment of Bell although it is tough for a HB to see every hole on every play as in Dwyer’s case.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Not just that; dwyer, redman, and even Bell all aren’t fast/explosive enough to run through second or third option on opposite side. Admittly I’m one of those people who were sad to see Mendenhall go because he was quite athletic, could attack opening lanes like those. I like Le’veon bell as a prospect of our running back corp but we got to stop run like our lives depend on it.

    Gimme more HB draws and play-action where RBs will actually see the opening lanes. Redman had much more success in draw plays from shotgun formation against Broncos in playoff back in 2012 and there is a reason for that.

    The saying of “beating the dead horse” doesn’t quite fit this but… we most definetely are going through same problem again and again.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Even Adrian Peterson would struggle with our O-line. Problems all are within scheme/coaching. A slight better player doesn’t fix the problem.

  • steeltown

    The NYJ Defensive front is stout, top tier

  • cencalsteeler

    Usually, running backs like Le’Veon who are visionary runners, need time to “feel” out the game. They ususally follow code as to where the play is called for the first few touches. Once they’ve been hit a few times and the game comes to them is when their instincts and cut backs fall into place. Le’Veon probably needs to just get his feet wet on a few plays before he starts to find his groove.

  • steeltown

    So far through 3 1/3games Lacy has 1TD while Le’Veon has 2TDs after only 2games played

  • mlc43

    If we’re referring to the 1st avi then he should have definitely went right. Most definitely! In a blocking scheme like that, cutting back leads to big gains. Cutting back would have put him one on one with the safety (from what I could see) and that is always preferable. Now, that being said, it’s totally ridiculous to be judging him this way. Watching film is the ultimate hindsight game. It’s good for him to look at and learn from but it’s really hard to say what he saw. He’s doing ok for what he has to work with….which isn’t much in regards to our oline.

  • J&LSteeler

    I agree, too. Ben is right in his peripheral vision on the right during the handoff , when and where the hole opens up. It would have taken a Barry Sanders to make that cut to the right to get into that hole.

  • HarryBackside

    He wouldn’t have been 1-on-1 with the safety. Watch the left ILB. He’s shadowing Bell, and only moves to the play side because that’s where Bell runs to. He isn’t able to do anything, because Velasco blocks his defender into him. If Bell goes to the right, because he is shadowing Bell, the LB would have been in position to make it to the hole unblocked, with the safety in support.

  • HarryBackside

    Also, the play began to develop perfectly on the left side. Beachum was able to hand his man off to DJ, and then was able to get to the second level to take on the LB. Unfortunately, Beachum wasn’t able to move the LB, and DJ was turned inside.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    The reason why I didn’t like the Bell pick was because we had Dwyer and Redman who IMO are similar style runners. Now maybe Bell will be better and hopefully a whole lot better but like you said it would have been nice to get a guy like Franklin who is a quicker guy. We did address it in preseason though by getting Howling but we know how that ended.

  • steeltown

    I think a stable consisting of Le’Veon Bell, Felix Jones, LSH and Dwyer would be a nice mix of RBs… most of can also contribute on special teams

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I would agree with the mix of HB’s and I also would like to hold onto Howling as long as he is what he was in preseason.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    We will draft other running back. Watch.

  • steeltown

    We might, but I would imagine it would be a Baron Batch type 6th Rder that might end up on the PS… unless, LSH and Felix Jones arent back next year, then we’ll be looking for a early-mid-Rd prospect to pair with Bell

  • Virdin Barzey

    I usually like the points made but agree with most people that its highly debatable. I flat out disagree with several of them. I look forward to this kid improving each week and no better time than against the Ratbirds this week. He could be big in this game.

  • Mike Carroll

    Yep. NYJ allows 3.0 yards per carry which is best in the NFL.

  • steeltown

    The Ravens have struggled with their pass defense this season, I think A.Brown and maybe even Moye will have big games

  • Callentown

    I totally understand why you’re looking at this. I was hoping we would draft Lacy also. BUT, if the positions were reversed, I do not believe Lacy could do better with this Steelers O-line than Bell is doing.

    Let’s watch them both but I have a feeling they’re both going to be darn good down the road.

  • Callentown

    Shannon, from what I saw last year at Michigan State, Bell is not similar to the rest on our team. He may not have top flight speed, but trust me when I tell you the pedigree is MUCH higher with Bell.

    Tougher runner, better cuts, a little better speed, but SUPER tough after contact.

    Remember, LSH was supposed to be our change of pace back.

  • Bill Molinaro

    The greatest attribute a running back can have is not speed or power. His most important attribute is vision to see the holes and the teams’ most important attribute is a line that can scare people with their blocking. The jury is, rightfully so, still out on Bell. but we know the OL is a work in progress and doesn’t scare anybody at present.

  • Bill Molinaro

    Bell is a young, inexperienced back so he’s likely to run the play as designed. But as he gains snaps he’ll need to sometimes look elsewhere for running room. If you recall the Steelers of the 70s, you know that Franco Harris was king of the cutback. He just saw the lanes. Doesn’t matter what blocking scheme you’re running, a back must see the openings and take advantage of them, even if they’re away from the play design.

  • Dr. Doom

    Completely different runner than redman or dwyer. And Franklin did not show anything up until a couple weeks ago where he fumbled and helped cost them the game.

  • Dr. Doom

    to replace redman and dwyer yes

  • enz1ey

    Your breakdown of the first play is 100% wrong. The play is designed to go left, therefore the only reason Bell would cutback is if there was a gaping hole developing there as he receives the ball. Not to mention he has 2 blockers right and 6 left. By the time he has the ball and could have seen the other hole open, he’d have to make an almost completely horizontal change of direction, and there’s no time for that. It’s like his first TD against the Vikings, and even that cut was impressive enough. That’s not even accounting for the free LB and the safety who is most likely floating right above that lane. And as for the third play, he has a DE right on him, there’s no way to “be patient” when you’re outrunning a DE along the LOS. You focus on positive yards, not slowing down to wait for your pulling guard while the DE blows the play up from the backside while you slow down. Give blame where it’s due. You called out Heath for bad blocking in a couple 1-on-3 situations, so how about call out the OL when they’ve all got 1-on-1 situations and are losing the battle, luckily our RB is good enough to avoid being tackled for a loss.

  • Virdin Barzey

    To be honest, if we don’t get to Flacco, it will be a long day. Concerned about our o-line against their d-line as well. Nothing stops a pass rush better than a good running game.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Completely different? I doubt that very seriously. Is he better overall, yes. Franklin was an example of the type of runer not necessarily him per say.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    last year Dwyer averaged 4.0 yards per carry…this year Bell is at 3.0 yards per carry. Glad he has a great upside and wonderful pedigree.

  • John W. Thomas

    I find it hard to find fault with his runs as I see Jets defensive lineman defeating almost every double team that was attempted, one play destroying two players repeatedly doesnt bode well for anyone in the run game

  • J&LSteeler

    Seeing how quickly #98 was closing from the backside, any delay by the RB in hitting what was available might have resulted in a “from behind right hand chop” from the defender and a possible lost fumble.

  • Johnny Loose

    Thanks for breaking it down although I disagree on some points. Bell is easily the best RB we have and I’m excited about what he’s done so far. Ready to watch him take the next step vs. Baltimore

  • Douglas Kostel Jr.

    Trying to knock Bell after just 30 something carries is just downright ignorant. If you want to play that game, didn’t Dwyer have a better OL to run behind last year? Yes, he did. Was Dwyer a rookie last year? No, he wasn’t. In his first 2 games last year Dwyer had 21 carries for 71 yds and 3 rec for 23 yds and 0 td’s. Bell’s first 2 games, 32 carries for 91 yds, 7 rec for 49 yds and 2 td’s.

  • Douglas Kostel Jr.

    According to Tomlin, Bell hasn’t missed a lane. There has to be an open lane to hit. The reason they drafted him is because of his ability to run in traffic. A speed guy wouldn’t matter if there are no lanes to run in. If you don’t think Bell is explosive, go watch his highlights at MSU.

  • Douglas Kostel Jr.

    Bell is a better receiver and blocker than Lacy. He’s a better fit for the scheme. That’s why they took him.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    By no mean, I am not bashing L. Bell. I’m actually implying where he’s fit an offense like Titans’ better and ours are much more fitness. For fitness O-line you need a back like, say Giovanni Bernard. Yes I wanted him, not any other RBs in the draft but moving on.

    Of course am optimistic because what’s done is done and one thing about your description of Bell. I disagree, his pedigree is much higher and heck his problems have been running too high (sound familiar? No?) Not hitting the lanequick enough (again? No?) And most important of all- he hasn’t WOWed us at al. He’s essentially a taller version of Rashard Mendenhall. Less spinning on the merry-go-round but basically yeah.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    He hadn’t missed any lane but at same time he didn’t hit them quick enough. Would you take Tomlin’s assessment on offense seriously? I wouldn’t. Just few weeks ago he went on to say putting Beachem aside Mike Adams was the gameplan and never happened. He also said Will Johnson will see increase in snaps, didn’t happened. He’s also the SAME guy who exclaimed that Quentin Groves was all the smokescreen so he could take Limas Sweed….

    He is… absolutely… clueless about the offense! That’s not even a secret!

  • Callentown

    And Dwyer has the same 3 yards a carry this year. What’s the point of your post?

  • Callentown

    Nah, once we have a line that can block – even later this year perhaps, you will see he’s of higher caliber.

    Mendenhall was just missing ‘something’. Still is apparently.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    If you guys read all the post you will have seen that I said I feel Bell is a better runner but I assume English is a 2nd language so I will give you a pass. The OL WASN’T BETTER LAST YEAR! How could it be with all the injuries. I was trying to make a point that Bell isn’t that much better and gave stats to show. No it isn’t fair to judge a guy on just 2 games but that is all I had to show. Bell should be a better runner but that doesn’t mean he isn’t similar to Dwyer or Redman which he is. Bell isn’t running away from anyone!

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Now I see the problem. I’m assuming you assumed Kevin Colbert and Steelers FO drafted Le’Veon Bell because he was the highest ranked RB on their list? Maybe.. that doesn’t mean his pedigree was great. I can give you a name with very similar stats that hailed from the Big Ten conference. His name is Ron Dayne.

    Kevin Colbert saw that Le’Veon Bell ran with a bad O-line, still is able to produced and finding holes despite the issue and I gave Le’Veon Bell props for that but watch any games against bigger schools. He’s completely shut down. He isn’t quick enough for running through a closing window.

    Heck! Why is it that Steelers FO are looking for bigger backs when the fact was that post Alan Faneca era, the most successful back we had wasn’t the biggest but is the fastest; Willie Parker. He ran was the NFL leading rusher with Sean Mahan starting as a center! The O-line back then was that bad! Gimme fast rb over a big rb any day in the offense we have.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    They took him because he’s already “accustomed” to running behind a bad O-line, not for scheme. I can name at least 4-5 prospects who were better for the scheme AND 2 who were decent blockers. We don’t even need blocking rb; we have Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and Will Johnson for that!

  • Callentown

    I see Monte Ball as the next Ron Dayne – not Bell.

    I’m stuck here in the midwest so have to watch Big Ten football most of the time. I got to see Bell in about 5-6 games last year and believe me, he was the ENTIRE team.

    So, those games against OSU and Michigan where he has lower stats is only because they had the personnel to stop him by sending everyone his way.

    Pedigree? How about leading the nation in yards as well as yards after contact.

    That said, I believe the Steelers selected Bell because he fits Haley’s style of offense better than Lacy did. Plus, Lacy ran behind an NFL line basically.

    We’ll have to agree to disagree today. By next season, we should know more.

    I have ZERO problem with any of the Steelers draft picks up until Landry Jones.

  • Callentown

    Completely different. No, not a scat-back, but not the same as who we’ve had.