By Matthew Marczi
Before the season started, the main point of discussion being tossed around with regard to Le’Veon Bell and his ability to get on the field right away was how quickly he would be able to acclimate himself to picking up the blitz in passing situations.
Of course, as it turned out, it would be injuries keeping him off the field early in the season, while the rest of the running back stable had the Pittsburgh Steelers yearning for the rookie’s debut, blocking ability be damned.
One issue, I find, that Bell does not have in pass protection is reading the defense. In my observations, the rookie back generally seems to know where he should be when he is asked to stay in and block. But he does have other issues. When he has to decide whether to block or make himself a target, he is indecisive.
Additionally, when he is blocking, he does not have the cleanest technique. Up to this point, it has not been too much of an issue, because even though his blocks have not always been by the book, he has generally gotten the job done. While he was not asked to block much in the two games prior, he did so on 13 occasions in his first game against the Minnesota Vikings without surrendering any pressure.
This past week against the Oakland Raiders, he had his most extensive work as a blocker, and he was tested. When all was said and done, he ended up surrendering one sack and an additional hurry that resulted in a torn jersey for Ben Roethlisberger in 16 snaps.
First, however, for the sake of fairness, let’s take a look at a couple of plays on which he does his job well.
These are the first two plays of the game. Although Sio Moore gets elevated, Bell is able to control him, and Roethlisberger thankfully avoids throwing into his reach. The second play is a pretty good example of an ugly, yet highly effective block. This one is more ugly than effective.
There is not too much to analyze here, as what happens it pretty straightforward. Moore blitzes off the offensive left edge and Bell takes too wide an angle. He can only manage to lunge at the linebacker, which does absolutely nothing. He is pulled for Jonathan Dwyer after one more play.
By the end of the drive, he is back in the game, but he surrenders the first of multiple pressures on the third down play that results in a desperate throw.
On the play, the end simply goes outside and Bell sets too far inside. Bell really pretty much lets him by without much of a fight. He needs to have better form than that.
As the plays above show, Bell has tackled the biggest hurdle that rookies must overcome in pass protection, which is reading blitzes and knowing where to be. The earlier examples also show, however, that he still has work to do from a technique standpoint. He had been getting away with it in limited reps, but he faced his biggest test against the Raiders, and while he did not fail the exam, he probably earned himself about a C for his efforts in pass protection.