Ever since the signing of LeGarrette Blount, there has been an assortment of commentary from message boards, blogs, and beat writers speculating about how the new back will fit in with the Pittsburgh Steelers offense and what his role will ultimately be.
The commentary frequently gravitated toward his size and power and speculated that he would be the likely successor to Jonathan Dwyer in short-yardage situations, and possibly contribute at the goal line as well.
Perception is not always reality, however, and Blount’s history suggests that while he has improved, he has not always excelled in the standard ‘big back’ categories that necessitate lowering the shoulder pads and getting the couple of yards required for the first down.
With that in mind, it would seem worth considering how Blount’s performance last season compares to what the Steelers were able to do with their own stable of backs, all of whom excepting starter Le’Veon Bell are notably departed.
The easiest and quickest evaluation comes at the goal line, because the only carry taken by a Steelers back in a goal-to-go situation other than Bell was Dwyer, whose one carry on first and goal from the one was stopped for no gain.
All of the other 20 carries in goal-to-go situations came from Bell, and it never got better than in the first game of his career when he raced around right tackle on first and goal from the eight for his first career touchdown.
In all, he gained 29 total yards on his 20 carries—or 21 yards on his 19 subsequent carries—averaging 1.45 yards per carry with an average distance to go of 3.2 yards. He scored on eight of his 20 carries, or 40 percent of the time.
While the yards per carry is underwhelming, the touchdown ratio with respect to the average distance to go is respectable. Still, he was stuffed six times on plays from the one-yard line (though that notably includes the play against the Baltimore Ravens in which a touchdown was taken away upon review due to his helmet coming off before the ball crossed the plane).
In comparison, Blount, who only received 10 percent of the team’s goal-to-go carries, carried the ball six times in such situations, averaging three yards per carry and scoring four touchdowns, or two-thirds of the time. His touchdowns came from distances of one, five, seven, and seven yards out, and his average distance to go on his six goal line carries was 3.67 yards.
Though the sample size is much smaller, Blount’s goal line numbers stack up favorably to Bell’s from last season, though it should be noted that Blount’s two failed carries also came from one yard out.
In short-yardage situations, which for this purpose I’ve defined as plays that require three yards or less for a first down or touchdown, the Steelers performed relatively well, both as a whole and with Bell specifically in the backfield.
As a team, the Steelers scored or gained a first down on 61 percent of their short-yardage carries in 2013, gaining an average of 3.04 yards on 77 carries for a total of 234 yards, scoring five touchdowns in the process.
All five touchdowns came from Bell, who personally converted on 29 of his 46 carries, or 63 percent of the time. His 126 total yards work out to 2.74 yards per carry, with a collective yards-to-go average of 1.48 yards on those runs.
One must consider, however, how just a couple of outliers can affect those figures. Take out the longest and shortest gains by Bell (43 yards and -4 yards, respectively), and Bell gained a total of 87 yards on 44 carries. That is an average of 1.97 yards per carry, or about four-fifths of a full yard less.
As for Blount, he carried the ball 26 times in situations with three yards or less to go for a first down or a score, totaling 75 yards for 2.88 yards per carry and one touchdown. Yet his longest run in such situations was just 16 yards. He had two negative carries totaling -3 yards.
Still, his conversion percentage was not as successful as Bell’s. Blount ran for a first down or a touchdown just under 58 percent of the time, or five percent less often than Bell. That is partially explained by an average distance to go of nearly have a yard greater at 1.92, but it doesn’t paint the full picture.
One last look compares Blount and Bell on third- and fourth-and-short situations.
As mentioned in prior articles, Blount was primarily a first- and second-down runner, so it shouldn’t be surprising to see that he only mustered seven total carries on third-and-short. Still, he averaged 2.57 yards on those carries, converting on five of the seven occasions with an average distance to go of 1.57 yards.
Bell, on the other hand, still took the bulk of the short-yardage work despite Dwyer fulfilling that role at times. On 16 carries, Bell averaged a gargantuan 4.56 yards per—but again, that includes a big outlier in the 43-yard carry. Without it, he averages exactly two yards per carry.
Still, an average of two yards per carry would have been more than suitable given that his average distance to go was just 1.38 yards. He converted a first down on 11 of his 16 carries at a rate of just under 69 percent.