Comparing Le’Veon Bell And LeGarrette Blount In Situational Football

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.

About the Author

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

    It seems the debate is how Blount will be used. A short yardage back? A first down back? A sub for Bell while he gets a blow? Regardless, if we have no idea, imagine the confusion we can create for opposing defenses. If the Steelers use a two back set, the sky is the limit with the amount of play design for these two backs. Haley could have a lot of fun catching defensive ends off guard this season.

  • steelster

    I would rather see blount take those hits in short yardage situations in order to keep bell fresh.

  • Brian Miller

    It seems pretty obvious to me that he will be used as a substitute for Bell…with some two back formations with him and Bell as well, especially on 3rd and 4th downs…As these articles point out, he is NOT a receiving RB, which Bell is, and hopefully if LSH comes back or we draft another one this year, the new RB will be a receiving RB too. So, anything longer than 3rd and 5 you can pretty much count Blount out…

  • steelster

    Exactly, well said. He may also come in on a few series on 1st and 2nd downs to give bell some rest or if bell is struggling to try a different back.

  • cencalsteeler

    I have to disagree with you Brian. Dave put up a gif yesterday showing Brady checking down to Blount with him making a nice gain after the catch. I also feel Blounts stats are skewed because he might have been misused in Tampa. His NE stats are much different because of the way the Pats used him. Stats are very misleading, especially when a player has been with several teams under different systems. Plus, the stats for Bell are only for one season, so I wouldn’t put a lot of stock into that either. I think a strength would be to see both of them back there in third and fives to keep the defense honest. This would open up a lot of options for Ben and the offense.

  • Ike Evans

    This article reminds me of a big problem with this team…..we have a hard time scoring in the red zone….even when the offense started kickin at the end of the year they still weren’t getting in the end zone as much as they were in the redzone…I don’t have a problem with Haley’s schematics like a lot of ppl (though I do believe there’s a lack of chemistry and cohesive magic with his prescense) but we have a big problem in the red zone and that has to get fixed for us to return to respectability. Hoping le backfield can help us dramatically in that way this year….if the oline allows lol

  • steelster

    If you get a chance google 2013 nfl red zone touchdowns, I think you will find it interesting and also go back and look at years before 2013.

  • Ike Evans

    Watch the video montages?

  • dennisdoubleday

    We were 12th in RZ TD percentage in 2012 and 16th in 2013, so not great but not terrible. And we did get better toward the end of 2013.

  • Derick L Young


  • steelster

    5 of the top 10 red zone offenses didn’t even make the playoffs last year. Everyone makes fun of the raiders and they finished sixth.

  • Ike Evans

    Well neither did we so it wouldn’t hurt to improve…..and 3/5 teams who missed are perinial trainwrecks but with talent so I’m not surprised they were top 10 in the red zone…..we are not a train wreck though

  • steelster

    yes, we can improve by pounding the ball in with bell or blount. The last time the steelers were in the top 10 was 2005 and that was because of the bus.

  • Steven Vincent

    Agree. I think we will be seeing a lot of two backs sets…or at least we should. Blount can act like a TE blocker in a lot of these situations while confusing the defense about whether it will be Bell out of the backfield on a screen or Blount running up the gut.

  • Matt Manzo

    You got me drooling!!!

  • RyanW

    I think Brian means hes not a back you frequently count on to be a pass catcher anyone can take a dump off pass but not all are great designed route runners the way Bell is.

  • Dewayne Braxton

    You can’t compare the stats becasue Blount did not run behind a line using extra lineman to block. New England just happened to have two tackles -who didn’t need an extra tackle to help them block. There is no comparison. Two different offensive lines. Belchick would never put up with Beachum and Gilbert.

  • Brian Miller

    Yup, like you said Ryan, that is what I expect…I did watch a fair amount of him last year and with Tampa Bay since I had him on my fantasy team…he can catch, it just isn’t a fluid process for him. That is why he didn’t get many opportunities to do it. Plus, why have him try and catch a lot when you have a hoss in Bell and either LSH or a pass catching rookie? Use is as a decoy occasionally, sure I’m all in!

  • Dewayne Braxton

    Our tackle play was bad enough for Mike Adams to play alot of snaps as an extra blocker. From 2005 to 2008, the line squeeked by. Now we are exsposed. So how do you suppose we pound the ball? Our red zone inefficiency is directly related to a 28 ranked running game.

  • Dewayne Braxton

    You can’t compare the stats because Blount did not run behind a line that used extra lineman to block. New England just happened to have two tackles who didn’t need an extra tackle to help them. New England has two real NFL starting tackles. There is no comparison. Belchick would never put up with Beachum and Gilbert.

  • steelster

    run behind decastro, at times he dominated last year and run behind adams, the problem with adams is pass blocking and maybe try using a fullback in goaline situations.

  • Dewayne Braxton

    I also think Adams is a capable run blocker. Putting him on the right side would make us better. A good run blocking fullback would help too.

  • 243546

    Same here. Blount can be the guy who takes a spear to the helmet on the goal line.

  • Kevin Gobleck

    Wild cat anyone????


    I won’t dispute your point about the NE OL vs PIT’s, but the core to any running game imo is from the C out…having a great run blocking LT is a bonus I think.

    I’m not worried about the comparisons between Blount & Bell…kind of a slow content day topic. Whether Blount is a true short yardage guy or not is not that big a deal…if he can keep Bell fresh with a 3 or 4 series a game in between the 20s…that’s enough.


    Of course the running game will help if you can continue to get 3+ yds a pop inside the RZ, but I think another problem is the targets…A.Brown has to get good separation for Ben to have a decent window in the RZ…a bigger/taller weapon I think will help as well the running game. Moye, and Paulson are not the answer.