Terrell Watson Has Successful Cameo As Short-Yardage Back

I don’t know about you, but I found it to be quite an interesting moment in the middle of the second quarter of yesterday’s game for the Pittsburgh Steelers when the coaching staff elected to remove Le’Veon Bell from the game, replacing him with Terrell Watson for the purpose of attempting a run on third and one.

Bell over the course of his career has actually been among the most successful backs in this department in the league, among the highest performers in terms of gaining yards after contact and in gaining positive yardage on plays on which he was hit in the backfield.

The All-Pro has been the one true all-purpose back in the league, which is why he was the only one in the NFL last year who actually hit the 90-percent usage mark in the games in which he played. In fact, he was the only running back who was particularly close to the mark, within five percentage points.

The decision to take him out in favor of Watson made me go back to my charting notes to date from the season and look at how the offense has performed with Bell carrying the ball in short-yardage situations.

The Steelers have run the ball six times in short-yardage situations—defined as needing three or fewer yards for a first down—through the first two weeks, with Bell getting each of those carries. He gained the needed yardage on four of the six carries, with only one of the two failures coming on third or fourth down, so it’s not as though he has not been successful.

During the Bears game, the Steelers ran the ball in short-yardage situations twice prior to Watson being used. On their second offensive possession of the game, he was stopped after one yard on second and three, but earlier on the same drive on which he was replaced by Watson, he converted on second and one with a nine-yard run.

There was, contextually, no obvious reason that would have prompted the coaching staff to check Bell out of the game at that time. On the previous play, he merely leaked out of the backfield as a potential outlet target on a deep pass into the end zone.

Every indication simply points to the idea that the Steelers wanted to use Watson, the big back, during that scenario on third and one. It even prompted many to wonder if he would have been called upon at the goal line, but Bell got the carry on first and goal from the one and scored.

Bell ultimately converted on two of his three short-yardage carries on the game, making him successful on six of nine conversion attempts on the season, and only one of the three failed conversions came on a ‘possession’ down.

Will this isolated instance prove to be something worth monitoring going forward? Watson initially made a name for himself during training camp with his success in short-yardage, but Bell is hard to take off the field.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Douglas Andrews

    I was surprised that Conner wasn’t brought in on that 3rd and 1 situation. Given the success of that play I thought Watson or Conner would get the first crack at scoring on the goal to go situation that Bell scored on. Kinda of topic I’m not a big fan or running out of the shotgun on the goal line. I’m not sure that formation provides any deceptive advantage for the offense.

  • francesco

    Bell is a shadow of himself right now. He has lost his swagger since holding out from preseason. I welcome Conner and Watson any time until Bell shows me something special.

  • Adam Pristas

    As a Bell fantasy owner, I can’t tell you how much this frustrates me. My wife took AB with the second overall pick because she wanted to avoid drama. I thought I had scored with Bell at 3. Man was I wrong. Nothing but drama, and lack of vision. He isn’t moving the same as he did last season. He hits the hole even when there is an obvious pileup. Whereas last year he would have bounced it out to the edge for another 5-8 yards. He’s just not moving the same. I don’t know what has changed, but he’s killing me. As a Steelers fan, I welcome some Conner touches. This team is just not firing on all cylinders, and one of those cylinders is the coaching.

  • John Phillips

    Totally agree.

  • JT

    Did Ben take any snaps under center after his hand got jacked up? I noticed all the runs out of shotgun late in the game and didn’t understand either. That’s my only guess as to why they stuck with it.

  • John Pennington

    Use every tool in the toolbox to get the win no matter who feelings get hurt and their not using everyone.