If you haven’t already heard, Le’Veon Bell is patient.
This fact, or more accurately trait, has become inescapable to anyone who watches football regularly. Announcers gush over just how unique Bell’s running style is. And they’re right to do so. It’s become routine for Bell to take the handoff, pause for a beat behind the line, and burst through a crease in the line for a big gain.
No other back runs like him. Bell is a freelancer is the backfield, using his creativity to do things no other back can. The Steelers star has racked up 1,431 yards from scrimmage in his last 8 games, the 4th most of any running back in history.
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But while many cite patience as the All-Pro’s secret, that’s an oversimplification. Nothing in the NFL happens in isolation. So instead of beating a dead horse, let’s look at why Bell is able to be so patient.
The Offensive Line
It starts up front behind an offensive line that boasts two Pro Bowlers in David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey. The group rated as the third best offensive line in 2016 by Pro Football Focus, as well as the second-best run blocking unit by Football Outsiders. While Dallas and Oakland might get more buzz, Pittsburgh’s vaunted unit ranks 1st in yards before contact (3.2). They employ both gap and zone blocking concepts and frequently use double teams at the point of attack. The Steelers run almost exclusively with six, and sometimes even seven, offensive linemen. Despite the presence of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, this is a team built to pound the rock.
Bell runs out of shotgun, singleback, and the I, typically lining up seven yards off the line, sometimes behind a fullback. The bulk of his runs come between the guards with very few actual outside running plays. There isn’t a ton of diversity here; almost all of the Steelers running plays are inside zone concepts or draws.
Second level quickness
While Bell is most credited for his patience behind the line, he is equally impressive in the open field. He pitter-patters through the second level like a plastic bag caught in the wind. The star back easily outmaneuvers linebackers and safeties because of his lethal lateral movement that they just can’t match. He also has underrated power in the open field. Bell might have a more devastating jump cut than any back in the NFL.
During the broadcast of the Dolphins-Steelers playoff tilt, Phil Simms openly questioned whether other running backs will try to emulate Bell’s revolutionary running style. No one will be able to simply because no one else can emulate the rare bag of tricks that Bell has at his arsenal.