Replacing Le’Veon Bell In Pass Protection

If Le’Veon Bell can’t go Sunday, his loss will be felt in several ways. What he offers the Pittsburgh Steelers outside of being a runner can’t be overstated. Without Bell, serious concerns – legitimate ones – have been raised about making up for his ability to pass protect. As Mike Tomlin repeated throughout his Tuesday press conference, the team will be exploring all options to replace him. Below are some ideas of how to do that. Nothing may be used often and it certainly isn’t a cure-all but they’re options.

A list of ideas in no particular order, listen below.

  1. Empty Personnel

No back sets out of empty personnel. It will spread the defense, a bigger advantage against a Baltimore Ravens’ secondary that’s the weakest part of their defense after being ravaged by injuries. Creates isolated matchups, giving Ben Roethlisberger a lot of options and Todd Haley equally as many route combinations.

If the Ravens bring a traditional five man rush, one clearout route can leave the other four receivers in single coverage. No defense is going to stop that consistently or effectively.

Against the blitz, there are easy hot routes.

This can be run with one or two tight ends, too, offering up an extra defender in pass protection.

The drawback is added difficulty in effectively using that tight end in protection. No BoB (Backs on backer) protection where the running back can flow to either side of the rush. A tight end becomes useless against an overload to the other side.

  1. Three/Five Step Game

Not talking about personnel here but the schematics of the play post-snap. Fairly obvious one here. Speeding Roethlisberger up a little bit and using more routes designed to get the ball out at the top of his drop. Simple reads Think slant/flat, curl/flat, and the elongated run game (screen packages). Puts a little less pressure on asking a back to pass protect for too long.

  1. Bootlegs

Full rolls or half rolls. Something that is in every team’s playbook. Negates inside or blitzes away from the roll. Also has an emphasis on getting the ball out quickly.

Still, I’m not the biggest fan. Don’t like taking half the field away or giving edge rushers an easier angle to the quarterback.

  1. Immediately releasing the running back

Forcing the defense to cover the runner. On “hug” blitzes (terminology varies), a linebacker will blitz if he sees the running back stay in to protect. Releasing him negates that chance and gives a QB another option. And if the Ravens blitz? The back becomes a hot route on the move.

Chiefly useful for someone like Dri Archer who’s more of an asset as a receiver than a blocker. Remember the angle routes used in training camp? Could really stress C.J. Mosley or Daryl Smith.

  1. Use of Heath Miller in the backfield

This is one of my favorites. Heath Miller has some, albeit scant, experience in a backfield role. Probably more in the previous two years than in 2014. But something that is probably still in the playbook. Compared to Josh Harris, Archer, or Ben Tate, Miller is likely the best pass protector. He’s capable of blocking or leaking out into the flats.

Could run a 4 WR set with a running back, say Archer, be that fourth option. Basically, replacing the TE and RB.

Still, I wouldn’t expect to use this option very much but perhaps on third down 2-3 times. If at all.

  1. 20 Personnel

Meaning, two running backs and no tight ends. Bouncing off the fifth point, Miller and another back (Harris, Tate) line up in the backfield. Or two running backs. Both can be on check/releases. If there’s a blitz to their side, they stay in to block. If not, they release as checkdown options.

This helps negate some of the Ravens overloads that can be difficult to recognize and execute. Creates a half field read for each side, easing some of the burden.

With two running backs, it gives a run threat to either side. With Miller, it adds a lead blocker. Could even conceivably run your Power game out of this. Line up Miller on the right side and have him follow a pulling David DeCastro with the back in tow.

  1. 12 Personnel

Like 20, the tight end to each side can check/release. Or a called block and have the back read the other side. Again, eases the burden all-around.

  1. Use of Will Johnson

Popular among Steelers’ fans. Could use him in a few ways. In the backfield as a blocker though truthfully, I’m really not sure how good his pass blocking is. No worse than Archer’s, for sure, but I don’t know how much he’s even been asked to do it this season.

Can have him at tight end as a run/pass option, too. Ability to motion him out wide and gives you a target. Steelers love to do that on third down.

Gut feeling tells me this won’t happen much.

  1. No Changes

There will be times when Josh Harris will have to pick up the blitzing linebacker. When Dri Archer is forced to look for a blitz before check/releasing. Where he’ll have to successful cut a blitzing defensive back. Or stay with the play, give Roethlisberger extra time in the pocket.

It’s not ideal, it’s not fun, but it’s going to be required. The playbook isn’t going to be radically changed because of the loss of one man. It’ll ask players to put themselves in uncomfortable, tough matchups.  But that’s playoff football. That’s the price of admission.

No one wins comfortably.

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