Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell ended up having an exceptional afternoon as a target in the passing game on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, posting eight receptions for a career-best 159 receiving yards, a total that is, needless to say, rare from the position.
But before that, he was already having a fair impressive game on the ground. In fact, all of his receptions came in the second half. He was targeted twice in the first half, and was unable to come down with either one.
Some of his longest rushes of the day, however, quite honestly had little to do with his own skills, other than perhaps choosing the right hole, even when the choice was obvious. On his 12-yard gain six minutes into the first quarter, for example, he needed only follow his lead blockers as he went virtually untouched until he was tackled.
But he came back on the very next play to show that he can pave his own way if he has to. The play ran once again off left tackle, with Will Johnson and David DeCastro leading, as Bell trickled behind. This time, however, the blocking wasn’t so clean, and he had to lead his own protection to the opening.
He managed to get five yards upfield before throwing a stiff arm on one safety and lowering his shoulder into another. In the process, he caused the linebacker to overrun the play as a defensive tackle went over top on a missed tackle attempt. In all, he pushed ahead for 18 yards on the play.
On this simple run off left guard, he forced a missed tackle in close quarters from linebacker Akiem Hicks, spinning out of the contact and cutting in front of the charging safety for an overly impressive effort on a five-yard gain.
Midway through the third quarter, the Steelers were trailing 21-6 and facing a third and one on their own 45. Dri Archer was stopped for no gain on second and one, so Bell got the ball on third down. The line allowed two Saints to come in free around the edge and Bell was hit two yards in the backfield, but he managed to plunge forward for the first down all the same.
And it’s a good thing, too, as he capped that drive off by getting into the end zone from one yard out, which at the time made it just a 21-13 game and restored a sense that the home team was still in it. But not even that one-yard run went as planned. Parys Haralson was allowed penetration, and Bell had to stiff arm him, but he finally beat a pair of defenders to the pylon for the score.
He finished the day with 95 yards on the ground on 21 attempts, but he had 77 receiving yards on just three plays on the Steelers’ final drive. This is the last of those, going for 33 yards as he set up defenders to weave his way through them. Who knows, perhaps if he were less fatigued he could have escaped the last defender and scored.