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Steelers Using Le’Veon Bell Often As WR On Passing Downs

While the base of this site has been steadily growing for years now, there is no denying that a large part of its foundation has been built around the repeat visitations of those who comment in our articles, as well as those who lurk. It is also these that police our work and make sure we stay on our game.

So I ask you loyal readers, do you recall an article that I wrote, I believe earlier in the offseason, in which I talked about how much the Pittsburgh Steelers offense used running back Le’Veon Bell, lined up as a wide receiver, in the very brief time that both he and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shared the field together for about three quarters against the Rams in Week Three?

I made note of it then and wondered what sort of pattern that might foretell about how they intended to use Bell last year, provided that they actually were able to muster the full strength of their offense, which, of course, they were never able to do for even a full game.

Friday night’s game against the Saints is the only time that we have, or will, see Bell and Roethlisberger on the field in a game together until, hopefully, the fourth game of the season, so there is no time like the present to revisit this topic and see what my charting of the game shows for the fourth-year running back and the passing offense.

I have Bell logging a total of 20 snaps during the game against the Saints, and 10 of those snaps came while Roethlisberger was still in the game for two drives, about 19 plays in total. Bell lined up as a wide receiver on three of those 10 plays, eight of which were passing plays. So on three of eight passing opportunities, Bell lined outside the tackle box in passing situations with Roethlisberger on the field.

But he also saw 10 snaps with Landry Jones at quarterback, and in those 10 snaps, he added another four snaps in which he lined up as a wide receiver. Eight of those snaps were also passing plays, so half of his passing opportunities with Jones saw him utilized as a wide receiver.

In total, Bell was on the field for 16 passing plays, and he was used lined up as a wide receiver seven times, or 43.8 percent of the time.

That is a small sample size, to be sure; there can be no dispute on that topic, and in light of that, conclusions can be drawn only so cautiously. But I do find it interesting that even a running back of Bell’s receiving ability would shift outside the tackle box bordering on half the time in passing situations.

It goes without saying that that says a great deal about what the Steelers think about Bell’s receiving ability—and, after, all, he did catch five passes in the game for 37 yards, converting twice on third down in the process. He did fumble the ball, but given the condition of the field and the requisite hesitance of him being in his first contact since nine or so months ago, I think that can be given a pass.

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